CCTP-748:Seminar Discussion: Week 1



Brittany Coombs

external image interdisciplinary.jpgSince I'm writing this long after Week 1, it's inevitable that some of the concepts we've learned since have infiltrated my understanding of these readings. I'm going to talk very briefly about McLuhan and Rorty vs. Hall, and Kuhn vs. Mitchell. (The picture is an homage to Mitchell's assertion that interdisciplinarity makes us jacks of all trades but masters of none.) In "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", Kuhn talks about the overbearing presence of paradigms in natural science, declaring that we must update or get rid of old paradigms that restrict the discovery of new phenomena occurring outside the paradigm's box. This seems to fit Mitchell's description of what he calls "top-down" interdisciplinarity, which attempts to give structure to all disciplines by applying one overarching idea or knowledge base to them all. It seems that what Kuhn wants is a "bottom-up" model of interdisciplinarity combined with the "inside-out" model; the former "emerges in response to emergencies and opportunities" and often winds up fighting established power structures, while the later often results from an academic diving so deeply into his field that his discoveries send shock waves into disciplines. I agree that the "top-down" model seems least effective of the three: One of the worst things about the CCT Intro class last term was that we were forced to apply broad concepts to unrelated ideas, forcing structure -- paradigms -- upon everything. The most effective model, in my opinion, is the "inside-out" one. If an idea resonates so profoundly that it can't help but cross disciplinary borders, then that speaks to the power of the idea. As students, we have all learned something that spoke to us so clearly we memorized it effortlessly, internalized it, and applied it meaningfully to ideas taught in other classes. This is the "inside-out" model at work. It lets the consumer of knowledge decide when the paradigm works and when it doesn't work. Something I also noticed was Mitchell's talk of discontinuity encouraging deeper philosophical understanding of both the academic and natural world. Of course, Foucault talks about this at length, about disrupting our deference to tradition, influence, zeitgeists, etc. Another interesting connection.

Hall outlines a four-step process in the production and consumption of messages: production, circulation, use and reproduction. In the end I think his biggest point is a partial agreement with McLuhan: the medium may not be the message, but it is definitely controlled by it. Hall suggests that the medium affects how the message received, and, like McLuhan, says this process is not transparent or obvious. "Reality exists outside language," writes Hall, "but it is constantly mediated by and through language" (95). This quote seems to disagree with Rorty's memorable argument in "The Contingency of Language" that nothing is inherently true or false, but that manmade language is required to make something true or false. The idea that truth is made and not discovered is a contentious one, to be sure, and it's fun to see how academics spar over it. McLuhan and Hall seem to suggest there is some true objective reality, and that this truth is lost when media forms are used to communicate it; Rorty, on the other hand, says only language is true or false -- sentences, not the world the sentences are about. I'm interested to see how this debate plays out in future readings with different authors.