Friday, June 2, 2017

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] art*science 2017 - The New and History

Dear Katerna,

This account of an era of unified knowledge does not seem correct to me.

> On Jun 1, 2017, at 10:55 PM, Katerna Karoussos <> wrote:


> What seems strange to me is why, since we are discussing about cultural heritage and art - science alliance, we consider them as separate. The fragmentation in knowledge happened after the 15th century and had been established in modern era, as knowledge economy. Before that, geometry, physics, astronomy, medicine, arts, rhetoric and philosophy consisted the body of knowledge which was indivisible.
> Hence, if we go back, searching for this specific restore point, in where the holistic knowledge was the common process of learning, researching, creating and producing, we will find all the necessary elements for retrieving the ways that this knowledge can be activated in nowadays.


First, there have been different accounts of the divisions of knowledge domains over the centuries. There has never been a time anywhere in which the several kinds of knowledge were considered whole and indivisible. The divisions of knowledge domains that dominated classical Greece and the post-Alexandrian Hellenic world did not include the practical arts or professions in the domains of philosophy. Things changed again in the medieval university, but even there, the trivium and quadrivium did not include the fine or applied arts — while the lower faculty of philosophy was different to the higher faculties of medicine, law and theology. Medicine itself distinguished between the medical theory taught at university and the work of barber-surgeons who actually worked on patients.

Second, the changes that took place in the 15th century did not come about because of any shift in economic models. What happened was the scientists began to look at the world. 15th-century physics was a branch of natural philosophy. 15th-century physics accepted much of Aristotle's often-mistaken account translated through the lens of Ptolemy. The Copernican model that arrived in the 16th century, followed by the work of Galileo, Kepler, and Newton meant a different world. This was not a "fragmentation" of some unified knowledge that could be "restored." New facts made it impossible to think of the world in a fuzzy way governed by Aristotelian physics and a version of astrophysics dominated by Biblical theology. Literalist theologians argue that the sun stood still in Joshua 10. If the Biblical account is true, it cannot be true that the earth revolves around the sun. Talking about this as "holistic" knowledge doesn't make sense.

Third, there is significantly more to know than there was to know in the 15th century. In the 15th century, we had fewer books than the number of volumes held in the Library of Alexandria when Callimachus organized the great library catalogue known as the Pinakes. Today, we have far more. Since the time of Gutenberg's printing press, there have been millions of books published. While I cannot track the numbers from Shanghai, I gather that Google's estimate of the world's books runs to nearly 129,000,000 volumes not counting the same volume more than once. If you add journal articles and other material, we're talking about an amount of information that makes a single knowledge domain impossible.

Fourth, even within recognized disciplines, it is no longer possible for anyone in any field to cover more than a tiny fraction of what there is to know. When Henri Poincaré died in 1912, he was probably the last human being to know and understand the complete mathematical corpus of the time in which he lived. As for physics or even philosophy, the notion is incredible.

If my view is pessimistic, I'd be curious to know two things.

First, what evidence is there for an era of unified knowledge? It seems to me that a great deal of this idea is an optimistic notion based on an inadequate understanding of the world by people who were simply wrong about how much they knew, and just as wrong about how much of what they knew was incorrect.

Second, just how one can "restore" this era in a world where there is simply too much to know. I'm not asking how we can restore the illusion of unified knowledge. Too me, that's like the Bible museum diorama in which you can see human beings living side by side with dinosaurs, rather like a new version of the Flintstone cartoon series. I'm asking for a credible account of how it is possible for anyone to restore an era of unified knowledge in a world where nearly no one can credibly manage to know what there is, even in their own field.

It is one thing to argue in favor of interdisciplinary research. It is another to do so without accounting for what we do not know, and cannot know.


Ken Friedman

Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji University in Cooperation with Elsevier | URL:

Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| University Distinguished Professor | Centre for Design Innovation | Swinburne University of Technology | Melbourne, Australia

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