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Pathways of Interdisciplinary Cognition

Author(s): Svetlana Nikitina


Source: Cognition and Instruction, Vol. 23, No. 3 (2005), pp. 389-425
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COGNITION
ANDINSTRUCTION,
23(3),389-425
? 2005,Lawrence
Erlbaum
Associates,Inc.
Copyright

Pathwaysof InterdisciplinaryCognition
SvetlanaNikitina
WorcesterPolytechnicInstitute

In this article,I proposethatat thejunctureof disciplines, the mind is involved in at


least 3 cognitive activities:overcominginternalmonologism or monodisciplinarity,
attainingprovisionalintegration,and questioningthe integrationas necessarilypartial. This claim is supportedby interviewdata I collected primarilyfrom faculty involved in the developmentand teachingof interdisciplinarycourses in programsincludingthe Universityof Pennsylvania'sCenterfor Bioethics, SwarthmoreCollege's
InterpretationTheory,and the NEXA Programat San FranciscoState University.I
suggest that interdisciplinarythinking is fundamentallysimilar to dialogical exchanges occurring in language and in collaborative activities in which
epistemological positions are bartered.Bakhtin's (1981) theory of dialogic understanding and subsequentlinguistic theories of conceptual metaphorand blending
serve as a constructivetheoreticalframeworkfor the understandingof interdisciplinarycognition. Viewing disciplinesbroadlyas languages,epistemologies,andcollaborativepracticeshelps uncoversome underlyingcognitive mechanismsthatdeserve
furtherinvestigation.
Are there educational institutions left in this country that do not engage in interdisciplinary work? Is the spread of interdisciplinary programs just a fad or a reflection
of a changing pattern of knowledge production? If ubiquity of interdisciplinary
learning and teaching is indicative of an important intellectual shift, what does it
represent cognitively? What kind of cognitive process is involved in interdisciplinary work? Is it something unique and sui generis, or does interdisciplinary thought
follow some basic cognitive pathways involved in other intellectual activities?
These questions served as a staring point for this investigation.
When one thinks of interdisciplinary insight, one typically thinks of it as an instantaneous flash of imagination that intuitively and inseparably blends ideas and
creates a striking new synthesis. However, this image of different perspectives

of Humanities
andArt,
Requestsfor reprintsshouldbe sentto SvetlanaNikitina,Department
Worcester
Institute,30 RussellRoad,Wellesley,MA 02482.E-mail:svetlana@wpi.edu
Polytechnic

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coming seamlessly togetherin a flash is often farfromthe realityof daily effortsto


make many disciplinary ends meet. In reality, interdisciplinarythought goes
througha complicatedchain of operationsbefore it reaches(if it happens)a satisfactorysynthesis.This processremainslittle exploredandunderstood,as few studies have looked at individual thinking in interdisciplinaryclassrooms in a sustained and systematic way. What are the cognitive operations in which an
interdisciplinarymind engages on the path towardthe integrationof disciplinary
ideas? To what extent is interdisciplinarythinkinga unique process, and in what
way does it resemble other forms of collaboration,communication,and knowledge sharingthattakeplace in any good classroom,organization,or conversation?
This article is a modest attemptto parse this complex phenomenonof interdisciplinarycognition andto proposea theoreticalframeworkin which to considerit in
the future.
Thus, my goal is to accomplish three things: (a) to identify recurrentmental
moves thatuniversityinstructorsgo throughwhen they developor teachinterdisciplinarycoursesregardlessof theirtopic or disciplinarybackground;(b) to putforth
a hypothesis(to be furthersubstantiatedby new empiricalstudies) thatthese processes may be fundamentallysimilarto ourcommonlinguisticandcommunicative
behaviors, which happen to be dialogic in their nature;and (c) to propose that
dialogic behaviors,so explicit in interdisciplinarywork,formthe basis of ourcognition in general.To achieve its goal, in this studyof interdisciplinarycognition, I
centeredon the descriptionof the threemajorelements or moves in the interdisciplinary thought. These include (a) overcoming monodisciplinarity;(b) achievement of provisional integration,and (c) critical questioningof such integration.
Eachof these moves in turninvolves a host of activitiesassociatedwith it, some of
which I outline here, whereasothersremainto be capturedin futureresearch.

RESEARCH STUDY AND DATACOLLECTION


This studyof interdisciplinarycognitionis partof a larger3-yearHarvardInterdisciplinary Study examining exemplarypractices of interdisciplinarywork at the
collegiate, precollegiate, and professional levels. The overarchinggoal of the
largerproject is the empiricalinvestigationof the psychological, organizational,
pedagogical,and epistemologicalaspects of interdisciplinarywork.1
The inquiryinto interdisciplinarycognition I presenthere relies on a collegiate
sample of interdisciplinaryprogramsincluding the NEXA Program(San Francisco State University [SFSU]), InterpretationTheory (SwarthmoreCollege),
Centerfor Bioethics (Universityof Pennsylvania),and the HumanBiology Pro1Harvard'sInterdisciplinaryStudy is carriedout at ProjectZero, a researchbranchof the Harvard
GraduateSchool of Education,and is supportedthroughfundingfrom AtlanticPhilanthropies.

INTERDISCIPLINARYCOGNITION

391

gram (StanfordUniversity).2These programsand institutionshave been selected


based on the following criteria:
1. Existence of the programfor at least 5 years.
2. Solid commitmentto doing interdisciplinarywork statedin the mission or
articulatedby key personnel.
3. Continuityin directionand execution of the program.
4. Explicit pedagogy and assessmentcriteriadesigned to supportinterdisciplinarylearning.
5. Appreciationof the complexity of the interdisciplinarywork (on a cognitive, institutional,and pedagogical level) and continuedcritical questioning and developmentof the program.
Although meeting these general criteria, programs differed substantiallyin
their organizationalstructures,forms of collaboration,and intellectualfocus. The
NEXA Program(NEXA), for example, has been set up with a distinctmission to
promotedialogue between the "two cultures"(Snow, 1959). This goal is realized
througha series of courses, which are team taughtby a scientist and a humanist
(with a few exceptions). The InterpretationTheory (IT) concentration at
SwarthmoreCollege pursuesas its goal the deliberateand sustainedexamination
of the act of interpretationitself representedin variousmodes of inquiryand hermeneutictraditions.It offers capstoneseminars,which arealso teamtaughtby representativesof the two disciplines, mostly in the humanitiesand the social sciences, with recentforays into computerscience andbiology. Coursesat the Center
for Bioethics at Universityof Pennsylvania(Bioethics), on the otherhand,aretypically taughtby one instructor(a sociologist or a philosopher)who bringstogether
biomedical,ethical, anthropological,and legal thoughtto informthe issues of human cloning, organ transplantation,and genetic engineering.The uniquenessof
each programin terms of its organizationand disciplinaryfocus was not at all a
handicapfor this study.On the contrary,it providedan opportunityto ask whether
the cognitive pathwaysof participantswould differas a functionof differentdisciplinarybackgroundsor the organizationof the program.
Data collection took place duringone researchvisit to selected colleges in the
fall of 2002. Two researchers(including myself) conducted one interview with
each faculty and studentparticipantin the course of a 3- to 4-day visit to each site.
Visits also included classroom observations,meetings with programadministrators,andcollection of samplesof studentwork.In total, 30 facultyparticipantsand
28 studentswere interviewedat all specified institutions.Overall, 10 classroom
2AlthoughI did not specificallyuse the datafromStanfordUniversity(HumanBiology Program)in
this writingfor reasonsof space and focus, it has richly informedgeneralthinkingaboutthe cognitive
processes and the largerstudy of interdisciplinarypedagogy.

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observationstook place including observationof one joint grading session with


two faculty members.Faculty publicationsyielded additionaldata for analysis. I
providethe list of key informantsin AppendixA as the CoreResearchParticipants
table for ease of orientation.Not all interviewsand not all programswere used to
the same degree, as I selected interviewsthatcontainedextendeddescriptionsand
reflectionson the evolutionin participants'thinking.
Interviewswith faculty and studentslasted on averagebetween 1 and 2 hr and
centeredon questionsrelatedto (a) the organizationof the interdisciplinaryprograms,(b) teachingthatgoes on in the interdisciplinarysettings,and (c) the cognitive impacts of interdisciplinarylearning or collaboration.I provide a more detailed list of these three sets of questionsin AppendixB.
Descriptionsof faculty collaborationsas well as of the individualthoughtprocess for integratingthe differentdisciplinaryperspectives(in which bridgeswere
attempted,crumbled,tried again, tested in front of students, and a new way of
thinkingandteachingemerged)were foundto be the most useful data.It was helpful thatmost collaborationswere long-term(lastingfrom severalmonthsto several
years),giving participantstime to takestock anddevelopa moreobjectiveperspective on what took place. Still, relianceof this researchprimarilyon self-reflection
andretrospectiveself-reportingnaturallyraises methodologicalconcerns,which I
share.The way in which this studyattemptedto securesome validityfor its preliminaryconclusionswas throughtriangulationof findingsacross (a) a varietyof programs with differentdisciplinaryorientationsand organizationalstructures,(b) a
range of instructorsfrom differentdepartmentswho workedtogetheras teaching
partners,and (c) includingtwo students'testimonies to shed light on the courses
offeredby faculty members.3

THEORETICAL
FRAMEWORK
This studyof a multistepprocessof interdisciplinarycognitionis guidedby a theoreticalpremisethatthereexists an importantsimilarity-and possibly a fundamental connection!-between the interdisciplinaryeffortsandothermentaloperations
thatinvolveinternalor externaldialoguesuch as metaphoricthought,collaborative
work,andotherformsof negotiatingof differencesandmergingof ideas. Thus,besides a descriptiverole, this studyis also an attemptas systematization.The people
involvedin this study attemptto find a cogent theoreticalframe,which would link
interdisciplinarycognition with cognition in general,and they find this link in the
dialogical tendencyof the mind of humansas describedin the work of psycholinguists, educationaltheorists,and other scholars.

