" A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects ." - Robert Heinlein , Time Enough for Love In our modern culture, it pays to be a specialist. People who have expertise on semiconductors or oil seismic exploration or arcane financial theories can earn a lot of money. We dole out science prizes and celebrity to ultra- specialized individuals who may not be able to get their shoes on the correct feet. Our educational and career paths — and the very nature of who counts as a high- status “expert” in our culture— are thus steered towards reductionist expertise and away from training competent generalists. And yet it is the tiny minority of multidisciplinary systems-literate people (systems synthesists) who can make sense of the whole. Using an elephant as an example, the challenges for our future world will be envisioned and solved by those who can perceive the entire elephant as a coherent system, and then involve the experts on the Ear, Foot, Tail, and Tusk. What do we mean by systems synthesis ? It is understanding the basics of many kinds of science and grasping how they fit and interact together in the real world. The really creative solutions and innovations tend to come from between the areas of knowledge that our culture is inclined to keep distinct from one another. Such insights do not easily happen when groups of experts meet to share information -but rather happen best in a single human brain . Moreover, knowing about something that is quite basic to one discipline will help weed out really boneheaded mistakes easily made when focusing on a single, narrow issue in a different discipline. There is nothing inherently wrong with reductionist expertise: it is a powerful method and logical tool well- suited to a population of billions of hyper-social primates. But in and of itself, reductionism generates enormous blind spots. Why is this important? Because a science-based systemic view of reality helps to screen out the stories and myths of our own cultures. Different cultures on Earth have entirely different myths which are believed. They all, however, eventually converge on the same rules for the physical world. These days, the very nature of human expertise is highly specialized, but a reasonably intelligent generalist has a better chance of making good decisions about the future.
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