New Discipline, New Language, New World
One of the problems we have with communication and the effective use of language is that no one can hear (or read) what we say the way we heard it when we said it. In Communication 101 you’ll learn that it’s because the message that was encoded in our minds and transmitted through speech or writing is not decoded in quite the same way. This is troublesome enough when dealing with people in your own field. But when trying to communicate with people from different academic disciplines, things become even messier. But this mess can be as much a of a blessing as a complication.
It’s plainly obvious that historians and engineers see the world differently, and we can easily see some of the advantages of the two approaches to things. But we can’t quite see how the differences are more than simply an approach to problem solving, but are—essentially—different worlds. In The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society, Jardine relates an illustration using two types of scientiests:
“…a chemist understands water as H20; a physicist understands it as a fluid with certain flow properties. The chemist’s linguistic conceptualization of water will allow him or her to combine it with other elements to create chemical compounds, but it will not enable him or her to build pumps and plumbing…The different conceptualizations of water actually create different worlds with different possibilities.” (emphasis mine)
Each discipline is much more than a way of evaluating information, or a way of attempting to solve problems. It is a way of seeing the world. Postman and Weingartner say that each subject is actually a language of its own, “and a new language inevitably means new possibilities of perception.(link – p. 102)”
After graduating from (bible) college, the entire world was a theological landscape. Everything I saw had some religious undertone, or an implication, or a Sunday School lesson embedded in it. That was the language I could speak, and it was the world I lived in. Few people understood how I made the leaps I did (my wife constantly told me I was “overanalyzing”, I responded that overanalyzing was they only way I’d ever make a living), and it was because none of them lived in my linguistic world.
As a web designer, I don’t see things the same. I see code everywhere, but there’s more to it. I tend see the world as complex entities built on simpler, conventional units. As a result, large problems can be solved by breaking them down into their simpler parts, clearing out semantic ambiguities, and creating a clear separation of “presentation” and “content”. In real life they would probably break down better into “purpose”, “plan”, and “execution”; or perhaps “goal”, “information”, and “program”.
Finally, as an aspiring “educationist” and a lover of words, I see purpose in every comma and quotation mark. Most of the problems of the world seem to have the same solution, as the members of Section 8 repeated in the movie Basic: “tell the story right.” If we just say things clearly, concisely, and honestly, we could get somewhere. In this world you are what you say, and almost as importantly, how you say it.
These differences create countless problems, most originating in our inability to clearly communicate. But they create just as many opportunities. Each time we engage someone from another discipline we get a peek behind the curtain and into their world. This is probably why the great geniuses of ages past were men and women who worked in many arenas, from Da Vinci to Dewey. They were conversant in many disciplines, and so lived in many worlds. They were able to combine understandings from those disparate worlds in ways others couldn’t have imagined, and, in the process, created new disciplines, with new languages, leading to new worlds.