3Studentinterviewswere not nearlyas numerousandarethereforeused only as supportdatafor triangulationof instructor'sexperiences.

desmor
onarse
evaluar

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What helped establish the connection between interdisciplinaryand general


cognition was the ratherbroaddefinitionof discipline entertainedboth by the researchersand the researchparticipantsin this study.Both the researchersand the
participantsused the word discipline in at least three overlappingmeanings: (a)
discipline as culture,referringto an academicor departmentaffiliationor to a collaborationof people within the institutionalstructure;(b) discipline as epistemology, referringto sharedmethodologicaltools and ways of knowing;and (c) discipline as language, referringto communicationthat uses a similar language or
symbol system. The interview protocol itself, as outlined previously, prompted
participantsto consider all three aspects of interdisciplinarywork-organizational, epistemological,and cognitive. Table 1 summarizesthe threebodies of literatureand sets of terminologythatcan informthe understandingof interdisciplinary cognition.
TABLE1
MultipleSources of Theoryand TerminologyThatCan Inform
the UnderstandingInterdisciplinary
Thinkingat DifferentLevels
Understandingof Discipline
Discipline as language
Interdisciplinaryexchange is
viewed as interactivityof
Voices
Utterances
Discourses
Semiotic systems
Symbols
Worldviews
Ideologies
Discipline as epistemology
Interdisciplinaryexchange is
viewed as interactivityof
Methodologies
Belief systems
Validationcriteria
Ways of knowing
Theory and practice
Worldviews
Ideologies
Discipline as culture
Interdisciplinaryexchange
is viewed as interactionof
Teachingpartners
Departments
Organizationalstructures
Academic cultures

Sources of Theory

TerminologyUsed

Cognitive linguistics
Literarytheory
Culturalstudies
Cognition studies

Dialogue/dialogic
Conceptualblending
Metaphor
Discourse
Pidgins, creoles
Rival hypothesis
Semiotic communities
Metalanguage

Educationaltheory
Philosophy
Studies of disciplinaryand
interdisciplinarityeducation

Distributedcognition
Epistemologies
Tradingzones
Boundarycrossing
Domain specific cognition
Epistemicpractice
Dialogic classroom

Educationand educational
administrationframeworks
Organizationaldevelopment
AnthropologySociology

InquiryRival hypothesis
Activity theory
Communitiesof practice
Cultures
Conflicts
Sharedpractice
Knowledge-sharing
Peer learning

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Conceiving of a discipline or "an interdiscipline"in such broadterms helped


me see the relevanceof the organizationaland educationaltheoriesof "communities of practice"andlinguistictheoriesof "conceptualblending"as potentialparallels to interdisciplinarythought offering a theoreticalframeworkof explanatory
power. The closest parallels seemed to be offered by the linguistic theories of
Bakhtin(1981), Vygotsky (1963, 1978), andLakoffandJohnson(1980) as well as
of Fauconnierand Turner(1994, 2002), all of which targetindividualcognition at
its fundamentallevel. Thus, terminologyand concepts that anchorsuch theories
were borrowedliberally.
Organizationaland educationaltheories, however, provideda useful support,
too. Viewing interdisciplinarywork as collaborationamong people, for example,
makessome ethnographic,anthropological,or organizationalframeworksparticularly insightful. Wells (2001a, 2001b, 2001c, 2002); Wertsch (1998); Mercer
(2002); Engestrom,Engestrom,and Karkkainen(1995); Engestrom,Engestrom,
and Sunito (2002); Duschl (1990); and Duschl and Hamilton(1992) have all written aboutthe importanceof collaborativeinquiryandjoint activityas the organizing pointof learning.A proponentof "culturalhistoricalactivitytheory,"for example, Wells and Claxton(2002) wrote aboutthe value of "developingdialogues"in
which "... individualinvestigationsare ... embeddedwithina collaborativeframework of joint activity and the dialogue of knowledge buildingwithin the community as a whole"(p. 201). Likewise, Engestromet al. (2002) recognizedthe collaborativeand dialogic natureof knowledge and "thepower of multi-voicedness"(p.
211) in their "activitytheory"framework.
In additionto this literature,organizationaltheoriesalso emphasizethe key role
of the communitiesof practicein successful businesses.Wenger,McDermott,and
Snyder(2002) definedcommunitiesof practiceas groupsof people who over time
develop "a tacit understandingthat they share"and "a body of common knowledge, practices,andapproaches"(p. 5). Thus,organizationaltheoristsmakea powerful case for "knowledgeas social as well as individual"(Wengeret al., 2002, p.
10). Some of them have gone even furtherin theiremphasison the crucialrole of
dialogue andmultivoicednessin businessandeducation.They have suggestedthat
argument,conflict, debate, and the use of rival hypotheses is what students or
workingteams need to achieve excellence. Graff(1992, 2003) and Flower,Long,
and Higgins (2000) have all arguedthatinstitutionshave to understand"thecentralityof controversyto learning"(Graff,2003, p. 12) andteaching.Echoingorganizationalandactivitytheorists,Graff(2003), for example,insistedon "tapping...
into students'youthful argumentcultures, which are not as far removed as they
look frompublicformsof argument"(p. 155). Flower(2000) championedthe view
that"learningto rival"is at the foundationof genuinelearning.Followingthe view
of classical rhetoric, Flower (2001) regardedconflict as a positive "communal
practicethat leads to the creationof meaning"(p. 31).
Literaturein which disciplines are viewed as epistemologies can also be helpful in lending insight into the cognitive paths of people involved in interdisci-

INTERDISCIPLINARYCOGNITION

395

plinary work. Such literature explores rules of exchange that govern the
epistemological trade.Galison (1997), for instance, describedthe interactionbetween the different cultures of physics-experimental, theoretical, and instrumental-as the process of creation of "tradingzones," "borderlanguages" or
"pidgins"to allow for "characteristicforms of argumentation"to evolve "around
specific practices"(p. 806). Literatureon disciplinaryeducation (Duschl, 1990;
Gardner,2000; Palmer,2001) has emphasizedthe value of bringinginto subject
area learningmethodologicaland epistemological perspectivesfrom other disciplines. Duschl (1992), for example, argued for bringing into science
"epistemological metaknowledge" (p. 489), which some participantsin this
study attempt to do in their teaching of science.
Experts on interdisciplinaryeducation (Klein, 1990; Klein & Doty, 1994;
Kocklemans, 1979; Lattuca, 2001; Newell, 1998) have developed sophisticated
categorizationsof the differentforms of disciplinaryexchange based on how different methodologies are linked, what is being "traded"in "multi-disciplinary,"
and "interdisciplinary"4
transactions.Al"meta-disciplinary,"
"transdisciplinary,"
to
an
theoretical
this
literature
one
guide
provide important
might expect
though
for the study of interdisciplinarycognition, such a guide is generallystill lacking.
Empiricalstudies of interdisciplinarythoughton the individuallevel have largely
remainedoutside of the scope of this literature.So far, it has addressedthe issue
mostly by generatingdescriptivelists of thinkingdispositionssuch as "flexibility,
patience,resilience, sensitivityto others,risk-taking"(Klein, 1990, p. 183). Summarizing her analysis of such studies, Klein (1990) observed that the empirical
studies and thick descriptionsof "thecomplex actualityof doing interdisciplinary
work" (p. 184) are generally underrepresented.An exception may be Newell's
(1998) study(Klein & Doty, 1994) of interdisciplinarypedagogy,which attempted
to describe the interdisciplinaryprocess5itself. Although useful for this study, it
does not providea theoreticalframeworkbeyondthese observations.In this investigation,I hoped to take a step in that direction.
What arguablyyields the deepest understandingof the workings of the mind
and its cognitive operationsis the view of the discipline as a languagein the broad
sense of the word.Focus on individualcognitive transformationratherthanon organizationalcollaborationor teachingpracticemakes semiotic shifts and symbol
exchange a promisingparallelto what goes on in interdisciplinarythinking.Also,
languagehere signifies more thanthe rules of grammarand syntax-rather, it is a
carrierof belief systems and a representationof ideological, disciplinary,andperasmorethana
to thisdefinition)
work(andI subscribe
hasdefinedinterdisciplinary
4Thisliterature
interaction(Boix
simpleaggregationof epistemologiesbut rathertheiractiveand transformative
1979).Twoelements,in
2000;Klein,1990;Kocklemans,
2000;Gardner,
Mansilla,Miller,& Gardner,
efforts:(a)deepdisciplinary
thisview,arecrucialforinterdisciplinary
knowledgeand(b)its substanandall participants
tiveexchange.All programs
profiledin thisstudywerecarefullyselectedto meet
bothof thesecriteria.
classroompractice.
aninterdisciplinary
5Newell's(1998)focuswasprimarily

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sonal positions. Bakhtin (1981), Vygotsky (1963, 1978), Lakoff and Johnson
(1980), Lakoff (1993), and Fauconnierand Turner(1994, 2002) have all written
extensively on how differentutterances,ideological platforms,and symbols interact in the flow of naturalspeech and what the underlyingmechanismof their exchange might be.
Bakhtin's(1981) writingson dialogic imaginationareparticularlyuseful as his
views on dialogue closely capturethe two core featuresof interdisciplinarywork:
(a) its rootednessin deep disciplinaryknowledge (or individualvoice) and (b) the
substantiveexchange and transformationof this voice or disciplinaryperspective
in the course of interaction.Bakhtindescribedthe dialogic mind as the mind that
attains"polyglot consciousness"(p. 274). Bakhtin'sview of language evolution
andthe evolutionof literarygenresdescribesthe growingabilityof the mindin the
culturalhistoryto overcome monologic tendencies,to achieve "heteroglossiaand
multi-languagedness"(p. 274) in which several ideas or disciplinaryinputs are
sustainedin a dialectic and nonrelativisticway.
This conception seems to suggest a constructiveplatformfrom which to view
interdisciplinarycognition. In the light of Bakhtin's (1981) theory, overcoming
monodisciplinaritymay be seen as similar to overcoming monologic thinking.
Bakhtin'sdescriptionsof dialoguerunparallelto ourparticipants'reportsof the interdisciplinarysynthesisthey achieved,expressedas balancingamongseveralperspectives without abandoningone's core positions. Bakhtin's terminology (dialogue, dialogic, monoglossia, and heteroglossia) and its reference to internal
cognitive operations make it a natural choice as vocabulary to describe
epistemologically multivoicedinterdisciplinarythinking.Bakhtin'sconcepts and
notions (dialogic, multivoiced,collaborative)arealso profitablyappliedby educational andorganizationaltheorists(see previously)to describefoundationalvalues
in classroom or business practices. For example, Sidorkin (1992), Galin and
Latchaw(1998), Wells (2002), Engestromet al. (1995), Engestromet al. (2002),
and Mercer(2002) have constructivelybuilt on Bakhtin'sand Vygotsky's (1963,
1978) ideas on the relation"betweenthe social and the psychological uses of language"to conceive classroomsin which one can "cultivatethe polyphonyof student voices and backgroundsand use language as a means for thinking collectively" (Mercer,2002, p. 153).
Writingsby cognitive linguists Lakoff and Johnson(1980) on the metaphoric
structureof cognition and by Turner(1996, 2001) and Fauconnierand Turner
(1994, 2002) on conceptualblending have been built on the Bakhtiniannotion of
dialogue and heteroglossia and provide furtherweight to Bakhtin's (1981) theory by tapping language itself. Lakoff and Johnson (1980), for example, described humans'ordinaryconceptual system as "fundamentallymetaphoricalin
nature"in the sense that we understand"one kind of thing in terms of another"
(p. 5). Similar to Bakhtin, Lakoff (1993) thought of metaphornot just as a linguistic phenomenonbut as a defining featureof thought:"Thelocus of metaphor

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397

is not in language at all but in the way we conceptualize one mental domain in
terms of another.The generaltheory of metaphoris given by characterizingsuch
cross-domainmappings"(p. 203). Lakoff and Johnson(1980), followed by other
cognitive scientists, posited that we conceptualize abstract notions by
"cross-mapping"them on to concrete experiences. For example, we routinely
representideas as substances("I am going to pieces"), time as matter("living on
borrowedtime," "I lost a lot of time"), mental processes as mechanical actions
("grinding out the solution"), and emotional states as upward or downward
movement ("feeling down," "sinking fast," "peak of health"). This kind of
dialogic cross-mappingor substitutiontakes place not only in language or literature but in science as well. Writingaboutthe use of metaphorin science, Brown
(2003), for example, assertedthat the scientist "understandscomplex systems in
nature in terms of conceptual frameworksderived from experiential gestalts,
ways of organizingexperience into a structuredform" (p. 12). Cognitive scientists Fauconnierand Turner(2002), whose theory of conceptual blends fluidly
builds on the work of Lakoff and Johnson (1980), describedthat the centralactivity of our "backstagecognition" is conceptualblending, by which they mean
fusing in everydayspeech and thoughtof "atleast two influences"or "contributing spaces." These two different contributionsor concepts get cross-mapped
with the result that a new space or meaning emerges. A linguistic example of
this might be the emergence of the notion of incompetence from blending the
concepts a surgeon and a butcher in the phrase "this surgeon is a butcher."
Educators,too, have also been drawingfor a long time on metaphor,conceptual
models, and maps as "aidsto cognition"and as a way to explore the unknownin
termsof the known (Moreno& Mayer, 1999). Remarkablesimilaritiescan be noticed both in terminologyand in substancebetween the descriptionsof psycholinguists, educationaltheorists,and interdisciplinarityexpertsdespite their different
areasof focus.
With all of the useful parallelismbetween language behaviorsand interdisciplinarywork, however,the psycholinguisticframeworksneed to be applied with
cautionas an ambient,not a task, light. Voices in dialogue, words, or even ideologies colliding in the literary text are not disciplines with their epistemological
depthandsophisticatedmethodologies,which takeyears of concertedstudy.Interdisciplinarywork,althoughsimilarin fundamentalways to otherformsof collaborative or linguistic activity, has importantdistinctions. Bakhtin's (1981) insight
abouthumanthoughtas evolving towardgreaterdialogicity,for example,referred
to cognition as distributedin historic time and linked to the evolution of national
languagesthat went from being "deafto each other"in ancientGreece and Rome
to becoming irreversiblymixed in RenaissanceEurope.This historic insight cannot be transferredto the development of knowledge systems, which seemed to
grow with time towardgreaterspecializationratherthanthe reverse.Interdisciplinary thoughtmay be a case of conceptualblendingon a large epistemic (ratherthan

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linguistic) scale, with uniquefeaturesof its own that need to be exploredfurther.


Interdisciplinarywork perhapsinvolves greatereffort and is more visible as comparedto subtlebackstageactivitiesof a linguisticnature.As such, it may lend itself
to easier study and may eventuallyprove useful in validating,elaborating,or substantiatingpsycholinguistictheories.Only furtherresearchinto the natureof interdisciplinarycognition can show if a fundamentalcausal link exists between conceptualblending and epistemologicalexchanges across disciplines.
The overlapbetween the cultural,epistemological, and linguistic perspectives
on interdisciplinaryworkis hardto overlook(see Table1). All threelevels of interpretationrevealthe core underlyingprocess of evolving dialogizationand a growing ability of the mind to sustainequilibriumbetween differentinputs.

METHOD
Focus on the thinkingprocessandits evolutionpromptedthe methodfor this study.
The bulk of datacomes from personalinterviewswith universityfaculty6who reflect on their interdisciplinarycollaborationeither with anotherfaculty member
(from anotherdepartment)or with anotherdiscipline. As a result of this focus on
individualcognition, participantdescriptionsof their thoughtprocesses in the interviews were the primarysource of analysis and systematization.
To establish recurrentpatternsand stages in interdisciplinarythought, interviews with scholarsengagedin interdisciplinaryteachingwere subjectto rigorous
analysisandcoding. An exampleof such an analysisis presentedin Vignette 1 (see
Table 2) representinghow a philosopher,Don Provence, and a physicist, John
Burke,at SFSU go throughthe processof avid learningabouteach other'sposition
(demonologization),uncoveringtheir own disciplinaryassumptionsand attempting a merger(integration)althoughawareof the fact thatit will not be "definitive"
(questioningintegration).
To arriveat this parsingof data,researcherssubjectedinterviewmaterialto several coding passes. The firstcoding pass targetedsuch broadcategoriesas "definitions of interdisciplinarywork,""cognitivechallenges of interdisciplinarywork,"
"momentsof integration,""benefitsof interdisciplinarylearning,"and so forth.
Close attentionwas paid to descriptionsof collaborationsamong faculty in which
participantsdetailedhow specificallytheirthinkinghas changedoverthe courseof
collaboration.Once these generalcategorieswere established,the second coding
pass involved analysis of specific cognitive moves. Subcategoriessuch as "developing appreciation,""admittingignoranceand need for learning,"and "rejecting
integrationas final,"were established.Attentionwas paid also to the sequence of
6Accountsof collaborativeefforts and studentinterviewdataare only used as supportdatato help
validateinstructors'personalreflectionsand classroomobservations.

TABLE2
Evolution of the Understanding of Light and Color
From Monodisciplinary to Interdisciplinary
VignetteI
John Burke
Physics and AstronomyProfessor,NEXA Program
San FranciscoState University
My five-year experience of teachingReality in the New Physics with
Don is an example of having the two minds approachthe same
subjectfrom differentdirections.It was a marvelousexperience for
me of finding out how good philosophersare at pinning weak
arguments.[Appreciationof alternativedisciplinaryviews]. Being a
physicist, I've got lots of things in my head that are obvious, except
of course they aren't.Don and I would get to this question of reality,
which philosophersbasically don't want to talk about,the reality of
the universe.So I would come on andjust withoutthinkingproceed
as if something were obvious. What is mass? Isn't energy the real
stuff? Don was picking up on how does the physicist actually look at
these things. And the answer to that is it's sort of a
method of trying to figure out
grubby-hands-on-whatever-works
what's going on in the universe.We, physicists, use color, for
example, in a very sloppy way. [Identificationof strengthsand
weaknesses in disciplinaryperspectives]. We talk aboutred shifts
and blue shifts, red and blue as if that meant wavelengthof light. It
took Don threeyears to get to see the sense of the conclusion [of the
book on colora]that color is an illusion, albeit a well-founded
illusion. And then afterhe did, he said, "Yeah,but I don't accept
that!"Had anothertwo years of that. [Choosing to accept or reject a
differentdisciplinaryperspective]. Why do philosopherscare about
color? And the historicalanswer is, it seems to be a given truthabout
the world.
We found out prettyquickly that philosophyhas really ceased in large
measureto be informedby the physical sciences. So, Don was
learningthe physics, and I was realizing that a direct empirical
correlationturnsout to be a falsehood aboutthe world. I was exposed
to these experimentsthat show, here are two wildly differentspectra
of light that produceprecisely the same color experience.That
basically smashes the idea that color is directly connected to the
physical attributesof what is coming in. It was to be viewed as some
sort of cooperativethings between brainsand the world. We went for
the ferment.The color perceptionis a combinationof the light that
enters the eye and what the braindoes with it. [Emergenceof a
hybridunderstandingof assimilative type]. We found at the end of
the five years we could bring the studentsa lot furtheralong toward
the goals of the class, because we had come furtheralong.

Overcoming
monodisciplinarity:
Recognizing limits in
disciplinary
perspectives

Integration:Seeking an
integratedview of the
issue

(continued)

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TABLE2 (Continued)

In orderto hope for a melding of the ways of thinking,you just sort of


have to put it out a bit explicitly what constitutesthe way a
philosopherapproachesa problem?[Appreciationof alternative
views]. What constitutesthe way a physicist approachesa problem?
If that were all we did, it'd be a dullsville course. The notion that
somehow there is a war between the humanitiesand the sciences is, I
think, disastrous.[Rejection of monologism,commitmentto
demonologization].I used to think, "Physicsis God."I got disabused
of that idea prettyquickly. On the other hand, I do not uphold a point
of view that science is just one more story.Newton's theory wasn't
the last word, but Newton's story did put men on the moon within
centimetersof where the predictionssaid they would go. Newton's
story gives you very, very precise predictionsof where an asteroid
will be a hundredyears later.And as of yet, there is no existing
observationinconsistentwith Einstein's theory of generalrelativity.
Humanistsand scientists need to ask together:What is color? What's
real stuff? What is time? What is consciousness? Consciousness isn't
physics, it's not philosophy,but it's something we can both say what
we think about it. So you actually see the two methods, the two
approachescoming togetherand fermenting,neitherone being
definitive. [Rejectionof provisional integrationas final].

Sustainingdialogue:
Questioning
dominanceof any one
field while pressing
for a betterjoint
understanding

aGilbert,for example,insists on using metaphorsin his teachingof biology, which is richlyinformed


by historyof science and culturalstudiesperspectives.Such notionsas sperm,egg, and fertilization,for
example, are offered to studentsloaded with culturaland mythologicalmeaning."Youhave the heroic
sperm,which reallyfollows the mythof the hero very well, you can show alternativestories,you can dehe describes.However,he also pointsout the limitsof
constructthis one andshow its social background,"
such literaryanalogy and cultural metaphorin conveying the biological reality, citing the different
epistemologicalgoals of the two kindsof discourse."Biologically,a spermis not a militaryhero;a sperm
is not the victor.To see the spermas activeandthe egg as passiveis biochemicallyincorrect."To explore
how metaphoris used in the science versusthe humanitiesclassroomandespeciallywhatuses it is putto
in interdisciplinaryenvironmentswould be a fascinatingtopic for futureempiricalstudy.

different cognitive moves, although no specific pattern here was conclusively established. As can be seen from Vignette 1 (Table 2), which shows the final coding
stage of the interview, coding could be tricky and individual stages hard to isolate.
Participants often included the description of their appreciative stance
(demonologization) into their portrayal of a tentative merger of ideas or of its questioning. In one case, an interviewee confessed failure to achieve satisfactory integration but showed commitment to both continued questioning of synthesis and to
demonologization. Still, all 11 participants included in this article (100%) pointed
to demonologization efforts in their work (some several times during the interview), 8 interviewees (73%) described their aspiration for some kind of synthesis
or productive merger (even if it failed to come about this time), and 10 participants
(91%) talked about their need to strive for a better resolution of differences. Vignettes 2 and 3 (Appendix C and D) provide additional examples of the data and
the coding method.

INTERDISCIPLINARYCOGNITION

401

OVERCOMINGMONODISCIPLINARITY
We had the discussions on science and religion, science and creationism.
Whenyou ask somebody,"Whyis it you believe thatthe earthis not fourand
a half billion years old?"-they would talk about faith. "Whatdoes faith
mean to you?"I think the studentreally,really consideredfor the first time
somethingthathe had neverhad the freedomto do before. Then he said, "I
know at such a profoundlevel."And I had to stop and try to consider what
thatmustfeel like. Did the studentleave this class in ignorance?No. The student considered.It didn't shake or alterhis belief, but it gave the studenta
chance to understandwhy I, a scientist,believe something.I can thinkof instances with my colleagues in the humanitiescapitulatingto me saying, " I
will tell you a story and then Ray [Pestrong]will tell you how it really is."
Thereis often a capitulationto the science. (Ray Pestrong,NEXA instructor
and professorof Geosciences at SFSU)
The first stop on the way towardinterdisciplinarysynthesis of ideas, accordingto
participants'interviews,seems to be overcominga monodisciplinaryperspective.
This is exemplified linguistically in the theories developed by Bakhtin (1981),
LakoffandJohnson(1980), andothersandis practicallysimilarto the firststeps of
learninga foreign language.
All 11 participants(100%) we interviewedsignaled that they came to realize
early in theirinterdisciplinaryprocess thatthey needed to make a move from single-languageexistence (anchoredin one discipline)to a polyglot life. The way they
did it differedfromparticipantto participant,butinvolvedin one formor another(a)
thedevelopmentof anappreciationof alternativedisciplinaryviews; (b) theidentification of strengthsand weaknesses inherentin one's disciplinaryposition;and (c)
the formingof a decision aboutwhatto accept,adapt,or reject.Seven interviewees
(64%) mentionedall threeprocesses, whereasthe others (36%) mentionedone or
two of thesesteps.Any one of thesementalactionscouldleadparticipantsawayfrom
a monological to a more dialogical conceptionof the phenomenon.
Appreciating Alternative Disciplinary Views
Synthesis of ideas is arguablyimpossible without some degree of regardand appreciationof alternativeepistemologicalsystem as worthyof exploration.Professors Pestrong, Scott Gilbert,and Paul Wolpe all demonstrateintellectualcharity
towardtheir teaching partnersand their disciplines. They seek out alternativesto
their own disciplinary perspective on the course material and try them on.
Pestrong,for example,comes "toconsiderwhatthat[creationistview of the world]
must feel like."Collaborationsamong scientists and humanistsin our study often
revealedan effort to establish status of equalitybetween the sciences and the humanities. Seeing your teaching partnerin terms of epistemological equity thus

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seems to be an essentialpartof overcomingmonodisciplinarity.However,how is it


achievedpractically?
Pestrongat SFSU, Gilbertat Swarthmore(Vignette2), and other college professors in the study see it as part of their teaching mission in interdisciplinary
courses to convey to studentsthatthe story of the world can be told in manydisciplinarytongues, all worthconsideringbefore stakingone's own ground.According to Gilbert,for example, the body may be "definedby the humangenome project," by an immunologist,and also by a politician, each telling their own story.
Appreciationdoes not mean capitulationof one's own disciplinarybeliefs to the
views of anotherdiscipline. Gilbertfirmly believes in the higherpower of science
to account for genes or sperm, but he actively uses myth and metaphor to
demonologize science in his teaching, making studentsaware of more than one
way to accountfor the naturalphenomena.
Burkesees the process of teachinga NEXA seminaras having "thetwo minds
approachthe same subject from differentdirections."Similarly,historianof science Zajonc (1993) described how in the history of scientific exploration,the
philosophical and psychological argumentsinfluenced the understandingof the
natureof light waves. It became increasingly clear to people such as Faraday,
Planck,and Einsteinthatperceptionsare informedby the social and innercontext
of the perceiver(Zajonc, 1993). In Catchingthe Light: The EntwinedHistory of
Lightand Mind,Zajonccapturedthe crossingof scientific andphilosophicalpaths
in inquiriesinto the natureof light. Zajoncended his investigationin a similarvein
as Burkefinishes his story of collaborativeinquiryinto color with Provence-by
claiming that integrationof physical and psychological perspectivesis the only
way to go, even thoughit does not fully reconcile views or obliteratedisciplinary
differences.Zajoncwrote
Light ... has been treated scientifically by physicists, symbolically by religious

Eachgivesvoiceto a partof our


thinkers,andpractically
by artistsandtechnicians.
of
When
heard
all
experience light.
together, speakof one thingwhosenatureand
meaninghasbeentheobjectof humanattentionformillennia.Duringthelastthree
of lighthavebeenkeptseverelyapart
centuries,theartisticandreligiousdimensions
fromits scientificstudy... thetimehascometo welcomethemback,andto crafta
fuller image of light thanany one discipline can offer. (p. 8)

In the same vein, sociologist Wolpe (Vignette 3) came to learn "an enormous
amount"from philosophersat the Centerfor Bioethics at the Universityof Pennsylvania.Wolpelearnedthat"thereis a case to be madefor clearlyreasonedlogical
thinkingaboutethical issues leadingto a recommendation,"andbecame skilled at
thinking"verysystematicallyaboutthings."This is not the skill in which sociologists are rigorouslytrained,but it is crucial in the field in which one is routinely
partof policy debates.

INTERDISCIPLINARYCOGNITION

403

As many educationaltheoristssuch as Engestromet al. (1995), Wells (2001c),


Engle and Conant(2002), and Duschl (1990) have pointed out, charitableregard
for alternativeviews and a broad curiosity are thinkingdispositions in any good
classroom,not specific to interdisciplinaryenvironmentsalone. "Productivedisciplinaryengagement,"Engle andConant(2002, p. 401) concluded,does not necessarilymean acceptingall disciplinarynormsandpositions withoutquestion,but it
may involve informedchallengingor extendingof such views with properjustification. Althoughthere are many ways to be dialogue orientedand appreciativeof
otherpositions, interdisciplinaryopennessto challenge is of a special nature.It involves deeper explorationof the epistemological roots of one's understanding,
criticalcomparisonof differentdisciplinarymethods,and substantivetransformation of views as a result. Yet at its cognitive core, it bearsresemblanceto the best
disciplinaryworkandto dialogic communications,which involve attendingto differences and extendinga respectfulregardto clashing views.
In practice,appreciationof alternativedisciplinaryviews also means realizing
the limits of one's own monoglossia. Thus, the interdisciplinarydialogue is not
just aboutgeneralreceptivityto alternativeviews. It involves active selection and
criticaljudgment.For example, learninga new disciplinarylanguageis not about
memorizingevery word in the dictionaryor hearingevery sound in the streamof
speech;it involves knowingwhatto listen for.Burke,Pestrong,Wolpe,andGilbert
have all heardand carefully consideredalternativedisciplinaryargumentsbut in
the end have stakedtheir own ground.
Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses
in Disciplinary Perspectives
In the Bakhtinian(1981) framework,high receptivity to other voices does not
mean obliterationor subjugationof one's own voice. The salience of both self and
other is what makes true dialogue both tenuous and rewarding.Bakhtiniandialogue as well as Fauconnierand Turner's(1994, 2002) conceptualblending is a
constantbalancing act. The same unsettlingprocess of sorting out strengthsand
weaknessesin differentpositions againsteach otherseems to characterizeinterdisciplinarywork, accordingto our participants.Sometimes it leads to a realization
that one's own disciplinarytools cannot quite handle the subject, and sometimes
one begins to see clearly the weakness in the otherdiscipline's position.
Workingside by side with a philosopher,Burkebegins to see the filtersthathis
disciplinaryassumptionsas a physicist impose on his approachto the understanding of color. He has never questionedbroad concepts such as mass, energy, and
materialrealitybecause they seemed "obvious"to him as a physicist. It took philosopherProvenceto point out to him how "sloppy"and "grubby-hands-on-whatever-works"were his answersto these fundamentalquestions.Zajonc (1993) described a similar realization achieved by scientists when the quantumtheorists

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failed to accountfor the natureof light and color: "Whatare the primaryqualities
of light that vouchsafe its unambiguousexistence? The extraordinaryresponse
given by quantumrealismis thatthereare none. Light, as enduring,well-defined,
local entity vanishes"(p. 315). Workingside by side with the humanitiesfaculty,
involvedin "themangleof practice"(Pickering,1995) of theirsciences, Burkeand
Pestrongcome to realize thatscientific answersto the questionof color, mass, and
energy are not powerfulenough.
At the same time as he discoveredfailings in physics, Burkerealized thatphilosophy,too, does not have all the answers."Philosophyhas really ceased in large
measureto be informedby the physical sciences,"whereasphysics is weak in its
definitionsof mass, energy,and reality.In a similarfashion, Gilbert,in his class,
exposed the weaknessesand strengthsof bothbiology andcriticaltheoryby bringwith experiing them into close contact.He used science "tolimit interpretations"
mentaldatawhile at the same time turningto the humanitiesto preventsimplification of an issue and to remindscience of its social responsibility.Appreciationof
the alternativedisciplinein his case goes handin handwith the criticalcomparison
of differentdisciplinarytool kits. This process of sortingand weighing is a crucial
step towardprovisionalintegrationof ideas.

