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January 5th, 2010


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02:06 am - Intellectual Dilettantism
teaotter and I were talking today about how we found it odd that some people who are close to aren’t intellectual dilettantes. I’ve always read widely [[1]], and watch a wide range of shows on the history & discovery channels & PBS. I have a general grounding in pretty much every field of social and physical science, from anthropology to zoology, and a (often rather vague) grasp of most eras of history. What I have a hard time doing is focusing in detail on one topic. I’d vastly rather learn a little about many things than a lot about one topic. Becca feels exactly the same way.

I definitely have topics that I'm more interested in – I’m most interested in space travel, the history of technology, social history, trends in modern consumer electronics, alternate energy generation technology, and a few other areas, but I lack a specialist’s interest in focusing on a small subset of a topic and gaining an actual understanding of it, and I almost exclusively indulge my knowledge at the level of books and other media designed for intelligent and interested amateurs. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the reasons that I never completed my PhD, since those by definition require specialization, and it bores me. I’d rather watch a TV show on the history of refrigeration, read a book about the social history of 19th century Shanghai, and then read a long magazine article about the latest ideas about human evolution.

What struck Becca as odd is that some of the people we know, and in fact some of the people we are close to, including amberite is considerably more focused on her interests. Some of her interests shift and expand, but her tastes often involve studying one topic very extensively, rather than shifting between a myriad of more lightly studied topics. In our conversation, Becca and I both realized that we were puzzled both by the desire to focus so much on any single topic and by the lower of general interest that is pretty much an inevitable consequence of having a specialist’s interest. It was odd to realize that I really don’t understand why someone would focus when there’s so much out there of potential interest. Of course, while wonders like wikipedia and the internet as a whole are a generalist's paradise, RPG writing is pretty much the only living that I've found that makes use of my interests.

[[1]] At least in non-fiction – I’ve no interest in fiction that isn’t SF, fantasy, or very occasionally mystery or horror
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

(17 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:andrewducker
Date:January 5th, 2010 10:25 am (UTC)
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I can definitely understand it. Knowing a little about many things gives you a good overview, but you don't really _understand_ any one subject. If you're fascinated with something then the depth of knowledge you can get of it is very intoxicating.
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From:b00jum
Date:January 5th, 2010 12:22 pm (UTC)
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Have you ever seen the television series by James Burke called Connections?

It's a marvelous trip through science and history and how one thing leads to another in non-obvious ways. I use it as one of the primary inspirations in my own rpg world(s).
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From:heron61
Date:January 5th, 2010 09:06 pm (UTC)
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Yes! It was gem and very much the sort of thing that I love.
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From:silvaerina_tael
Date:January 6th, 2010 12:42 am (UTC)
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Just to let you know, I have both that, Connections 2 and The Day the Universe Changed. There is a Connections 3 out there as well - I think I saw it in segments on You Tube.
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From:amberite
Date:January 6th, 2010 08:47 am (UTC)
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Now THAT sounds like a thing I'd like to watch. My favorite science-histories are ones like Thomas Hager's and Tom Zoellner's that show things in their full human context. There are a lot of kinds of information I don't go for because they lack that sense of follow-through.
[User Picture]
From:b00jum
Date:January 6th, 2010 08:55 am (UTC)
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Follow through is one of the big reasons I love this series. All too often we get historical "facts" without any of the context that the event took place in.

Of course, Connections doesn't go into a great deal of depth for any one event. Think greater width.
[User Picture]
From:amberite
Date:January 6th, 2010 09:23 am (UTC)
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The PBS show History Detectives is another that places things in context.
[User Picture]
From:b00jum
Date:January 6th, 2010 09:26 am (UTC)
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I wish I could get television right now. Sadly, I'm far away and am stuck with downloaded movies and a few series I have on me.

I'll be back sometime next November though :)
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:January 6th, 2010 09:43 am (UTC)
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Stay safe over there.
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From:amberite
Date:January 6th, 2010 09:59 am (UTC)
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^
Seconded!
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From:b00jum
Date:January 6th, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC)
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I'll will endeavor. Within the limits of what I have control over of course :)

Part of my job is far-forward behavioral health support. Just a few days ago I was giving an intro briefing on a dug in hilltop that had just been taken from the Taliban a few days before.
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From:pompe
Date:January 5th, 2010 09:01 pm (UTC)
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I think it's possible to do both. In my family it's common to have wide fields of interest and distinct specializations at the same time.

Personally, while being in many ways a generalist (geographers often are and teachers definitely are) I often think that generalists are focusing too much on too light reading, and that's what often lets me down about RPG settings. You get people who have read "Guns, Germs and Steel" instead of a decent companion to Human/Physical Geography, or who reads astronomy articles in New Scientist (or worse) but never have read a decent astronomy textbook. This tends to show in the more annoying common-sensical mistakes. Nowadays most introductory-level textbooks are both worth the money and quite readable and virtually always superior to the Wikipedia alternative.

I see this in the kids. Students today grab stuff of wikipedia but they really don't understand or do a critical evaluation of what they grab, so they are prone to do very simple mistakes. A good textbook is invaluable to cure that.

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From:heron61
Date:January 5th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)
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I see this in the kids. Students today grab stuff of wikipedia but they really don't understand or do a critical evaluation of what they grab, so they are prone to do very simple mistakes.

*nods* I am pleased that I had a very broad-ranging undergraduate education (minors in classics and physics, majors in history & math), so I have enough grounding in the basics to avoid most such problems
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:January 6th, 2010 12:12 am (UTC)
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Until two and a half years ago, I was a hardcore specialist in religion - first Christianity with a heavy fundamentalist concentration, then Thelema. I literally spent 26 years making religion the center of my life. It shows in the way I view and interpret myself, others, and events. Even now, I seem angelic to some people due to the heavy amount of church I ingested over my lifetime.

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From:waterfire741
Date:January 6th, 2010 03:47 am (UTC)
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It may just be something as simple as you and Becca don't have the obsessiveness gene that some of us do. It can be handy, but it can also be incredibly annoying.
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From:heron61
Date:January 6th, 2010 06:07 am (UTC)
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I don't. Becca definitely does, but she expresses it in different ways than study - mostly in terms of a desire for exacting perfection in things from math puzzles, to console games, to knitting. She's also the only person I know who does Excel spreadsheets for her hobbies.
[User Picture]
From:waterfire741
Date:January 6th, 2010 09:55 pm (UTC)
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Well, Becca DID take Normal as Option package, just like the rest of us.

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