Synchronicity

I remember these lovely moments from college, moments that continued into grad school, though without quite the wonder they’d earlier produced. Moments at which it seemed that all my classes were suddenly speaking to one another, and I’d get a hazy glimpse of the ways that all forms of knowledge were in some mysterious fashion interconnected. The grad school version of those moments of synchronicity was less thrilling, somehow, only because it was more expected; when you’re only taking classes in one department (and, by and large, classes focused on the literary production of one continent and in one century), such overlaps are inevitable. In college, though, I felt a real shiver every time my history professor would mention the same writer or concept or event that my English and political science professors had independently mentioned just the day before.

I’ve never had one of those moments as a professor, for no other reason than that there are very few openings for the unexpected; the woman who writes the syllabus is hard to surprise. Except when she’s not really paying attention.

Yesterday, my Intro to Media Studies class covered bell hooks’s “Eating the Other”; tonight, my Intro to Cultural Studies graduate seminar discussed the volume from which the essay came, Black Looks. I didn’t plan it that way. In fact, I didn’t even realize until this weekend that this was going to happen.

The conversations in the two classes were quite different, in no small part because the context each course had to this point created was pretty specific. It was nonetheless fun to remember, however briefly, the excitement of those glimmers of interconnection among diverse fields, glimmers that gave me the sense that there was something transformative to be found in interdisciplinarity.

The feeling is fading already, though, I’m sorry to report, and I’m trying to figure out what to make of the sense of nostalgia — of loss — that is lingering in its wake. I wonder if there’s something in the institutionalization of interdisciplinarity that robs it of its magic. Once one teaches a course — worse, once one has repeatedly taught a course — entitled “Introduction to [Interdisciplinary Field],” have the pathways between subjects become so well-trodden that little room for exploration, and for the random connection, remains?

2 thoughts on “Synchronicity

  1. I still remember my moment of realizing everything was connected. It was first semester freshman year in my intro psych class, when we were discussing theory of mind. I thought, “Haven’t we already had this lecture?” Nope, but we had had a very similar discussion in my primate social behavior class a few days prior.

    I think that my experience of connectedness lately has been different from some people’s because, instead of being in an acknowledged interdisciplinary field, I’m in psychology. And psychology still in many ways refuses to associate itself with fields like anthropology and sociology, which leaves students taking classes in more than one of those fields to make connections themselves. Just the other day we were discussing something remarkably similar to cognitive dissonance in my anthropology class, with no mention that it was a well-studied psychological concept.

    I guess I appreciate the thrill of discovering these moments of connectedness between fields, but I also appreciated the effort that media studies (for example) made to illustrate these connections for everyone. It requires a lot more knowledge to teach that way…you should’ve heard my anthro prof trying to explain postmodernism a few weeks ago.

    In my opinion, the interdisciplinary method doesn’t ruin the magic so much as explain (and yes, institutionalize) it, which is preferable to missing the point entirely (a distinct possibility in such self-isolated fields as psychology). Now, in my last semester, I wish I had a better sense of how theories in the social sciences fit together– I think it’s a failing that our departments don’t cover that. It’s good that yours does.

  2. Finding connections happens to me all the time, and I’m a damn bloody science major at a liberal arts school. But its true. Often I think to myself or scribble a note in the margins of my notes on how some theoretical philiosophy, when applied to some ecological concept, might provide a cool and unique interpretaton. I often think how scientific ways of thinking could streamline and strengthen the “fru-fru” disciplines, as my science cohorts often think of them.

    Ive really appreciated liberal arts and how its given me this opportunity, but I feel im walking a no-man’s land. Philosophies are so wrapped up in *ideas* that nothing ever gets *done.* scientists I know (*coughcoughMegancough*) have honestly laughed in my face when i tentatively connect modern conservation theory with postmodernism.

    So I take advantage of this opportuinity while I still have it. I did not one but two projects related to science in Intro Photo. I was only in a science history class for two or three weeks, but I still see how patterns of scientific thought today reflect its history. I am in a class this semester that connects biology and gender studies.

    I enjoy it now cause i know eventually I’ll be scrubbing cages and wont really have to think about anything. :p

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