Interdisciplinary sustainability science: Nice thoughts in a recent paper by Garry Trompf (2011)

By Joern Fischer

Without a lot of comment, I’d like to highlight parts of 2011 paper by Garry Trompf in Environmental Conservation, which you can find here. I enjoyed the paper, especially towards the end. Here some random excerpts that I found particularly enlightening:

“Needham (1955, pp. 252–261) asked how parts relate to wholes, and how mastering one facet or subject might lay bare a whole system. Knowledge seemed to him like a giant cake; it would kill individual investigators to consume it all, but taking even one slice provides flavours of the whole and together researchers can report on the taste. Unfortunately, so much specialization impresses itself on researchers that they will naturally be suspicious of interdisciplinarians, who seem to have bitten off more than their fair share. …

One key issue, moreover, remains unresolved: the source of the values underlying envisioned ways of organizing and using knowledge, let alone quests for its unity and for an extensive nurturing of crossdisciplinary scholarship. Do the values governing our choices best derive from within nature itself (from Spencer’s evolution, Dawkins’ natural selection or Leopold’s ecosystem), or are we supposed to be also looking past external laws, whether to our introspective ourselves or even beyond to traditional higher wisdom?…

If this exercise in the history of ideas teaches anything at all, it will be that that vital lessons about values will be learned from pools of wisdom outside the realms of the physical and life sciences, and that the sense of the unity of all disciplines, bridging the gap between ‘two cultures’, as C.P. Snow testily called them, will best emerge by as constant and as lively an interaction between researchers of all fields. If no effective collaboration can be achieved anywhere without mutual respect, neither will any recapturing of a shared collective educative vision, or a better grasp of how all the students of the universe arrived where they are now, of what drives human pursuits, and about who society serves….

I dare to tender five main recommendations: (1) Treasure all the knowledge that humanity has inherited, and apprehend as much as possible what bodies of it humanity possesses. It is not the overabundance of knowledge that is the problem, but its misuses, irresponsible distribution and the cynical encouragement of its fragmentation. … (3) While respecting the whole range of disciplines and their interdisciplinary possibilities, environmental scientists should intelligently earmark (preferably through teamwork) those specializations that are fundamental for biospheric sustainability. “

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2 thoughts on “Interdisciplinary sustainability science: Nice thoughts in a recent paper by Garry Trompf (2011)

  1. Pingback: Yeasts, Neuroscience and the challenges of Interdisciplinary Research – Ecology is not a dirty word

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