Specialization

Of course, our failures are a consequence of many factors, but possibly one of the most important is the fact that society operates on the theory that specialization is the key to success, not realizing that specialization precludes comprehensive thinking. This means that the potentially-integratable-techno-economic advantages accruing to society from the myriad specializations are not comprehended integratively and therefore are not realized, or they are realized only in negative ways, in new weaponry or the industrial support only of warfaring.

All universities have been progressively organized for ever finer specialization. Society assumes that specialization is natural, inevitable, and desirable. Yet in observing a little child, we find it is interested in everything and spontaneously apprehends, comprehends, and co-ordinates an ever expending inventory of experiences. Children are enthusiastic planetarium audiences. Nothing seems to be more prominent about human life than its wanting to understand all and put everything together.

One of humanity's prime drives is to understand and be understood. All other living creatures are designed for highly specialized tasks. Man seems unique as the comprehensive comprehender and co-ordinator of local universe affairs. If the total scheme of nature required man to be a specialist she would have made him so by having him born with one eye and a microscope attached to it. What nature needed man to be was adaptive in many if not any direction; wherefore she gave man a mind as well as a coordinating switchboard brain. Mind apprehends and comprehends the general principles governing flight and deep sea diving, and man puts on his wings or his lungs, then takes them off when not using them. The specialist bird is greatly impeded by its wings when trying to walk. The fish cannot come out of the sea and walk upon land, for birds and fish are specialists.

Of course, we are beginning to learn a little in the behavioral sciences regarding how little we know about children and the educational processes. We had assumed the child to be an empty brain receptacle into which we could inject our methodically-gained wisdom until that child, too, became educated. In the light of modern behavioral science experiments that was not a good working assumption.

[...]Now let us examine more closely what we know scientifically about extinction. At the annual Congress of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as held approximately ten years ago in Philadelphia, two papers were presented in widely-separated parts of the Congress. One was presented in anthropology and the other in biology, and though the two author-scientists knew nothing of each other's efforts they were closely related. The one in anthropology examined the case histories of all the known human tribes that had become extinct. The biological paper investigated the case histories of all the known biological species that had become extinct. Both scientists sought for a common cause of extinction. Both of them found a cause, and when the two papers were accidentally brought together it was discovered that the researchers had found the same causes. Extinction in both cases was the consequence of over-specialization.

[Source: Buckminster Fuller - Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth]