TOK ESSAY “The fields of study of academic disciplines can overlap, but adopting interdisciplinary approaches to the production of knowledge leads only to confusion.” Discuss this claim. Word count: 1,563Interdisciplinary learning is often used to enable synthesis of new ideas, using different perspectives as an alternative method to acquire knowledge.
It also allows critical thinking by letting the scholar compare and contrast concepts across different disciplines (Appleby, Michelle). Knowledge may be defined as facts, information and skills obtained through experience or education (“Knowledge | Definition of Knowledge in English by Oxford Dictionaries.”). At school, taught knowledge is often divided neatly into separate subjects or academic fields.
However these disciplines sometimes overlap in information or are combined to create new understandings. For example, the interdisciplinary units that are part of our school’s curriculum or how human sciences and ethics are linked to question modern justice systems. Yet even with the correspondence between the fields, confusion might occur when they are combined. On the other hand certain disciplines may seem very opposing, but a concord can still be found. For example Christians, who believe in God, but study the sciences.
Thus, although some academic disciplines may overlap and be combined to produce knowledge, in some cases it might lead to confusion, vice versa. The IB program includes quite a few interdisciplinary units (IDUs). These lessons are set up with learning, using combined expertise from multiple subjects, as an outcome.
However, confusion is not always inevitable, but perhaps solvable. Some units I had were the bridge unit, where physics and design technology were combined; the human development index (HDI) report, where mathematics and geography were integrated and a WWI unit where history and English were linked. Looking at my reflections/evaluations I wrote after the IDUs show several personal conclusions about interdisciplinary approaches. For the WWI unit, linking history and English helped me understand the war better because I had access to multiple perspectives, giving me a wider, and more objective and complete view of WWI. The different methodologies used in the subjects helped enable the different perspectives. “I noticed that with history we focused specifically on the events occurring during the War … when, where, how, etc., whilst during English we mainly focused on personal war experiences literature think of poems, war letters, etc.” (Reflection, DP1).
The facts learned during history lessons and research had supported my understanding what war poets were writing about. Also the other way around, reading those poems aided my comprehension of war events and made me grasp the war experience better. Plus the poems gave good insight information that could be used for the history part of the project.
I used my knowledge from one subject to improve my knowledge in the other subject.Nevertheless, in my evaluation I also stated that the different perspectives also meant at times that the information given varied, resulting in the difficulty of figuring out the correct plot of events. Moreover, although it was a combined subject project, both subjects were graded separately. This meant that we did have to show different things for history and English in order to get a good grade. However, as the subjects were very mixed, it was sometimes problematic to not interchange rubric requirements. Moreover, for the HDI project I had voiced “Sometimes it wasn’t clear what kind of math points we needed to solve in order to be able to analyse the points we needed to cover for geography… that it is hard to start the project as there are two subjects in one project”. Here it is clear that the combination of two disciplines had led to uncertainty of how to start the project, but also how to apply my math skills to the geography issue. We apparently never figured it out completely, but reflecting back on the IDUs throughout the program, I notice that it became easier to combine multiple subject skills and expertise.
A bit of confusion was often still present, however a good final product was managed. Anyhow, it should be noted that the IDUs are set up, ergo the disciplines chosen are often related for that specific concept; hence an impossible conclusion filled with confusion is unlikely. It is widely known that natural sciences and Christian religious knowledge systems have trouble coming to an agreement. Even so there are several Christian scientists.
The opposition between the two fields is mainly due to their contrasting foundations and methodologies. Christianity is based on the faith in God’s existence and follows the teachings of the Bible. Science on the other hand is described as “the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation (perception) and experiment (evidence)”—scientific method (“Science | Definition of Science in English by Oxford Dictionaries.”). There have been infamous conflicts such as whether the universe is a geocentric or a heliocentric system and the human origins and evolution (God and Adam & Eve vs. the Big Bang Theory and Darwin’s Theory of evolution). These conflicts occur as the theories/stories contradict each other.
Some Christians might find science unnecessary as the Bible has already explained certain things “The creator of the universe has told us about that creation. Because of this, it isn’t necessary for us to spend vast amounts of energy trying to understand origins..
. ” (Ferroni, C. Paul). On the other hand, several Christians might the describe the world like this: “While religion is largely predicated on the idea of the existence of God and attempting to relate to him, science is our effort to quantifiably explain the universe that God has created.” (Rosenberger, Tim). Here a concord is found between the two opposing disciplines. Thus maybe certain aspects of the world that science cannot fully explain may be clarified by religion.
I myself find it difficult to imagine the cause of the Big Bang. In this case, religion could give a more secure answer. Some people call the Big Bang, God’s particle. But maybe this concord also depends on how badly one wants an answer/explanation, because maybe the unexplainable things will be explained with time, like many scientific discoveries have done throughout time. Saying this I should be careful, because maybe I’m being slightly biased due to being an atheist. Heedlessly, it should be taken into account that the extent to which an individual believe can affect his/her acceptation of scientific theories. Vice versa.
If one strongly beliefs in just one theory, s/he won’t be as open to other theories, making a concord very difficult to achieve. This also links into interpretation, which many people do differently. There are different interpretations within Christianity, but also within the sciences about certain pieces of evidence. If one interpretation of the Bible matches better with a scientific theory than another interpretation, an agreement is probably easier to reach. The Law differs per place, but has also changed over time, parallel to collective changes in people’s morals and ethics, influenced by historical events.
An increase in knowledge about the brain and one’s psyche has led to questioning of modern law. Namely the extent to which mentally ill are guilty and responsible for their crimes. Many would intuitively agree that murdering someone is morally wrong and that the perpetrator should be punished. A conviction for murder brings an automatic life sentence. Contrary, nowadays it’s possible (in many countries) for the mental state of the guilty person to be examined and decided whether the person is fully responsible for his/her actions or not. If not, then instead of incarceration, the perpetrator will most likely be checked into psychiatric care (Citizensinformation).
Some are of the opinion that “These people are sick, not bad, and they can be diverted to mental health programs that cost less and are more effective than jail time.” (Gingrich, Newt, and Van Jones). It’s thought that with proper treatment these mentally ill criminals are often able to set themselves on a better path and to be reintegrated into society. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Recently there has been such a case in Holland. A young woman named Anne Faber had been raped and murdered by Michael P. He was a psychiatric patient, convicted of two violent rape cases and was getting ready to integrate back into the community (Remmers, Freke, and Yelle Tieleman). Thus here human sciences and ethics had been linked to change the modern law, yet has also brought a lot of confusion.
On one hand, although something might be morally wrong, if the perpetrator is mentally ill, s/he might not be fully responsible. And ethically it would also be unjust to convict someone who is “not responsible”. But then again, is it morally right not to, if it could bring more people in danger? Hence this is a very difficult moral issue for our justice system. Fields of academic disciplines can overlap, but some don’t or at least overlap less. The extent of overlap may also influence whether using interdisciplinary approaches to the production of knowledge leads to confusion or not.
For the IDU about WWI, where there was quite some overlap between English and history, combining the two subjects resulted in a more complete picture of the war. Moreover, ethics and human sciences were combined to hopefully improve the justice system. And Christianity and the sciences don’t overlap much, which could explain the conflicts between the two fields. However, even when there is an overlap between the disciplines, confusion could still occur. Also, even when there is not much overlap between the fields, a concord may still be achieved.