This is a time of convergence and integration. Re-integration actually.
It is like that tip of a fractal pattern where it no longer pushes out and starts to turn a corner and draw back in. We have been specializing and specializing and valorizing the specializing for a long time. Some of this knowledge and new understanding pushes us further away from what is known and what is known in related fields. I saw this image a few months ago and had to laugh. I don’t remember where I saw it, so please forgive the replication from memory. Let’s say for example, that the core body is biology, the specific domain is Cellular Biology, and the graduate paper is on the some process of mitochondria.
And while this is expanding our knowledge ever outward, it doesn’t pull us back into core knowledge to shift our basic understanding of the world. It is knowledge that resides in ever smaller numbers of people, applicable and valuable only to them. It is the 18th Century Literature scholar who becomes so deeply specialized in a particular poet or time period that their sphere of language centers further and further out from our common tongue until they become nearly unintelligible to someone in a different field of study. It is the Theoretical Physicist whose language of quarks and gluons seems like an alien or imaginary world to the Sociologist they sit with at the campus-wide faculty meeting.
And yet there is another way that knowledge expands when two related fields develop something near their intersection. And example here might be Biology –> Cellular Biology –> Process of RNA transcription which uses a lot of Chemistry. (These are elementary examples, because you and I do not share enough deep expertise for us to point to some recent edge being expanded here in enough detail!)
Here we begin to find the overlaps between fields, weaving them together into a larger cohesive picture of the world. And as the gates to the intersection open, it continues to expand out, often until the intersection of the knowledge space becomes a field itself. Neurobiology, computer science, sustainability are a few more recent developments that arose as intersections of one or more domains. However, this doesn’t draw us back toward fields that aren’t peripherally connected. It doesn’t take the revelations from statistical math and begin to apply them to organizational design. It doesn’t take a strand of physics and link it to spiritual traditions. These radical connections between fields of seemingly quite different areas is where some really interesting work emerges that can reshape what many of us see about the world and do within that world. These radical connections shift the intersections at the center of our knowledge and open up new axis of information.
And this…. this is where radical innovation happens. It is where most people think you are crazy until all the sudden it pops and knowledge feeds back into the core of our shared understanding shifting many of us.
And just for some background on the drivers behind this, some of my view here is coming from conversations about Adam Smith and divisions of Labor and Specialization… That we have reached points in the expansion of knowledge by which they hold value to so few people that they can’t attract more to specialize further into that space. And instead, when we pull back to reintegration of knowledge we expand the value of the development of that information so that it serves a broader audience… And thus knowledge expands and reintegrates like the breathing of a giant collective organism.