Accepting or Rejecting Disciplinary Perspectives


Following considerationof the strengthsand weaknesses of individualdisciplinary positions, a naturalmove is to make a decision as to which positions to accept and which to reject. Neither the interdisciplinarythinkersin the study nor
theorists describing dialogic thinking point in the direction of relativism. After
long study and appreciativeconsiderationof the scientific data, Provence came
to reject its argumentsas unsupportedby humanexperience. Color, in his view,
does convey "a given truthabout the world,"despite the fact that science is unable to quantify it. Burke, on the other hand, refused to buy into the view that
science "isjust anotherstory"aboutthe world, with the same explanatorypower
as myth.
Burke,Pestrong,and Gilbertended up regardingthe mythologicalexplanation
of the world's origins as valuablebut unequalto science. "Thecreationiststory,"
Gilbertasserts,"is not equalto the evolutionstory-one is supportedby a hundred
years' worthof researchand dataand the otheris not; and, one is based on certain
rules of evidence and the other is not." Gilbert draws a clear line between
postmodernistassertions that science is no more than a social constructionor
"productof the mind"and his own view of science as coconstructedwith society
and ultimatelycapableof assertingcertainlimited truths.
Overcoming disciplinarymonoglossia throughpicking and choosing among
many alternativevoices seems similar to the interdisciplinarywork of sorting

INTERDISCIPLINARYCOGNITION

405

among possible disciplinaryperspectives.It is also one of the most consistentfeatures of the interdisciplinaryprocess reportedin 10 interviews(91%).

PROVISIONALINTEGRATION
My five-yearexperienceof teachingRealityand the New Physics with Don
is an example of having the two minds approachthe same subjectfrom different directions.It was a marvelousexperience for me of finding out how
good philosophersare at pinning weak arguments.... Physicists, use terms
like "mass"and"color,"for example,in a very sloppy way.We talkaboutred
shifts and blue shifts, red and blue as if color were identicalwith the wavelength of light. In orderto hope for a melding of the ways of thinking,you
just sort of have to put it out a bit explicitly.Whatconstitutesthe way a philosopher approachesa problem?What constitutesthe way a physicist approaches a problem?Then, humanistsand scientists need to ask together:
What is color? What's real stuff? What is time? What is consciousness?
Consciousness isn't physics, it's not philosophy,but it's somethingwe can
both say whatwe thinkaboutit. So you actuallysee the two methods,the two
approachescoming together and fermenting,neither one being definitive.
(Burke, NEXA instructor and professor of Physics and Astronomy at
SFSU)7
The second turningpoint in interdisciplinarythinking takes place when participants attemptto actually bridge different disciplinaryperspectivesinto an integratedwhole. Althoughthis step has been describedas the ultimategoal and purpose of an interdisciplinary enterprise by most participants (73%), few
intervieweesfelt they had actually achieved a satisfying closure in the end. Similarly, in the Bakhtin-Vygotsky frameworks,a dialogical exchange-the goal of
any communication-is not easy to achieve, as it requiresthe two distinct verbal-ideological utterancesto mesh and blend and to behave "as if they actually
hold a conversationwith each other"(Bakhtin,1981, p. 324). Both in dialogic and
in interdisciplinarythinking,this goal seems to be as elusive as it is compelling.On
one hand, Bakhtin(1981) found the developmentof "polyglotconsciousness"as
inevitableand omnipresentin our languageand culture:"Theword in living conversationis directly,blatantly,orientedtowarda futureanswer-word:it provokes
an answer,anticipatesit and structuresitself in the answer'sdirection"(p. 280). At
the same time, dialogue (which fluidly connects social and individualcognition,
7See Vignette 1 in Table2.

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the functioningof a culturewith the interiorthoughtof its single representative)involves constantdynamicreconciliationof differingpositions:
Theword,breakingthroughits ownmeaningandits ownexpressionacrossanenvironmentfull of alien words ..., harmonizingwith some of the elementsof this envi-

ronmentandstrikinga dissonancewithothers,is ablein thedialogizedprocess,to


shapeits ownstylisticprofileandtone.(Bakhtin,1981,p. 277)
In the words of Bakhtinianscholar and educationresearcherSidorkin(1992),
dialogue for Bakhtinis achieved not just by averagingthe two ideas but ratherit
is revealed when one can hear and comprehend both or all voices simultaneously-when one's own voice joins in and creates something similarto a musical chord. In a chord, voices remaindifferent,but they form a differenttype of
music, which is a principle unachievableby a single voice. The idea that dialogue is being continuallycraftedand depends on the individualityof each note
provides a powerful parallelto what happensat the interfaceof disciplines or in
inquiry-based classrooms. Wells (2001b) pointed out that Vygotsky's and
Bakhtin's ideas of "responsivity"and multivoicednessunderlie the practice of
dialogic inquiry, which he would have liked to foster in every classroom (p.
185).
The parallel between interdisciplinarythought and language may be more
pronouncedat the point of mergerbecause a move towardsynthesis involves explicit blending of ideas and languages. As in metaphorsor conceptualblends in
which the composite meaning emerges from differentverbal inputs, the ultimate
understandingto which scholars arrivein an interdisciplinaryprocess tends (as
in the case of Burke and Provence) to result in new approachestowardthe subject. Also, the case of Burke and Provence, a physicist and a philosopherevolving a new syntheticunderstanding,is not unique. A numberof prominentphysicists grapple seriously with the fundamentalconcepts of energy and reality
(Hawking, 1998; Wheeler, 1990); there is as well a growing group of philosophers whose work is deeply informedby biological or physical data, such as the
work of Dennett (1991) and others. In all of these efforts, integrationof disciplinary ideas is seen as the ultimate goal of interdisciplinarywork. Burke describes how he and Provence "went for the ferment"and eventuallycame to see
color "as some sort of cooperativething between brainsand the world."They arrived at a view of color as a psychophysicalunity, informedboth by physics and
by individualperception,with neitherperspectivebeing definitive. Their mental
journey (moving throughappreciation,sorting out the strengthand weakness of
philosophy and physics as ways to account for the phenomenonof color, to active learningfrom each otherand attemptinga mergerof perspectives)is marked
by a striking similarity.

INTERDISCIPLINARY
COGNITION 407

Synthesis,however,does not meanthe same thingfor all participants.Although


Burkeand Provencehybridizedideas from differentdisciplines, otherparticipants
focused moreon extendingandcomplexifyingtheirdisciplinarytool kits by incorporatingsome practicesfrom otherdisciplines. Both of these pathwaystowardintegration-hybridization and complexification,as I have called them-are prominent in all eight interviewsthatfeaturedintegration.
Emergence of Hybrid Understanding
In the case of BurkeandProvence,getting to the fermentin theirunderstandingof
color meantreachinga view of color informedboth by the material(physics) and
subjective (psychology of perception) perspectives. Hybridizationinvolves the
melding of the disciplinaryviews in which the positions of the two disciplines become inseparable.Gilberttalks of a similarprocess of hybridizationof historical
and biological perspectives,which producesa view that science is coconstructed
with society andis neitherthe productof social forces norcompletelyindependent
of them.
Cognitively,hybridizationof disciplinaryviews may manifestitself in easing of
tensions and differencesamong disciplines and in their exaggerationfor the sake
of constructing a bridge. Burke demonstratesboth tendencies, which I term
assimilative and contrapuntal.He first describeshow he uses one discipline as a
counterpointto anotherby "dumbfoundingthe position A (philosophy) with the
position B (physics)"in frontof the students.Then, he and Provencemove to the
harmonization(assimilation)of the two perspectivesin theirpsychophysicalconception of color.
Some interviewparticipantsshowed a clear predispositionto eitherthe contrapuntalor the assimilativeapproach.Gilbert,for example, is generallynot predisposed to exacerbatedifferencesbetweenbiology andthe humanities.He prefersto
go straight"forthe ferment"and downplay the disciplinarydifferences.His colleague at Swarthmore,philosophy professor Rick Eldridge, on the other hand,
would like to see more contrapuntalencountersamong disciplines, at least in IT.
Eldridgesees positive value in clearerdemarcationof disciplinarylines, as a productive strategyfor achieving a complex understandingof phenomena."I would
love to teach interdisciplinaryclasses that were framedin termsof a fundamental
disciplinarydebate,"Eldridgestresses. "I thinkthe students,as long as they have
masteredsome home disciplinaryparadigms,would benefitimmenselyfrom ... an
all semesterlong examinationof how differentdisciplinaryparadigmsengage divergentlywith common objects of study."
Entireprogramsexploredby the HarvardInterdisciplinaryStudysometimesdisplayeda preferenceforeitheranassimilativeorcontrapuntalapproachto integrating
knowledge. This may be linked to the core mission to promotedialogue among

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membersof thetwo culturesor,by contrast,to preparestudentsforpublicdebateand


takinga standon divisiveissues. TheNEXA programat SFSU maybe a good example of anassimilativetypeof program.Mostof the facultyandstudentswho wereinterviewedwere attractedto "theconvergence"of disciplinaryviews. "Thepoint of
convergence,"describesthe founderof NEXA, Michael Gregory,
... is firstof all to give anexerciseto a scientistanda humanistin gettingto know
eachotherintermsof a commoninvestigation.
Inconvergence,
thereis nonewdisciof twoexistingdisciplinesandtheirprotocolsuponanobpline,buttheapplication
ject of attentionthatlies outsideandbeyondthesedisciplinesas such.
Otherprograms,such as the Centerfor Bioethics at the Universityof Pennsylvania, bring out the counterpointin different disciplinaryideas about complex
bioethicalissues. Althoughtheirgoal too is to ultimatelyreacha "consensus"and
propose a policy solution that integratesthe voices of many constituents,instruction often takes the form of "performative"disagreementamong differentparties
to the issue. Professorsbuild theircurriculumaroundcombustibleissues such as a
patient'srightto die or humancloning andpurposefullypolarizestudentsby pushing them to take a standon issues. Researchat the Centeris informedby the distinct,often contrasting,contributionsof philosophersandsociologists. Sociologist
Wolpe explains
Thephilosophers
andthetheologianssee it as theirbusinessto makethoseethical
recommendations.
Thesocialscientistsdo not.So whenyou'rereallywearingthat
hat
sociological squarelyon yourhead,yourjobis to refuteorsupportphilosophical
ortheologicalpointsnotbecauseyoucanagreeordisagreewiththemethically,but
because you can supportor not supportthem empiricallyor culturally.I think the

clearcontribution
of thesocialscientistis grounding
ideasin theactualexperience
of
A
kind
of
inductiveratherthandeductiveunderstanding
of ethics.Thecripeople.
tiqueof somephilosophical
perspective
by sociologistsis notjusta critiquebasedon
intellectual
and
data,butis alsoa critiquebasedon whatis sometimesdisembodied
logical thoughtleadingto a conclusion,which is entirelydisconnectedfromthe lived
experienceof the people who actuallymake ethical decisions.

