22 Feb 2018

Two figures on interdisciplinarity

18 months ago, I explained how different social sciences relate to each other using the idea that they, like institutions, refer to phenomena that change at different rates. Anthropology, thus, changes slowly because culture changes slowly. Psychology changes much more quickly, as our minds are far more fluid. The other social sciences are between these two extremes.

I have thought more about this scale/arrangement and have another way of explaining/arranging them. In the following figure, you can see the social sciences arranged according to their unit of study (many people informally in anthropology, fewer people formally for political science, fewer people informally in sociology, the individual informally in economics, and many people in your head for psychology :)


That arrangement can also (as in the original post) refer to how quickly or slowly the study area changes.

Taking that juxtaposition as given, I have another figure, which is probably easier to understand:

This one builds on a tongue-in-cheek comment I make ("economics is opinion dressed up in math") when people get too serious about what they have "proven" in economics. That said, I think that economics does a better job at organizing and testing opinions than most social sciences, but surely not better than in the sciences. (We won't discuss humanities' engagement with facts...)

Bottom line: You can't be interdisciplinary until you see where your discipline "fits" compared to its peers. (Yes, I am using peer to reinforce the fact that no discipline has a monopoly on useful knowledge.)

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