Page:Lawhead columbia 0054D 12326.pdf/27

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

The times, in short, are a-changing; the kinds of problems facing science today increasingly call for a diverse and varied skill-set—both in theory and in practical application—and we ignore this call at our peril. This is true both inside traditional disciplines and outside them; in that sense, Taylor’s call was perhaps not as radical as it first appears—the kind of collaborative, problem-focused research that he advocates is (to a degree) alive and well in the traditional academic habitat. Research in quantum mechanics, to take one example on which my background allows me to speak at least semi-intelligently, might incorporate work from particle physicists doing empirical work with cloud chambers, high-energy particle physicists doing other empirical work with particle accelerators, and still other particle physicists investigating the mathematics behind spontaneous symmetry breaking. Progress will come as a result of a synthesis of these approaches to the problem.

This is hardly earth-shattering news: science has long labored under an epistemic and methodological division of labor. Problems in physics (for instance) have long-since become complex to such a degree that no single physicist can hope to understand all the intricacies (or have the equipment to perform all the necessary experiments), so physicists (and laboratories) specialize. The results that emerge are due to the action and work of the collective—to the institutional practices and structures that allow for this cooperative work—as much as to the work of individual scientists in the laboratories. Each branch supports all the others by working on more-or-less separable problems in pursuit of a common goal—a goal which no one branch is suited to tackle in isolation. In the case of elementary particle physics, that goal is (roughly) to understand patterns in the behavior of very, very small regions of the physical world; every relevant tool (from mathematical manifolds to particle accelerators) is recruited in pursuit of that