From Difference to Understanding: Responses to Interdisciplinary Research

At the last Ordered Universe public lecture in Rome, ‘Wonders of the Universe‘ we conducted a brief survey of those attending. Of particular interest was a question about the interdisciplinary research. What, we asked before the lecture did people understand by interdisciplinary research? The answers, some 25 in total, provided an intriguing set of responses: in many senses what was expected, but expressed in a definite manner.  Responses were lexically dense (63.3%), and 11.6 on the Gunning-Fox readability matrix (where 6 is easy and 20 hard). Turned into a Wordle word cloud, the notion of ‘different disciplines’ came out most strongly, with ‘working together’ and ‘knowledge and understanding’ as subsidiary concepts. Worlde 1 Rome 2016After Tom and Cecilia’s lecture we asked a different question – how had the lectures changed people’s view about interdisciplinarity. With an in-depth survey of medieval astronomical inheritance form the ancient and Islamic worlds, and a tour of the moons of the solar system, for stimulation, change might be expected. The answers to the question were revealing. Within the 21 responses the lexical density was higher (74.3%) implying complex reactions to the occasion. Readability, on the Gunning-Fox scale was 9.7, so although lexically richer, the answers were more clearly expressed. Part of the difference between the responses to the question lies in the nature and circumstances of reflection on the activity: ‘interdisciplinary research’ is a more abstract concept, how a particular lecture changed view on the concept gives a focal point to the formulation of views. Nevertheless, the change is striking, as the Wordle Word Cloud indicates:Wordle 2 Rome 2016A more every balanced picture, with ‘understanding’ at the centre, as opposed to ‘different disciplines’; active words proliferate – ‘going’ change’ – as well as words of joining – ‘help’ ‘continuity’ ‘together’. What we recorded is a snapshot of a moment of change, as well as confirmation of the transformative effect of juxtaposing expert views for the elucidation of a single subject. A shift from difference to understanding, which should be the goal of all purposeful research.

(Manuscript image from the British Library – creative commons)

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