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random_soldier1337

When did science become vast?

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We've reached a point where it seems like you can't be an expert in everything. But it seems from history that there was a time when you could be good at all the latest research subjects. Over what time period did those changes happen and what changes happened for such a shift?

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It's just the way knowledge is layered. I think you won't get an objective answer because you're talking about individuals vs broad areas of expertise.

There was a time when my best friend knew everything there was to know about Macintosh computers. He bought the original in early 1984 that came with a backpack, and he had every piece of software made for it. It took less than two years before he could no longer keep up and had to specialize in more focused areas.

But this is the way with human innovation. We devise ways to specialize so fewer people have to guard the village, or hunt and gather food. The key with science knowledge is to learn what connects the bits together. It's all layered like an onion, and one discovery leads to more, which eventually gives you predictive power, science's greatest gift. 

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10 minutes ago, Phi for All said:

It's just the way knowledge is layered. I think you won't get an objective answer because you're talking about individuals vs broad areas of expertise.

There was a time when my best friend knew everything there was to know about Macintosh computers. He bought the original in early 1984 that came with a backpack, and he had every piece of software made for it. It took less than two years before he could no longer keep up and had to specialize in more focused areas.

But this is the way with human innovation. We devise ways to specialize so fewer people have to guard the village, or hunt and gather food. The key with science knowledge is to learn what connects the bits together. It's all layered like an onion, and one discovery leads to more, which eventually gives you predictive power, science's greatest gift. 

Hmm... This bit is very interesting to me. Care to elaborate/rephrase? With examples if you could.

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12 hours ago, random_soldier1337 said:

Hmm... This bit is very interesting to me. Care to elaborate/rephrase? With examples if you could.

If you take any science subject, each field of study shows how the subject relates with regard to how we observe the universe to be. If you want to learn about black holes, starting with the chemistry of fusion shows how stars are formed, and how they can collapse. Physics and the accompanying mathematics will show how gravity is affected by the hyperdensity of the degenerate matter of a black hole, causing severe spacetime curvature. If you want to learn about vampire wasps, studying evolution helps connect the way traits manifest themselves in biological processes, and chemistry helps us understand how those processes function. 

Studying how agriculture and animal husbandry completely changed the way early humans functioned in groups will lead you to many different fields of study. Geography, biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and others all cover parts of the explanation.

And the height of the scientific methodology is in using experiment results to predict the results of other experiments. Einstein was able to predict, using previous experimental data, that light would bend when subjected to a strong gravitational field, long before we had a way to test it. Darwin was able to predict the presence of certain animal types based on plants in the environment (a deep spur in a flower requires an animal with a long nose to pollinate it).

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14 hours ago, random_soldier1337 said:

We've reached a point where it seems like you can't be an expert in everything. But it seems from history that there was a time when you could be good at all the latest research subjects. Over what time period did those changes happen and what changes happened for such a shift?

I think in physics (and probably chemistry), it was when quantum mechanics was discovered/developed. The new discoveries based on that were so widespread, there would be no way to stay on top of advances in all of the sub-fields.

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2 hours ago, Phi for All said:

If you take any science subject, each field of study shows how the subject relates with regard to how we observe the universe to be. If you want to learn about black holes, starting with the chemistry of fusion shows how stars are formed, and how they can collapse. Physics and the accompanying mathematics will show how gravity is affected by the hyperdensity of the degenerate matter of a black hole, causing severe spacetime curvature. If you want to learn about vampire wasps, studying evolution helps connect the way traits manifest themselves in biological processes, and chemistry helps us understand how those processes function. 

Studying how agriculture and animal husbandry completely changed the way early humans functioned in groups will lead you to many different fields of study. Geography, biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and others all cover parts of the explanation.

And the height of the scientific methodology is in using experiment results to predict the results of other experiments. Einstein was able to predict, using previous experimental data, that light would bend when subjected to a strong gravitational field, long before we had a way to test it. Darwin was able to predict the presence of certain animal types based on plants in the environment (a deep spur in a flower requires an animal with a long nose to pollinate it).

I see. Then would you say that once one has started on the path, would it be possible to maintain expertise in all those predicted fields without losing mastery in the original? And to what extent if at all? At least in this day and age. Most seem to think otherwise.

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Posted (edited)
33 minutes ago, random_soldier1337 said:

I see. Then would you say that once one has started on the path, would it be possible to maintain expertise in all those predicted fields without losing mastery in the original? And to what extent if at all? At least in this day and age. Most seem to think otherwise.

It might be easier if you think about mastery as the top of a pyramid; you learn and understand A, before you learn and understand B, before you learn and understand C, before you learn and understand D etc. before you learn and understand something no-one else has. 

