By Pushkar Shinde
As this is being written, the coronavirus pandemic unfurls, rending lives worldwide. Humanity, as happens often in movies, has been faced with a challenge, one to which we must (and will) adapt. Problems and solutions are mutually symmetric, reflected along the mirror plane of our existence. As the problem, so the solution.
At a root of this Coronavirus pandemic is a genetic polemic, a set of misconfigured molecules; it is a biological curse — a string of whispered genetic words that multiplies with preternatural speed (though if only it were beyond the realm of nature) and terrifying consequences. Yet with modern technology and scientific ingenuity we have been able to capture this vile incarnation of a viral incantation in a vial and interrogate it, unraveling its sequence into the domain of public knowledge. Yet this is only one component of the pandemic. For the effects of the virus — the economic shock, the political challenges, the social consequences— shake our current conception of human society and the human experience. The virus’ effects result from the interconnected interactions of these various components. It recognizes no borders, neither geographic nor between realms of understanding. It cannot be understood solely in terms of science; it must rather be processed in a larger, synthetic, interdisciplinary context.
As the problem, so the solution.
Our capacity to reductively understand this virus through the lens of any individual discipline — medicine, economics, history — is essential, but it is only half of the story. These viewpoints enable us to shatter the complex truth into infinitesimal fragments with powerful analyses and sift through the unnecessary to reveal fundamental principles. But on its own these principles represent a distended knowledge. It is no more the truth we seek than do the sum contents of an anatomy textbook represent a human. The key lies not in the disassembly but in the integration of these principles into a coherent whole that is never the truth which we seek to understand per se but a useful (mirror-like) reconstruction with which we can develop solutions.
Interdisciplinary collaborations are critical for dealing with these challenges. By overcoming the distinctions that separate specialty from subspecialty, we can step back and understand the broader picture to develop unified and comprehensive solutions.
As the problem, so the solution.
It is time for us to transcend the cognitive borders we have drawn and develop integrated, holistic, contextual understandings. It is time for us to embrace interdisciplinarity and collaboration.
Pushkar is a rising junior at Emory University set on the pre-medical track pursuing a major in Chemistry with a minor in ethics — or at least that’s what he thinks. His academic pursuits generally involve him losing himself within the wild and beautiful forest of knowledge in the quest for understanding — and though he may not find the latter, he is entranced by the secret and grand questions the forest reveals. He hopes to combine his love of scientific inquiry and understanding with broader-based human perspectives to help others, likely through healthcare. And though he may not know where his path within the jungle may lead in the years and decades to come, he is certain that a tree falling in a desolate forest indeed does make a sound.