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In order to discuss the quote “The
fields of study of academic disciplines can overlap, but adopting
interdisciplinary approaches to the production of knowledge only leads to
confusion”, one needs to first know what is interdisciplinarity and how it is applied
in production of knowledge. Interdisciplinarity is an action involving two or
more academic, scientific, or artistic disciplines1. The three things that join
interdisciplinary scientists are the study, the methods, and the purpose. 

What is confusion?

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The first knowledge
question that needs to be considered is how
can different disciplines overlap? To find the answer, it is important to
keep in mind that each problem can be approached from a number of different
sides. For example, a study is to be made about how human behavior depends on
different areas of, for example comparing a beach in Florida and an urban
environment of New York City. This problem can be approached by a number of
different scientists from with different points of view. For instance, a
historian can evaluate the events that took place in that area that could’ve
affected their behavior, both positively and negatively. Negative ones could
include events such as natural disasters or wars, and positive ones could
include people protesting for their rights or a new scientific breakthrough. On
the other hand, this issue could also be approached by a psychologist who could
evaluate the people’s mental states, possible disorders, and make a conclusion
on how their brain functioning affects their behavior. A psycholinguist could
examine the language that group of people uses 
and neurological conditions of their speech production. Looking for the
answer to the research question using all these different approaches has strong
and weak aspects. It is beneficial to better understanding as there is more
than one factor affecting the answer, in this case being changes in human behavior,
and therefore in order to get a well-rounded answer. However, this approach may
also lead to a degree of confusion as each person does not have a full
understanding of parts of the method involving other disciplines. Nonetheless,
even with a degree of confusion, it is more productive to have specialists from
different disciplines work together to produce new knowledge than isolate them
in their specific areas of expertise.

How can the interdisciplinary approach be used in everyday life?

While this approach is
often times used in scientific studies, it can also be applied in personal,
educational, or historical circumstances. A personal example, I’ve had to move
to a different country before, and my parents had to take a number of factors
into consideration. Firstly, they had to look at the costs of living in a given
area and calculate if it’s affordable. This alone had to take into
consideration the price of the house, as well as the distance from work or
school, showing that each problem can be broken down further and further into
small and specific aspects of knowledge, such as an economic  and ergonometric approach in this particular
example. Secondly, they had to pick a house based on it’s location regarding
the people who live around it, seeing if they’re in the right age group and
with a similar background to minimize culture shock. Thirdly, they had to see
if the are offers good education for their children and if the climate suits
them so have a long-term positive effect on the entire family. Overall, this
was an interdisciplinary approach as they had to look at the move and evaluate
the costs and benefits from an economic, logistical, cultural, and social point
of view.

How can the interdisciplinary approach be used in an educational environment?

Furthermore, example of
interdisciplinarity in a school environment can be found in every traditional
core subject. Learning a language involves literature, but also social
interactions and psychology. Geography has to be taught involving history,
economics, and biology. The list goes on as every subject uses knowledge from a
different one to improve and broaden it’s perspective. Lastly,  a perfect example of interdisciplinarity in
history is the evaluation of the history of knowledge itself, as it involves
aspects such as literature, psychology, anthropology, geography, and art. The
history of humankind is so wide, long, and intricate, that it’s impossible
to  not look at it from all those
different points of view as each one affects the other. People’s place in the
world can affect their brain functioning which affects their social
interaction, which affects how they express themselves in a from of writing or
art, and so on. These fields of study do not exist in a vacuum, they
commonalities between one another and therefore influence and gain new
perspectives from each other, meaning that interdisciplinarity in this case
leads actually to better understanding, not confusion.

How and when does interdisciplinarity lead to confusion?

Interdisciplinarity is the most  unbeneficial when it comes to majoring in interdisciplinary
studies instead of specializing in one field. One of the most important parts
of receiving a higher education is the ability of students, professors and
advisors to cooperate. In usual departments, all the students and teachers work
towards a common goal, focus on the same areas of knowledge, and have similar ideas.
However when students chose to have a personalized track with a mix of classes
from different disciplines, they lose a sense of community and the ability to
grasp the full knowledge of each subject as often times the human brain has a restricted
capacity which can limit people from specializing in more than one discipline. Furthermore,
if those students pick and chose only certain aspects of different disciplines,
they will never be able to truly specialize in either one of them as they will
lack the full core knowledge. Unless they master in the different subjects
separately, they will become jacks of all trades but masters of none.

With that in mind, the next question
of knowledge one might want to ask themselves is to what extent is an interdisciplinary relationship between two
subjects beneficial? The most common source of confusion in the interdisciplinary
approach is, given the multiple disciplinary perspectives, an effective method
to resolve the conflicts and achieve coherence is lacking. While the
Interdisciplinary approach involves confusion and difficulty , cultivating
interdisciplinarity is possible and essential to production of knowledge.
Because of these issues of synthesis, some interdisciplinarity areas of
knowledge become their own discipline such as neuroscience or biomedical
engineering. The interdisciplinary level of success can be measured by the
‘distance’ between the two disciplines. There are some subjects that are
closely correlated, such as psychology and history where the
interdisciplinarity is very simple as their approach to knowledge is almost the
same. However, if two disciplines who are further apart collaborate
successfully, their result will be much more meaningful. For example, in High-G
training where an astronaut is tested on the amount of levels of acceleration
he can withstand without losing consciousness. Psychologists and physicists
have to collaborate on these types of projects. The aim of their study is the
same as they both want to  see how much the astronaut can withstand before
their mind loses consciousness. However, they’re both responsible for different
areas of the method. The physicist has to make and control the machine that
controls the g-forces while the psychologist has to evaluate the astronauts
consciousness and mental stability during the test.

In what circumstances can interdisciplinary research even with confusion
be beneficial in any way? The interdisciplinary focus provides increased chances of making
discoveries since consolidated knowledge can lead to new insights. Sometimes
the traditional disciplines are unable or unwilling to address an important
issue or concern. For example, social science disciplines such
as anthropology and sociology paid little attention to the
social analysis of technology throughout most of the twentieth
century. There may also be new developments such as nanotechnology which
requires combining the approaches of two or more disciplines. Furthermore
sustainable development requires analysis across economic, social and
environmental spheres, as well as a great knowledge about geography. As we
begin to face more difficult changes in the world such as global warming, wild
spreads of untreatable diseases, or sustainable and ecofriendly development, in
order to broaden our scopes on those issues and speed up the process of
production of knowledge and therefore finding a realizing a solution, instead
of focusing solely on their expertise, specialists in many different
disciplines will need to find a way to collaborate with the common aim of
resolving these upcoming  global issues.

1 Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

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