Science is just a circular pyramid...  

Edited by dimreepr

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1 minute ago, random_soldier1337 said:

I see. Then would you say that once one has started on the path, would it be possible to maintain expertise in all those predicted fields without losing mastery in the original? And to what extent if at all? At least in this day and age. Most seem to think otherwise.

As in any pursuit of knowledge, peripheral studies can only help broaden our understanding. Maintaining expertise is normally part of a specific course of study. If you want to know more about why humans run so fast using a backbone better designed for quadrupedal locomotion, you'll need some biology and some physics knowledge. Knowing some nutrition and chemistry is only going to deepen your grasp of the subject, as would knowing some history and some medicine. 

Are you basically asking which is better, a very specific skill set involving focused (and therefore perhaps more valuable) knowledge of a single subject, or a broader and more connective approach that offers more potential for shared information? I think that will vary by individual. 

The web is a good example of what you're talking about. There was probably a time when you could have seen half of what had been posted to the internet. Now it's so vast it would be like reading every book in a thousand libraries and just scratching the surface. The key is to figure out what you want the knowledge for.

3 hours ago, swansont said:

I think in physics (and probably chemistry), it was when quantum mechanics was discovered/developed. The new discoveries based on that were so widespread, there would be no way to stay on top of advances in all of the sub-fields.

I have this overall impression that the beginning of the 20th century was also a time when we were adopting better communications and cooperative techniques, ensuring that the best ideas were shared more effectively among the global scientific community. The industrial age was a big success, and science was a big part of that, and a big part of science is sharing with colleagues.

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56 minutes ago, Phi for All said:

 I have this overall impression that the beginning of the 20th century was also a time when we were adopting better communications and cooperative techniques, ensuring that the best ideas were shared more effectively among the global scientific community. The industrial age was a big success, and science was a big part of that, and a big part of science is sharing with colleagues.

I think that's coupled with the fact that we had not yet discovered the details of atomic structure (let alone nuclear). The "whoah! Classical physics explains almost none of this" moment (and by "moment" I mean decade or so) is probably where one could not reasonably keep up with what was going on. There was so much that was new.

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7 hours ago, Phi for All said:

Are you basically asking which is better, a very specific skill set involving focused (and therefore perhaps more valuable) knowledge of a single subject, or a broader and more connective approach that offers more potential for shared information? I think that will vary by individual.

Well more like when I ask these vague, open ended questions someone says something very interesting like this, maybe more so than my original premise and then I follow up on that.

Anyway, I feel like I should I ask, is it possible to branch out just a bit while maintaining focus/mastery of a specific area? If so to what extent?

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5 hours ago, random_soldier1337 said:

Anyway, I feel like I should I ask, is it possible to branch out just a bit while maintaining focus/mastery of a specific area? If so to what extent?

Wouldn't that depend on your IQ/intelligence?

Ive met a few people who had mastered a specific area but also had vast knowledge of other subjects too. All had a very high IQ. 

I've personally mastered a few specific areas (in work) but when I master something new, I generally lose other skills as a result. It's only when different skills are closely related that I can improve on both, though always more one than the other, never both equally.

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9 hours ago, Curious layman said:

Wouldn't that depend on your IQ/intelligence?

Ive met a few people who had mastered a specific area but also had vast knowledge of other subjects too. All had a very high IQ. 

I've personally mastered a few specific areas (in work) but when I master something new, I generally lose other skills as a result. It's only when different skills are closely related that I can improve on both, though always more one than the other, never both equally.

I'm not sure about IQ dependence since I personally haven't looked much into the relation and its debated a fair bit from what I hear.

Though with your suggestion, wouldn't it be best to maintain mastery/focus in one specific area and keep minor tabs on the other related areas, just enough to know or get a basic idea of what is going on if those ever come up in your work? If you are very dedicated and spend your time on this then maybe you could build your understanding in the peripheral areas to the point of knowing what is going on unless its very specific/high level.

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15 hours ago, random_soldier1337 said:

Anyway, I feel like I should I ask, is it possible to branch out just a bit while maintaining focus/mastery of a specific area? If so to what extent?

You have time for what you make time for, and no more than that. Everything important enough to warrant your time needs to be considered.

If you give all your time to one subject, I think you'll reach a point where it will be necessary to know about related subjects in order to advance in your main one. Does that make sense? Knowing some chemistry can only help a focus in marine ecosystems. 

