The Benefits of Non-Specialism

One of the disbenefits of dividing up knowledge into professional specialisms and devoting our entire education and professional development system to producing leading experts in them is that nobody is assigned the job of putting all the specialist knowledge that emerges back together again to form a comprehensive picture. This job is left to non-specialists.

If we are to put knowledge back together again we would have no time to become specialists. These specialisms would be pieces of a jig-puzzle that we are trying to reconnect into a coherent picture so as to gain a better understanding of the world. We cannot do this by spending all out time studying just one or two of the pieces ever more closely. Our time must be spent in exploring connections and correspondences. For this a person would not need to be a leader in their field, and perhaps no more than a seriously interested layman with sufficient time on their hands. After all, everybody is a layman in most fields. It is not that the completion of the puzzle would require no learning. It is, rather, that for any area of knowledge we would usually need no more expertise than can be acquired from one or two well chosen books on the topic. The internet makes this kind of exploration of knowledge a thousand times easier than in previous times, and perhaps it is even for the first time for anyone without access to a good university library,.

The divisive aproach to knowledge built into our academic system, for which the highest achievers are on average the most narrowly focused and obsessive, works well for industry and promotes rigour, excellence and has all sorts of other benefits. But the exclusivity of this approach does little for our communal understanding of the world. It may even guarantee that there will never be such a thing. Worse than this, it leads many, probably most laymen to the idea that there would be no point in them trying to complete the jigsaw puzzle for themselves. And so we rarely try. And so we rarely notice that nobody is an expert when it comes to piecing together all the different areas of knowledge, and that because nobody is being paid to do it not many people try, and that, therefore, an absence of genius or professional status does not make it a foregone conclusion that it would be impossible for us to succeed.

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