However,althoughpersonalor institutionalpredispositionmight slant scholars


towardassimilationor counterpoint,the two approachesoften form a continuum.
Burke,for example,startshis move towardan integratedunderstandingof color by
firstconsideringhow his andProvence'sdisciplinaryapproachesclash or possibly
addressdifferentaspects of the phenomenon.Gilbertuses a similar strategy.Before Gilbertarrivesat an integratedview of biology as "thequeenof liberalarts,"to
use his description,he exposes the disconnect among differentsubdisciplinesof
biology:

INTERDISCIPLINARY
COGNITION 409
a cell or a plantverydifferentlydependingon theirtraining...
Biologistsinterpret
youtakesaya heartcell, that'sanappropriate
example-andthewaya physiologist
looksatthatcell,thewaya developmental
biologistlooksatthatcell, thewaya gerontologistlooksat thatcell, it couldbe a differentcell!
This outline of integrativemoves shows thatthe interdisciplinarymind (at least
in 73%of cases) at this point goes beyond mereappreciationfor otherdisciplinary
perspectives,comparingand contrastingtheircapacityto addressthe problem,or
even assess theirrelevance.The realdialoguebegins when the mindattemptsto actively fuse those understandingstogetherinto a coherentwhole. Similarto what is
happeningat the borderor in the tradingzones between cultures,exchange of disciplinarygoods leads to the emergenceof commoncurrenciesor intermediatelanguages. As Galison (1997) described,
Inthelogicalcontextof thetradingzone,despitethedifferences
in classification,
sigof demonstration,
thetwogroupscancollaborate.
nificance,andstandards
Theycan
cometo a consensusabouttheprocedure
of exchange,aboutmechanisms
to determinewhengoodsare"equal"to oneanother.(p. 803)
This need for barteris what Burkeand Provenceexperiencewhen they talk about
coming to dependon each otherin unravelingthe notion of color for students.
Emergence of Complex Disciplinarity
Emergenceof a complexified view of the discipline means stretchingof the core
concepts and theoriesto respondto the challenge offeredby anotherdiscipline. In
complexification,the mind does not try to stake out new groundoutside the disciplines or on the bordersof disciplines butrathertakesthe dialogueinto the interior
of the field and changes it from within. This process may be indicativeof the fact
thatdialogic qualitycan be the propertyof a disciplineitself, notjust of an interaction among disciplines. Future studies may find it productive to consider the
dialogic openness of the disciplines to include new perspectives,to apply "foreign" methods,and to revolutionizeacceptedparadigms(Kuhn, 1962) from without or from within.8
After their interdisciplinaryadventure,Burke and Provencedid not returnunchangedto physics andphilosophy.Provence,in Burke'saccount,came to view reality in a new and more materiallight. Burke, following 5 years of coteaching an
interdisciplinarycourse called "Realityand The New Physics,"reportedthat he
8It may be interestingto explore whether particularopenness to dialogue and susceptibility for
self-revision is a symptom of a particularstage in the life of a discipline (preparadigmatic,paradigmatic, or revolutionary),to use Kuhn's(1962) conceptualization.

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came to realize the crucial need to be more consistent and precise in speaking
about the core tenets of his discipline such as energy, mass, light, and color.
Burke'steachingof physics changed"to include a tremendousamountof writing
as comparedto calculation"and to demandmuch more clarityof thinkingand argumentationthanhe ever expected of students.He came to see "clarityin the language" as something that is "cruciallyimportantto [students']understandingof
what's happeningin physics."He acquireda new appreciationfor the Einsteinian
equationsas the expressionof profoundtruthaboutmatter."Afteraboutfive years
I finally decided,OK, I've got to say it. Real stuffis energy-momentumfour-vector
density."He came to see thathiddenin this formulawas "thebest thingthatone has
going in physics for the answer to that question [aboutthe natureof reality]."In
otherwords, a philosopherand a physicist not only forged a hybridunderstanding
of light andcolor,they also complexifiedtheirrespectivefields andaddedsubstantially to them.
An example of complexifying disciplinaryviews is the work and teaching of
Gilbertat Swarthmore.9His history backgroundand collaborativeteaching in IT
helped him realize how much biology actually relies on interpretationand that
"there'sno such thing as an uninterpretedcell." Biology in his hands becomes a
morecomplex field involvingstorytellingandmetaphoricalthinkingas well as hypothesistesting. Gilbertdoes not wanthis studentsto leave his class with a narrow
view of biology as "mereinterpretation,"
nor does he want studentsto see biology
as purelyfactual.He is alwayschallenginghis disciplineto incorporateboth scientific and interpretivetraditions.
Complexificationcan result from a transformingencounterwith anotherfield.
A case of this in ourdatais the workof the sociologist RobinWagner-Pacificiwho
after coteaching an IT course with professorof literaturePhil Weinsteinbecame
more deeply "reattached"to her home field of sociology. However,what she became reattachedto was not the same old sociology she used to practicebut a sociology awareof its largerhumanisticroots and issues and a sociology remindedof
the importanceof the individualin the social fabric.Wagner-Pacificireportedbeing reconfirmedas a sociologist because she realizedsociology's largerrole in the
humanitiesand social sciences as the revealerof the "social embeddedness"of
subjectiveexperiences.
Hybridizationandcomplexificationareby no meansthe only ways to engage in
an interdisciplinarydialogue. Integrationor disciplinary heteroglossia, to use
Bakhtin'sterm,can be attainedvia differentroutes.Undoubtedly,close longitudinal studiesof interdisciplinaryworkwill uncovervariantpathstowardprovisional
synthesis of ideas.

9See Vignette 3, AppendixD.

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411

REVISING INTEGRATION
At some points in this course, I emphasizescience as interpretative.At other
points,I emphasizescience as havinga pathto certainconclusionsandcertain
ways of knowingthatarereallyimportantto get right.It's a verythinline. Being a scientiston such a program[IT] is skatingon very thinice. I don't want
the studentsto go awaythinkinga) thatscience is mereinterpretationto-every cell is interpretation,beforeyou know DNA is an interpretation,spermis
an interpretation;and b) I don't want them going away thinkingscience is
completelyoutof therealmof interpretationtheorybecauseit's all aboutfacts
andnumbers.Those arethe two thingsI don't wantthemto come away with.
(Gilbert,IT instructorand professorof Biology at SwarthmoreCollege)10
Althoughintegrationof disciplinesis a definingmomentin interdisciplinarywork,
it is no meansthe point of closure. A prominentthirdstep in the developmentof an
interdisciplinarythoughtis the point of revisionandquestioningof the provisional
synthesis. All forms of hybridor of complexifiedknowledge are necessarilypartial, often unsatisfying,and always open for furtherquestioning.It is interestingto
note thateven participantswho did not directlytalk aboutintegrationdid mention
the dangerof settlingdown andacceptingone kind of mergerof ideas withoutcontinuallyrevising it. Thus, althoughonly 8 (73%) participantsI have mentionedin
this articletalked about synthesis, 10 (91%) referredto the importanceof continued search.
Likewise, dialogic situations,as describedby Bakhtin(1981), neverquitereach
the point of full settlement.Dialogue, in Bakhtin'sdescription,is characterizedby
a state of irresolution,where "fewer and fewer neutral,hardelements ... remain
that are not into dialogue. Dialogue moves into the deepest molecular and ultimately,subatomiclevels" (p. 300). Fauconnierand Turner(2002) and Lakoff and
Johnson(1980) also have seen conceptualconsistencyas anomalous,with conceptual blending, metaphoricalcrossovers,and dialogic structuresformingthe foundationof our cognition, ultimatelymarkingus as humanspecies.

Rejection of Integration as Final and Complete


At the end of Vignette 1, Burke, Physics and AstronomyProfessor,NEXA Program,talks aboutemergingfrom the interdisciplinarycollaborationwith a philosopherwith a new perspectiveon physics andon the theoryof color.He is no longer
contentto regardsuch notions as light, color, or consciousnessas domainsof physI?SeeVignette 2, Appendix C.

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ics alone. In Burke'sview, if "consciousnessisn't physics, it's not philosophy,"it is


but a bit of both, then physics andphilosophyneed to continuetheirconversation,
even though a definitive answer may not be found in any individualor blended
field. Thereis no expectationon Burke'spartthatphysics will one day completely
subsumephilosophyor thatthe differencesbetweenthese two disciplineswill ever
be reconciled. Neither do biology and critical theory come together in Gilbert's
classes in a way thatresolves differencesamongthem. Balancingthe two perspectives involves at some points bringingout the interpretivenatureof science and at
others, claiming science's power to limit and weed out weak interpretations.He
treadsthis thin line not to deliberatelybaffle his studentsbut ratherto put them on
the path of continualsearchingfor complex answers.
His student,SophiaAccord, answersthe call. Herinterviewoffers a measureof
validationto the experiences of her teacher.In the IT seminar,Sophia ends up
treadinga similarthin line, weighing the argumentsof genderstudieson one hand
againstthe argumentsof science on the other.Afterconsidering"genderas merely
a performance,"she observes that this is not biologically the case. She realizes,
"Everythingis not a social construct.We have to acknowledgephysical realities."
She does not end up rejectingeither perspective,nor does she relativisticallyaccept them both as equal. In otherwords, she, as her professorGilbert,areheld in a
dialogical space between seeing science as a social constructand seeing it as being
above social discourse.
In bioethics, differencesbetween pragmaticphilosophersand sociologists are
also nevercompletelyresolved. Wolpeworksthroughthis tension every day. MirroringWolpe's epistemologicaldifficultyin the resolutionof differencesbetween
sociology, law, andphilosophy,ClaireRobertson-Kraft,a bioethics studentat University of Pennsylvania,describes consensus as "one of the most difficult problems faced by bioethicists"and something of which she has troubleconceiving.
Robertson-Kraftpoints out, "Whenyou're dealing with somethingas complex as
humancloning, you can't really expect the general public to understandthe science behindwhatit meansto clone a humanbeing. Youcan only hope thatthey understandthat there's a difference between therapeuticcloning and reproductive
cloning."Accordingto her, "consensusmay be impossible because those coming
from a religious perspectiveare nevergoing to be of the same mind as those coming from a scientific perspective,who will neverunderstandthe anti-abortionprotesters who fail to see eye to eye with pro-choice supporters."Thus, both an instructorand a studentsee harmonizationof differentviews as a dauntingtask.
Rejectionof integrationas final and complete is typically not a sign of despair,
althougha few participantssharedsuch feelings. More frequently,it is perceived
as an impetus to finding betterbridges between disciplinaryideas or including a
wider scope of disciplines. The vision of a stable mergerof disciplines may actually be antitheticalto the interdisciplinaryconvergence ideal, pursued by the

INTERDISCIPLINARYCOGNITION

413

NEXA program,for example. The whole point of convergence,in the view of the
programfounder Gregory,is that the participantsboth maintain"fidelity"to the
disciplinesandat the same time substantivelyinformandtransformthemby bringing them into close contact with each other. This strikes a chord with the
Bakhtinianconception of the dialogue as an ultimatelypositive and constructive
way to give manyvoices a hearingor in the conceptualblendingtheories,to create
new meaning out of several inputs. The dialectical unity of disciplinaryintegrity
and transformation,stabilizingand destabilizingforces acting on the disciplinary
synthesis,propelthe participantsto defy cognitiveclosureandcontinuetheirinterdisciplinaryefforts.

