Interdisciplinarity

I am now working at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma Washington, as the director of the Scandinavia Cultural Center. So I should probably update this blog. I just noticed it still has my vikingaheimar email on it, which doesn't work anymore.

I haven't blogged in a long while, and am not sure if I'll take it back up with any earnestness now or not. I don't live in Iceland anymore, so the reason d'être of this blog no longer exists.

But this morning I was thinking about something, and I thought I wanted to write it down somewhere, and I remembered I had this blog. It is the kind of thought that comes very early in the morning, after one has gone to bed early and had a long, deep sleep after lack of sleep the night before. A certain clarity of thought. Clear to me, that is, I don't know if it will make any sense to anyone else, but it makes sense to me.

At my new job , I am part of the Scandinavian Area Studies program, and will occasionally teach classes on that program, which is an interdisciplinary program. So I've been thinking a lot about interdisciplinarity. My former colleagues at Berkeley started dubbing me interdisciplinary quite a while back, but it isn't until now, working with political scientists and historians and business professors, along side familiar language and literature professors, that interdisciplinarity has started to come to the forefront of my thinking.

Anyhow, long story short, this morning I was thinking about the kinds of metaphors that different disciplines use to understand their subject. This thought started with the thought that the metaphor I learned in anthropology has been incredibly important and productive to my thinking. That is the metaphor of the spectrum. It started for me with the study of the color spectrum, and the realization that different societies will break up the color spectrum differently, have for instance only two or three color terms, and use modifiers like hot or cold to further distinguish between them. Anyhow, the main point of this metaphor is that there isn't actually a clear division between red and orange or orange and yellow, etc., except one agreed upon by our linguistic tradition. For anthropologists, this concept of the sliding scale, and the culturally variant way in which it can be divided up, is incredibly important. It is a metaphor upon which the discipline is agreed, more or less, and therefore is not all that often discussed.

So my thought this morning was that other disciplines have other metaphors. I've been spending a lot of time with an economist, and realizing that for an economist, the metaphor is one of the clock mechanism. All these moving gears interlocked with one another, each one moving on its own and in conjunction with others. And the economist is trying to track down which fear turns what, and what force sets what spinning.

What other metaphors are out there, for other disciplines, I wonder? I think business might have the metaphor of the tug of war, one side looses ground when the other gains it. I don't know what metaphor literary types use, it is too obvious to say a book. I actually think they might have the metaphor of a cake for understanding literature. That there is some tradition that created the recipe (the genre), then a baker who mixed a particular batter (the author), then the oven where it all gets set (the publishing house), the cake decorator (sales and marketing), followed by the cake getting shared and eaten, by the readers. Isn't biting into a cake, like a book, a rich sensual experience?

I don't know the sciences that well, but I think they use the metaphor of categories, at least in biology, dividing up things, trying to find the distinguishing charactistic. I was thinking physics might use the metaphor of a string, not only in terms of string theory, but also as the basis of sound and light as waves, and most importantly that at the center of the universe, at the point of the big bang, is where the string begins. Physicists are here, holding only one end of a string, and trying to follow that single string all the way back through space and time. I think.

Anyhow, this has nothing to do with the purported topic of this blog (Iceland), except in as much as the economist is Icelandic. But I liked the mental image well enough if a physicist holding a string, and a literary professor nibbling at a cake, to want to share it with someone.

Good morning.

Comments

Jono said…
Yes, you should continue this. A new position and a more northern geography should give you some inspiration.

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