Last week, on 26th and 27th of January, Lithuanian Society of Young Researchers held a conference "Interdisciplinarity: How to Make it Work". During the conference presenters, which included both scientists and officers of varying institutions, from all over the world and Lithuania have shared with the attendees their success stories and provided ideological grounds for the discussions on the interdisciplinarity.
For me the most important part was the aforementioned ideological background. Working in the context of Physics of Risk it is important for us to see where do we actually stand. Are we still in physics or maybe we have moved to the other domains (e.g., economics, financial mathematics or maybe even into the brand new independent field econophysics?). So in this text I will attempt to share and develop some interesting thoughts heard during the conference. I have found K. Kirtiklis paraphrase "Embrace the object not the field" (original phrase by J. R. Beniger ) thought the most interesting. Further one could develop it by drawing analogy between the hobbits of J. R. R. Tolkien and scientists working "in between the classical disciplines" (thought drawn from the A. Gedutis presentation) - they take up very challenging quests, go to an interesting journeys and comeback not better, not worse, but slight different from the average Joes.
Interestingly enough interdisciplinarity has very interesting, non self-evident, structure. Most commonly one sees the interaction between two disciplines with the three possible states - discipline "A", discipline "B" and something in between "AB". While the interaction is far more complex:
- One might have multidisciplinary interaction. In such case there is no actual integration - just the scientists from the different fields attempt to tackle the same problems. Scientists in the different fields do not exchange information.
- Pluridisciplinarity is very similar to the previously mentioned multidisciplinary, but the scientists interact among themselves exchanging their point of views. Though they still retain their disciplinary backgrounds and their communication efforts are not administrated or specifically encouraged.
- Interdisciplinarity implies that the communication is being externally administrated. Teams of scientists with different backgrounds are formed and scientists attempt to solve the same problem on different levels considered by their scientific backgrounds.
- The tightest intergration - forming single general ideological framework - is referred by the term transdisciplinarity.
There are claims that currently econophysics is at the weakest integration level, but in the nearest future it should become transdisciplinary field . In the recent years there were some papers by physicists which use the results and ideas from non-physical fields to yield interesting results (for example see our [3, 4, 5] works.). While FuturICT flagship project has the full potential to organize and administrate European (though not only European) scientists from the different fields in order to create single large and very general ideological product.
Efforts by FuturICT reminds the dominician approach towards education. The dominicians though that each person should an expert at a certain narrow field and that institutions should manage the communication of these experts in order to achieve external unity of science (according to S. Fuller's presentation). Though there is an alternative approach - franciscan approach (this approach was discussed by different presenters, though the mostly developed it was in R. Marcinkevičienė's presentation). The franciscans attempted to educate each person as an expert in varying fields unifying the science internally in each individual. Nowadays to implement this approach one would need lots of time and limitless financial resources, because one would need to foster entire generation who would think "out of the box" - think without specific specialization or fixed approach. This path would be also a very risky one as there is fixed infrastructure of journal and publishers each with their own fixed publishing culture. The "universal" scientist might not be able to find their place in there. Thus despite the fact that the results might be interesting and promising, but this path is just too risky and costly to be implemented. Though its time might come some day in the further future.
I would like to end the text with a thought, which was in focus since the first minutes of the conference. In the beginning science was uniform field. Later it was divided into the different independent fields as for human it is easier to solve simplified reduced problems. In the recent years scientific community has started to face problems with higher degree of complexity. Some very important systems might not be correctly understood with the reductionist approach! Thus they must be studied from the many different point of views in order to be able to understand it as a whole in the full detail. Thus the different fields of science must cooperate in order to be able to face the increasing complexity of analyzed systems. This cooperation should lead once again to the certain unification of science, its method and principles. Or in K. Pearson's words (from "The grammar of science"):
The field of science is unlimited; its material is endless, every group of natural phenomena, every phase of social life, every stage of past or present development is material for science. The unity of all science consists alone in its method, not in its material.
- J. R. Beniger. Communication - Embrace the subject, not the field. Journal of Communication 43: 18-25 (1993).
- F. Jovanovic, C. Schinckus. Towards a transdisciplinary econophysics. Journal of Economic Methodology 20: 164-183 (2013). doi: 10.1080/1350178X.2013.801561.
- V. Daniunas, V. Gontis, A. Kononovicius. Agent-based versus macroscopic modeling of competition and business processes in economics. ICCGI 2011, The Sixth International Multi-Conference on Computing in the Global Information Technology, pp. 84-88. Luxembourg, 2011. Note: Received IARIA Best Paper Award (see https://www.iaria.org/conferences2011/AwardsICCGI11.html). thinkmind: iccgi_2011_4_40_10188. arXiv: 1104.2895 [physics.soc-ph].
- S. Reimann, V. Gontis, M. Alaburda. Interplay between positive feedback in the generalized CEV process. Physica A 390: 1393-1401 (2011). arXiv: 1008.0568 [physics.data-an].
- V. Gontis, A. Kononovicius, S. Reimann. The class of nonlinear stochastic models as a background for the bursty behavior in financial markets. Advances in Complex Systems 15: 1250071 (2012). doi: 10.1142/S0219525912500713. arXiv: 1201.3083 [q-fin.ST].