Newton Holt wrote the cover story for the August issue of Associations Now, â€œA Healthy Lack of Discipline.â€ I asked him if he ran across any other examples of cross-discipline thinking that readers might find interesting. Here is his response:
â€œIf it worked with Reeseâ€™s cups (who put their peanut butter in my chocolate?), then, naturally, a multidisciplinary mindset ought to work for creating advanced thought and new knowledge, right? Well, of course itâ€™s not that simple, but the same sort of playfulness (Iâ€™m not going to call it 'daring' or 'courage'â€”everything is 'daring' or 'courageous' these days, right down to, at least according to one reviewer, the really awful CD I just regrettably bought) that tempts you to mix peanut butter and chocolate just to see what will happen is what makes the work of the â€˜multidisciplinary mastersâ€™ I profiled so fascinating and, more important, groundbreaking. Hereâ€™s a look at three more examples of multidisciplinary alchemy Iâ€™ve run across in the past few weeks.
â€œReligion and science reconcile. Up until age 27, Francis Collins, the leader of the Human Genome Project that mapped the entire genetic structure of human beings, was a staunch atheist. But as a young doctor, he found himself impressed by how some of his most critical patients persevered with the aid of their faith. That led to a fateful meeting with a Methodist minister, who introduced Collins to the work of Christian philosopher, author, and critic C.S. Lewis (who is perhaps best known for Chronicles of Narnia). Now, at 56, Collins has combined his disciplined scientific genius with his passion for evangelical Christianityâ€”an interesting combination. He currently is focusing on reopening the â€˜age-old debate between science and religion.â€™ His book The Language of God will publish in Septemberâ€”find out more in a London Times article.
â€œChemical cuisine. The May 2006 issue of Wired featured a profile of Chicago chef Grant Achatz. Why? Because Acahtzâ€™s kitchen looks more like a sci-fi laboratory than it does a typical kitchen. At his restaurant, Alinea, he uses lab equipment and industrial preservatives to prepare such weird (but reportedly good) dishes as a supercold applewood-flavored ice cream. He also, like many chefs, sees food as art and has prepared, along with his colleagues, some very intricate, laser-precise delicacies.
â€œ(Non)physician, heal thyself. Finally, thereâ€™s a story about someone who for good reason would rather not be named. It shows how refusing to keep yourself confined to any specialized area of thought is not only ignorant but potentially deadly. After years and years of â€˜mysteryâ€™ symptoms and misdiagnoses, an association executive with a potentially life-threatening disorder was fed up. This association executive also happens to be an avid fan of all things medical. So after misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, failed treatment after failed treatment, she said, â€˜You know what? Screw this. If doctors can be good at golf without being Ernie Els, then I can be good at medicine without being C. Everett Koop.â€™ She pored over Web sites, books, and newsgroups until she came across a set of symptomsâ€”rare symptomsâ€”that rang way too familiar. â€˜One of my doctors had written off Charcot-Marie-Tooth [a rare genetic disorder] a few years ago, but I knew. I knew, but I didnâ€™t trust myself, because Iâ€™m a nonphysician.â€™ What was her diagnosis? You guessed it: Charcot-Marie-Tooth.
â€œThe last example is the one that strikes me the most. Thereâ€™s the world â€˜out there,â€™ the â€˜real world,â€™ and the â€˜neighborhood.â€™ The people whose multidisciplinary prowess I had looked at in the article were â€˜out thereâ€™ (i.e., university researchers) or â€˜real worldâ€™ (i.e., applied in the workplace). But to see multidisciplinary thinking in actionâ€”right there, in the â€˜neighborhoodâ€™â€”and in a way that was potentially life saving really proved its validity to me.â€