DISCUSSION
Research on interdisciplinarycognition brought about three kinds of findings.
First, careful observationand in-depthinterviewinghelped to identify the major
steps thatappearrecurrentin most participantson the pathtowardinterdisciplinary
integrationof ideas. These included overcoming monodisciplinarity(which involved appreciation,careful sorting, and critical selection of the most productive
approaches),attemptinga tentativesynthesis (eitherthroughcomplexificationor
hybridizationof ideas), andquestioningit as necessarilyincomplete.Althoughnot
all of these stages were presentin all interviewsor were presentin that sequence,
they appearedsufficientlyrecurrentto allow this preliminarysystematization.The
results of this study are summarizedin Table3.
This is by no means an exhaustivelist of steps. Overcomingdisciplinarymonism, for example,may involve morethandevelopmentof an appreciativeattitude
towardotherdisciplines, defying the limits imposed by one discipline, and deciding to reject or accept theoriesbased on theirrelevanceand credibility.Also, realizations thatone frameof referenceis not enough took differentforms in different
TABLE3

Efforts
Three MajorCognitiveMoves in Interdisciplinary
OvercomingMonodisciplinarity

ProvisionalIntegration

Appreciationof alternative
disciplinaryviews
Identificationof strengthsand
weaknesses in disciplinary
perspectivesAcceptanceor
rejectionof different
disciplinaryinputs

Emergenceof hybrid
understanding
(contrapuntalor
assimilative)Emergenceof
complex disciplinarity

RevisingIntegration
Questioningand critical
probingof integration
Rejectionof the provisional
integrationas final and
complete

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participants.Some participantsdevelopedan investigativeinterestin anotherdiscipline, othersexpressedtoleranceto alternativemethodsof inquiry,and still others


starteda careful comparisonbetween disciplinarytools and the estimationof the
degree of usefulness of one versus anotherto shed light on the issue.
Second, the study traceda close parallelism(which needs to be furthertested
and substantiated)between interdisciplinarycognitive moves and dialogic behaviors describedin psycholinguistic,educational,andorganizationaltheories.These
theories, especially psycholinguistic ones, can potentially serve as a theoretical
frameworkfor the understandingof interdisciplinarycognition. Especially useful
are the insights of Bakhtin (1981) and his followers (Lakoff, Johnson, Turner,
Fauconnier)into the dialogic, metaphoric,and blending tendencies of our language andthought.Althoughthereareconsiderabledifferencesbetweenthe interactionof disciplines andthe interactionof wordsin speech, theremay be some underlying cognitive mechanism that shapes and explains both. More researchin
cognitive linguisticsandcommunicativebehaviorsin interdisciplinaryclassrooms
may help shed light on the natureand closeness of this parallel.
Third,in this study,I suggested the possibility that there exists a centralcognitive process expressive of the dialogical tendency of our mind, which manifests itself in interdisciplinaryand other kinds of thinking.Although broadgeneralizations are perilous in a study of this size, it is notable to observe that
differences among participantsand programsdid not seem to contributeto substantivedifferences in how participantsmet the cognitive challenge at the basic
level. Whetherthey taught a science-centeredor an ethics-centeredcurriculum,
they journeyed a similarpath from demonologizationto questioningtheir tentative synthesis of ideas. More studies will need to fully supportthis finding. It
will also be fruitfulto investigatewhetherinquiry-baseddisciplinaryclassrooms
and interdisciplinaryclassrooms differed substantiallyin terms of the cognitive
paths of their participants.
Instructorsand designers of interdisciplinarycurriculaare encouragedto use
the findings of this study to monitorstudents'progress in reachingthe cognitive
goals of overcoming monodisciplinarity,attaining integration,and questioning
the provisional synthesis of ideas in a more systematic and deliberate way.
Asking such questions as are studentsmaking truly integrativemoves?, what is
the productof their synthesis?, and how open are they to revising the synthesis
and searching to find a better fit of ideas? can make the educationalimpact of
this study more tangible.
Equally tangiblecan be the impactof interdisciplinarythoughton teaching as
describedby the college instructorsparticipatingin this study. Faculty reported
becoming more sensitive to terminology and argumentation,gaining theoretical
depth, and becoming more willing to recognize the methodologicalassumptions
on which their conceptions were based. SandraLuft, a Humanitiesprofessor at

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415

SFSU and her teaching partner,James Peters (Physics), insist on a more "complex and sophisticated"view of science and aim for an appreciationof ambiguity
and uncertaintyin some of its tenets to emerge from their students.Thus, this research, showing the positive effects of interdisciplinarythinkingon learningand
teaching, may lend additionalsupportfor quality interdisciplinaryprogramson
college campuses.

DIRECTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH


This studygeneratedmanymorequestionsthanit could possibly answer.This may
be an expectedoutcomegiven the preliminaryandframework-settingnatureof the
study.Althoughtriangulationacross schools and instructorsrevealedstrongresonances across differentdata,it also sharpenedthe awarenessthatmore researchis
called for to corroboratethe resultsof this study.Certainmentalbehaviors(e.g., integrativemoves or questioningof integration)were absentin the workof some participants,and their sequence variedwidely across interviewees.The fact that the
study did not produceany generalizableevidence regardingthe sequence of mental events in interdisciplinarywork may be indicativeof the fact thatthe threeprocesses arecontinuallyreinforcingandreestablishingeach otherin a spiralfashion,
echoing the spiralof growingknowledgedescribedby Wells (200 la). This parallel
requirespointed examination.Futurestudies relying on more direct observation
may be able to clarify the complex dialectics at work here. Currently,a longitudinal, close-observation-basedstudyis underway at the HarvardGraduateSchool of
Educationto compensatefor some of these deficiencies.
Parallels drawn between interdisciplinaryteaching and educationaltheories,
literaryanalysis, and organizationalbehaviorpromptintriguingquestionsfor furtherresearch.Are inquiry-basedclassroomsdifferentfrom interdisciplinaryenvironments?Whatcan interdisciplinaryprogramslearnfromhighly dialogicalcommunity-of-practice-typedisciplinarydepartments?Do genuinelyinterdisciplinary
classrooms develop conflict and dialogue skills to a greater degree than other
classrooms?Hopefully,futureresearchwill illuminatethese questions.
Thus, new researchon interdisciplinarycognition should attemptto (a) obtain
more empirical,quantitative,and longitudinaldataon interdisciplinarycollaborations and interdisciplinarylearningto help validate and develop this framework,
and(b) trackdifferencesandtest similaritiesbetweeninterdisciplinaryandgeneral
communicative behaviors to determine the nature of an underlying cognitive
mechanismat work in all. Productivequestionsto guide new studies might be the
following: How do we develop "boundaryconcepts"andlanguages?Whatrulesof
exchange govern them? Are metaphors,analogies, visual imagery,or conceptual
blendingused more in interdisciplinaryteachingor collaborativeactivitiesthanin

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otherlearningenvironments?'1A longitudinalinquiryinto how disciplinarybarter


occurs on the linguistic, social, and epistemologicallevels shouldthus yield valuable insights.The importanceof this categorizationis in providinga basic theoretical platformfor such studies.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Researchon interdisciplinarycognition was made possible by generous funding
from the AtlanticPhilanthropies.My colleagues HowardGardner,VeronicaBoix
Mansilla,Jeff Solomon, Caitlin O'Connor,Liz Dawes, MattMiller, and Michael
Schacterhave all contributedto the developmentof the ideas containedin this article. I also acknowledgemy indebtednessto the participatingfaculty and students
who were able to commenton theirthinkingprocesses with rareinsight andintrospection. I am well awarethatthis was not a trivialeffort on theirpart.

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APPENDIX A
Core Research Participants
NEXA Program,San
FranciscoState
University

Since 1975, NEXA's mission has been to offer


studentsan interdisciplinarycurriculum
demonstratingthe interactionof the historical,
philosophical,and literarymodes of thoughtwith
those in the physical and social sciences. NEXA's
courses, typically team-taughtby faculty members
in the sciences and in the humanities,striveto
providea point of convergenceand a forumfor
dialogue between the "two cultures."Course
offeringsinclude:Mythic and Scientific Thought;
The NuclearRevolution;The Visual Worldof
Science and Art;Cosmologies and WorldViews;
The DarwinianRevolution

INTERDISCIPLINARYCOGNITION

John Burke

Michael Gregory

SandraLuft

Ray Pestrong

InterpretationTheory,
SwarthmoreCollege

Sophia Accord

419

Physics and AstronomyProfessorat SFSU, Burke


has taught,in partnershipwith Don Provence
(philosophy),NEXA's Reality and the New
Physics course exploringcore concepts in physics
and theirtransformationin the 20th century
Long-timedirectorof the NEXA, Gregoryis
currentlyinstructorin The DarwinianRevolution
course, which tries to unpackthe biological,
philosophical,literary,and sociopolitical
implicationsof Darwin'sevolutionarytheory
HumanitiesProfessorat SFSU, Luft for many years
has co-taughtwith physics professorJames Peters
NEXA's Originsof ModernScience course, which
explores methodologicalassumptionsof science
and how they evolved in the cultureof modem
Europe
Geology Professorat SFSU, Pestronghas partnered
with severalhumanities(classics) professorsin
teachingNEXA's Mythic And Scientific Thought
course, which looks at differentnatural
phenomena(landforms,volcanoes, earthquakes)
from the mythologicaland scientific perspectives
From its inception in 1992, Concentrationin
InterpretationTheory (IT) has provided a forum
for students and faculty to explore "the nature
and politics of representation."Students get
exposed to a range of classical and modern
hermeneutictraditionsthrougha variety of six
courses, which culminate in a team-taught
capstone seminar.IT courses and capstone
seminars include: Critical Study in the Visual
Arts; Critical and CulturalTheory; The
Productionof History; Language and Meaning;
Reading Culture;History in/and Anthropology;
Mind, Body, and Machine
IT student,Accord took the Mind, Body, and
Machine capstone seminarco-taughtby French
literaryand criticaltheory scholarJean-Vincent
Blanchardand biologist Scott Gilbert,which
broughttogetherthe perspectivesof gender
studies, criticaltheory,technology,and biology

