specialization


… whenever thought for a time runs along an accepted groove—there is an opportunity for the machine …

– Vannevar Bush. “As We May Think.” Atlantic Monthly (1945).  (Last accessed June 10, 2009.)

Each profession makes progress, but it is progress in its own groove. Now to be mentally in a groove is to live in contemplating a given set of abstractions. The groove prevents straying across country, and the abstraction abstracts from something to which no further attention is paid. But there is no groove of abstractions which is adequate for the comprehension of human life.

… The leading intellects lack balance. They see this set of circumstances, or that set; but not both sets together. The task of coordination is left to those who lack either the force or the character to succeed in some definite career.

… Wisdom is the fruit of a balanced development.

… professional training can only touch one side of education. Its centre of gravity lies in the intellect, and its chief tool is the printed book. The centre of gravity of the other side of training should lie in intuition without an analytical divorce from the total environment. Its object is immediate apprehension with the minimum of eviscerating analysis. The type of generality, which above all is wanted, is the appreciation of a variety of value. I mean aesthetic growth. There is something between the gross specialised values of the mere practical man, and the thin specialised values of the mere scholar. Both types have missed something; and if you add together the two sets of values, you do not obtain the missing elements. What is wanted is an appreciation of the infinite variety of vivid values achieved by an organism in its proper environment. When you understand all about the sun and all about the atmosphere and all about the rotation of the earth  you may still miss the radiance of the sunset. There is no substitute for the direct perception of the concrete achievement of a thing in its actuality. We want concrete fact with a high light thrown on what is relevant to its preciousness.

… But … art concerns more than sunsets. A factory, with its machinery, its community of operatives, its social service to the general population, its dependence upon organising and designing genius, its potentialities as a source of wealth to the holders of its stock is an organism exhibiting a variety of vivid values. What we want to train is the habit of apprehending such an organism in its completeness. It is very arguable that the science of political economy, as studied in its first period after the death of Adam Smith (1790), did more harm than good…. it riveted on men a certain set of abstractions which were disastrous in their influence on modern mentality. It de-humanised industry.

– Alfred North Whitehead. Science and the Modern World. Lowell Lectures, 1925. New York: The Macmillan company, 1925: 282-288.

When I last ran him to earth, I saw at once that it was not precisely an artist, but rather a man of the world with whom I had to do. I ask you to understand the word artist in a very restricted sense, and man of the world in a very broad one. By the second I mean a man of the whole world, a man who understands the world and the mysterious and lawful reasons for all its uses; by the first, a specialist, a man wedded to his palette like the serf to the soil. Monsieur G. does not like to be called an artist. Is he not perhaps a little right? His interest is the whole world; he wants to know, understand and appreciate everything that happens on the surface of our globe…. [He is a] spiritual citizen of the universe.

– Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life” (1863). In Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. Jonathan Mayne, trans. (London: Phaidon, 2006), p. 7.