I hate specialization.

Well, not really. I’m just not all about it. Probably because I’m not really a specialist in anything. Don’t get me wrong, specialization is super important. Especially in particular fields. I’m looking at you, doctors. And lawyers. Engineers. As well as those people who are paid to operate nuclear power plants.

Even with all the benefits that having specialized skills and experience can provide, I feel that there’s a great deal of good that can come from being somewhat familiar with other aspects of life. Though perhaps I make this argument in order to make myself feel better about the fact that I like a whole lot of things, making myself mediocre in all of them. But isn’t that how life works?

Everything that make life what it is collides together at the same time, making a mess. Each thing affects every other thing, which just adds to the chaos of it all. I think we’re all starting to understand that better than ever before. But not enough of us. At the same time, it’s almost impossible to really get a handle on that concept.

Life is crazy confusing. Of course it makes sense to break it all down into digestible chunks.

purity
xkcd

Breaking reality

I studied Biology in school. The term is derived from Greek, to mean “the study of life”. It’s an ambitious goal, to try to understand all of life. Our cells, how they function, how that leads to the creation of organisms, reproduction,  evolution, population and ecosystem dynamics. There’s just so much that goes into figuring out how all the squishy things work and fit together.

It just made so much sense to work to understand how life worked, and connected with everything else. Most other studies were not worth my time simply because it was obvious that Biology was the key to understanding the universe.

There was a joke that would be passed around in the department that Physics and Chemistry was the study of everything in the universe, and that Biology was the study of everything that mattered.

Hilarious.

Of course, folks in other departments would feel that their field of study was more important, which would then to lead to rivalries, competitions, and other scientific-minded folks to weigh in. There’s a lot of large egos amongst academics.

It makes sense to separate these disciplines into different departments. It’s clear that they each are free to explore as much of their respective fields without interference from the others. This way, we’re able to dive deep into the multiple components that create our universe. It’s part of a scientific philosophy that has come to define much of our modern age. Even within specific fields, there is further differentiation and between sub-fields of study. Physics to quantum physics. Inorganic vs organic chemistry. Anatomists and population ecologists.  A never ending series of Russian dolls of academia.

b5b5bfba8991456f1b7db3f865215622

Even here, phylogenetic trees are necessary to understand the complex relationships organisms have with each other. The hierarchy in biological classification goes from Kingdom, Phylum, Order, Class, Sub-class, Family, Genus and species. Assuming that those reading this are organic humans, then we share the binomial label of Homo sapiens.

These characteristic separations are required in order to differentiate, compare, and contrast the vast array of life that exists on our planet. But sometimes what that, and other similar efforts in the other sciences, leads to is an equivalent to not seeing the forest for the trees.

Understanding through distillation

This is all part of a philosophy known as Reductionism, in which reality can be broken down into constituent parts. Going back to Descartes and Voltaire, there was an idea that blossomed from the Enlightenment of the 18th century that one can understanding all of the universe by understanding the parts that make it up.

This makes total sense when one tries to examine the multitudes that combine to create a shared experience. There’s the entirety of reality, which is overwhelming! The only reasonable explanation as to why the universe behaves the way it does is due to a metaphysical being. God or Gods must be the source of all natural phenomenon that we experience.

Until cultures thought about systematically examining the individual pieces that made up reality, there were many competing narratives to explain everything. This, I think, is part of why religious wars and the clash between civilizations were both more commonplace, and understandable. If you and everyone you considered to be a part of your tribe or empire believed the world operated a certain way, then it would make sense to be dismissive of other cultures and peoples who held another understanding of the universe.

But now, in a period of time, that many would call the “Modern Era”, there exists a different cultural idea that all of reality can be understood by taking apart the pieces, and examining them in isolation. Through physics we understand the motion of planets and stars. Chemistry teaches us that the materials that make up physical matter have rules that govern how they interact with each other. Biology allows us to understand organisms, eventually helping us develop life-saving medicines and therapies.

Reality can be funnel and broken down in the ever smaller pieces of understanding. And the simpler the explanation, its accuracy tends to be more likely.  It’s wisdom through intellectual whiskey crafting.

So obviously, to best understand life, one must break it down into the smallest possible form it can take, removing any mystery and wonder that may have existed in its entirety.

Right?

20111229

We’ve come so far by no longer accepting that the universe does what it does simply because a higher power commands it so. But I feel like we’ve lost a little something too.

Putting it all back together

Now that I’ve gone down this Reductionist rabbit hole, I realize that there’s something so precious about experiencing the entirety of the universe.

Reality, being greater than the sum of its parts, is so much messier than just how it functions and behaves. Because to simply understand those aspects is to understand a universe devoid of people, and thus we lose out on so much. Or at least I do.

Which is something I’m learning more as I get older.

I’m working on it.

I like to think that through this blog, I’ll be able to see what else makes life way more interesting than I’ve been crediting it.

Just a thought.

Advertisements