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Professorof Philosophy,Eldridgeis interestedin the


topics of aesthetic,linguistic, and philosophical
expression.He has taughtIT's Aesthetics,
Languageand Meaning, 19th centuryPhilosophy,
Interpretationand the Visual Arts (with art
historianM. Cothren)
Professorof Biology, Gilbertteaches courses in
Scott Gilbert
embryology,developmentalgenetics, and history
and critiqueof biology. In partnershipwith the
FrenchliteraryscholarJean-VincentBlanchard,
Gilberthas co-taughtthe Mind, Body, and
Machinecapstone,focusing on the relationship
between mental,technologicaland biological
phenomena
Robin Wagner-Pacifici Sociology and AnthropologyProfessor,
Wagner-Pacificihas taughtDiscourse Analysis;
Power,Authority,and Conflict;and IT capstone
Mappingthe Modern(with English Literature
professorPhilip Weinstein),which explores the
moderncity as expressedin literature,sociology,
and criticaltheory
MarkWallace
Associate Professorof Religion, Wallacefocuses on
the intersectionbetween philosophyof religion,
criticaltheory,environmentalstudies, and
postmodernism.In partnershipwith English
LiteratureprofessorPhilip Weinstein,Wallacehas
taughtthe IT capstone seminarVisionariesof
Spirit,Mastersof Suspicion
Centerfor Bioethics,
Center fosters informed dialogue about the
ethical, legal, social and public policy
Universityof
Pennsylvania
implications of advances in the life sciences and
medicine. Its interdisciplinaryfaculty
(sociologists, pragmatic philosophers, medical
researchers, etc.) engages in analysis, reflection,
and public discussion of the critical biomedical
issues of our time, such as organ
transplantation,genetic engineering, etc.
Paul Wolpe
Professorin the Departmentof Sociology and
Departmentof Medical Ethics, senior Fellow at
UPenn's Centerfor Bioethics, Wolpe examines the
ideology and cultureof medical thought;
neuroethics;religion and its role in bioethical
debate
RichardEldridge

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421

APPENDIX B
Three Sets of Interview Questions Posed to Participants
(a) Organizationand administrationof the interdisciplinaryprogram-Participants'backgroundand participationin the interdisciplinarywork in the program.
* Whatis your role in the interdisciplinaryprogramdesign and understanding
of its mission?
* How has the programevolved over time?
* How does the program/institutionsupport or facilitate faculty collaborations? What are the provisionsfor joint researchand teaching?
* Whatspecific recruitingpolicies, rewardandpromotionsystems andevaluation practicesare in place in the interdisciplinaryprogram?
* What is the relationshipbetween the programand academicdepartmentsHow do their culturesdiffer?
(b) Pedagogical design-Description and critical analysis of interdisciplinary
pedagogy.
* How are differentbodies of knowledge broughttogether and integratedin
your classroom? How do you specifically facilitate connection making?
Could you describe a projector a unit which successfully broughtdifferent
"modesof thinking"together?
* Couldyou compareyourteachingof an interdisciplinarycourseto teachinga
traditionaldisciplinarycurriculum?
* Why do some interdisciplinaryunits/projectsfail? How would you describe
the particularchallenges of an interdisciplinaryclassroom?
* How is interdisciplinarywork assessed? Whatevaluationcriteriado you set
for students?How do teachingpartnersarriveat a joint grade?
* Can you describe your collaboration with your teaching partnerin this
course?What were its impactson your teaching?
(c) Cognitiveimpactsof interdisciplinarylearningor collaboration-Description
of challengesandopportunitiesofferedby an interdisciplinaryinquiryfor students
and faculty.
* Could you commenton what is difficultaboutteaching/learningin the interdisciplinaryprogramas comparedto otherkinds of instruction?
* How would you describethe outcomes of an interdisciplinarycourse? How
has this mode of learning/teachingimpactedyou as a learneror a teacher?
* Could you describemomentsof integrationand disconnectionor confusion?
What do you thinkcontributedto them?
* Is thereanythingin the cognitive profile of a learnerthatpredisposeshim or
her to interdisciplinaryexploration?What cognitive qualities need to be in
place to cope with the challenges of interdisciplinarywork?

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APPENDIX C
Vignette 2
Scott Gilbert
Biology Professor
SwarthmoreCollege
I'm a biologist and one of the things thatI feel very
stronglyis thatbiologists have to learn abouttheir own
discipline and to interpretit. There'sno such thing as
an uninterruptedcell. A lot of teachingin biology is
story telling. They'rewonderfulstories and I thinkthat
they're stories, which are validatedby data,especially
datacoming from many sources. My main role in this
class is to unpackfor studentsthatwe can tell what
isn't so. Science is a very good way of getting rid of
false interpretations.
One of the things that I have done in Interpretation
Theory is go throughhistorically how interpretations
of fertilizationhave changed. You have the heroic
sperm, which really follows the myth of the hero very
well, you can show alternativestories, and you can
deconstructthis one and show its social background.
Biologically, a sperm is not a military hero; a sperm
is not the victor. To see the sperm as active and the
egg as passive is biochemically incorrect.They are
both as active, both as passive, the sperm is actor and
acted upon, and the chemicals involved are very
similar. So you get a differentview. We can socially
deconstructBernoulli's principle and say it was a
productof the early Renaissance. We can talk about
him being a mystic and a Pythagorean.But you
know, you got here by airplane!At some level things
came together so that very heavy aircraftcan fly. My
argumentis that science not only is constructed,
science also helps in the constructionof the society
as well. Yes, it has its metaphors,but that doesn't
mean that it's false. Within a particulararea, we have
knowledge, which has been validatedby multiple
points of view. When all these things converge on a
set of inferences, I am willing to use that, and so are
you.

Overcoming
monodisciplinarity:
Constraining
conclusions of one
discipline with the
other

Integration:Complex
mutualitybetween
science and society

INTERDISCIPLINARYCOGNITION

I got involved in InterpretationTheorylargely through


feminist critiquesof biology. What I try to bringto the
course is a notion of responsibility.That you are
responsiblefor your data,responsiblefor the way that
you presentyour data and thatthere are things thatwe
know are not true.It was interestingto bring this type
of thing into an InterpretationTheoryclass because
what I'm talking aboutis how science is used to limit
interpretations.We talkedaboutthe differences
between science and humanitiesin termsof
interpretations,and I pointedout thatone of the things
that science does is to say it isn't this and it isn't that.
Whereasin the humanitiesmany times, the more
interpretationsyou can give a work, the richerit is.
There are very differentinterpretativetraditions.
Being a scientist on such a programis skatingon very
thin ice. I don't want the studentsto go away thinking
a) that science is mere interpretationto - every cell is
interpretation,thereforeyou know DNA is an
interpretation,spermis an interpretation;and b) I
don't want them going away thinkingscience is
completely out of the realm of interpretationtheory
because it's all aboutfacts and numbers.Those are the
two things I don't want them to come away with.

423

Sustaining
interdisciplinary
dialogue:
Continuingefforts
to balancerespect
with responsibility

APPENDIX D
Vignette 3
Paul Wolpe
Centerfor Bioethics
Professor,
Sociology
of
University Pennsylvania
In the seventies, it was decided resolutelythat you should
tell people abouttheir cancerand the philosophers
celebratedthe triumphof theirposition on people's
autonomy.The only problemwas thatwhen sociologists
went out and looked at it they found thatthere were vast
sub-culturesin this countrywhere they didn't want to be
told. Korean-Americans,Mexican-Americans,a number
of Asian and Latin Americancultures.It never even
occurredto philosophersthattheremight be some

Overcoming
monodisciplinarity:
Challenging
conceptionsof
one discipline
with data from
another

424

NIKITINA

populationswhere their moralpronouncementwould be


problematicculturally.PhilosopherGlenn McGee in our
Centerwith his pragmaticbioethics began to say you
can't do ontological bioethics, it doesn't work. And some
social scientists who have a philosophicaleye or ear, like
me, were tryingto say the same things from the other
side.
I've learned an enormous amountfrom the philosophers.
Which is that there is a case to be made for clearly
reasoned logical thinking about ethical issues leading to
a recommendation.Philosopherstend to think very
systematically about things -'let's tear things apartinto
sections, follow each one to its logical conclusion'.
That's not how sociologists are trainedto think.
Clarifying of thinking is the content of philosophical
discourse, while it is simply a byproductof sociological
discourse.
I think the clear contributionof the social scientist is
groundingideas in the actualexperienceof people. A
kind of inductiveratherthandeductiveunderstandingof
ethics. The critiqueof the philosophicalperspectiveby
sociologists is not just a critiquebased on data,but is also
a critiquebased on what is sometimes disembodied
intellectualand logical thoughtleading to a conclusion.
Which is entirelydisconnectedfrom the lived experience
of the people who actuallymake ethical decisions. I enjoy
arguingwith philosophersaboutwhetherthe me thatwas
manic is the same me as the me now for a day, but this by
itself is going to get us absolutelynowhere.There are
legal issues, thereare social justice issues, in some
culturesthis would be very acceptableand in some it
wouldn't.
It's a tougherrole for the sociologist and the anthropologist
in bioethics because the producthas got to be an ethical
recommendation.That's what you want at the end of the
day. The philosophersand the theologians see it as their
business to make those ethical recommendations.The
social scientists do not. So when you're really wearing
that sociological hat squarelyon your head, yourjob is to
refuteor supportphilosophicalor theological points not
because you can agree or disagreewith them ethically,
but because you can supportor not supportthem
empiricallyor culturally.The sociological partof my

Recognizing
strengthsand
weaknesses of
two fields

Integration:
Recognizing need
for joint
understanding

Sustaining
interdisciplinary
dialogue:
Continuingto
deal with
differencesin
methodology

INTERDISCIPLINARYCOGNITION

course on Jewish Bioethics is not aboutwhetherit's right


or wrong to take the dying off life support,but abouthow
the issue is framed,what kinds of people are takingwhich
sides on this and why. What institutionalbodies have
investmentsin this? What is the historicalprecedence?
Who are the powerfuland powerless in this particular
argument?

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