I'm not sure there's a general rule for how many peripheral studies you should have to enhance your primary study. It feels like it should happen organically, where the scholar chooses an interest and also picks related subjects to learn about in a curriculum designed to satisfy that interest, and let's the research and study guide their curiosity. If you have more time, you can keep drilling down in your main or add more related subjects to study. Hopefully you've already factored in the time you'll need for work, family, and friends. If you still have time left over, you can pursue a hobby maybe.

But if you don't make time to practice your French (for instance), you'll probably lose some of that language over time. It's probably that way with most knowledge. Use it, or you might not remember you know it. 

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11 hours ago, Curious layman said:

Wouldn't that depend on your IQ/intelligence?

Ive met a few people who had mastered a specific area but also had vast knowledge of other subjects too. All had a very high IQ. 

I think there is correlation but not necessarily causation. Folks who are good at organizing knowledge are also good in scoring well in IQ tests. Does not mean that one causes the other. Especially if you see how different learning efficiency can change during the course of a standard college education. The most crucial factor related to knowledge breadth is the time factor. I.e. how much someone can dedicate to supplementary studies. 

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Posted (edited)
8 hours ago, Phi for All said:

You have time for what you make time for, and no more than that. Everything important enough to warrant your time needs to be considered.

If you give all your time to one subject, I think you'll reach a point where it will be necessary to know about related subjects in order to advance in your main one. Does that make sense? Knowing some chemistry can only help a focus in marine ecosystems. 

I'm not sure there's a general rule for how many peripheral studies you should have to enhance your primary study. It feels like it should happen organically, where the scholar chooses an interest and also picks related subjects to learn about in a curriculum designed to satisfy that interest, and let's the research and study guide their curiosity. If you have more time, you can keep drilling down in your main or add more related subjects to study. Hopefully you've already factored in the time you'll need for work, family, and friends. If you still have time left over, you can pursue a hobby maybe.

But if you don't make time to practice your French (for instance), you'll probably lose some of that language over time. It's probably that way with most knowledge. Use it, or you might not remember you know it. 

I think I knew the answer in my heart. I just needed somebody else to speak it to me and do justice to it through their words.

Edited by random_soldier1337

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With myself the only way I have been able to keep up with physics advances has literally been decades of continuous research and study. 

 Everytime I pick up a new article or textbook I end up cross referencing any term or theory I am not familiar with.

 When I first started cosmology Allen Guth first proposed false vacuum inflation back in 78. The amount of inflation models grew in staggering numbers since then. Though a vast majority are no longer viable.

It's seemingly daunting to try and keep up however the key factor is enjoyment and dedication to a topic. I study simply because I enjoy learning new studies. If you don't enjoy a topic your not likely to dedicate the time needed to keep up.

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8 hours ago, Mordred said:

With myself the only way I have been able to keep up with physics advances has literally been decades of continuous research and study. 

 Everytime I pick up a new article or textbook I end up cross referencing any term or theory I am not familiar with.

 When I first started cosmology Allen Guth first proposed false vacuum inflation back in 78. The amount of inflation models grew in staggering numbers since then. Though a vast majority are no longer viable.

It's seemingly daunting to try and keep up however the key factor is enjoyment and dedication to a topic. I study simply because I enjoy learning new studies. If you don't enjoy a topic your not likely to dedicate the time needed to keep up.

How many times have you read MTW?

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Posted (edited)

Remember the saying that people are learning more and more about less and less, that eventually we will know all there is to know about nothing?

In preindustrial days, people needed to know a lot of DIVERSE things to survive.  In modern times individual people know more about less, so VERY specialized that if we are returned to preindustrial times by a global disaster (climate change) survivors will be less able to adapt than ancient individuals, who were expert hunters, gatherers, and manufacture of everything needed to survive.  In modern times everything comes from factories.  Few people can produce everything they need to survive.  They are called "survivalists."

Edited by Airbrush

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14 minutes ago, Airbrush said:

Remember the saying that people are learning more and more about less and less, that eventually we will know all there is to know about nothing?

In preindustrial days, people needed to know a lot of DIVERSE things to survive.  In modern times individual people know more about less, so VERY specialized that if we are returned to preindustrial times by a global disaster (climate change) survivors will be less able to adapt than ancient individuals, who were expert hunters, gatherers, and manufacture of everything needed to survive.  In modern times everything comes from factories.  Few people can produce everything they need to survive.  They are called "survivalists."

I recall a point made by that by Kurzgesagt in one of their videos, for what it's worth. While we do have advanced science now, the brains of early civilization or pre-civilization humans, I think, were a lot more powerful for the sheer fact that they had to do, learn and remember so much just to survive.

Also, an interesting concept you brought up of survivalism. What does everybody make of this?

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