When did science become vast?

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We've reached a point where it seems like you can't be an expert in everything. But it seems from history that there was a time when you could be good at all the latest research subjects. Over what time period did those changes happen and what changes happened for such a shift?
 

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marcusl
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What do you think?
 
fresh_42
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I just thought today: school math ends in 1700.
IMO Gauß was the last universal scientists.
 
What do you think?
I want to say when the transition from classical to modern physics started taking place, personally. But I'm here for your opinion.

I just thought today: school math ends in 1700.
IMO Gauß was the last universal scientists.
What's the full name?
 
phyzguy
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phinds
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IMO Gauß was the last universal scientists.
Was he fully up on the knowledge of his day in archeology, biology, math, physics, chemistry, anatomy, astronomy, paleontology, EVERYTHING?

Certainly in math he was unsurpassed or nearly so and the was brilliant enough to master any of those subjects had he chosen to and he made contributions to several, but "universal scientist" ? I think not. I do think he was likely closer than anyone else of his day.

It's likely an impossible task to figure out who was the last real universal scientist and of course it depends on exactly what is mean by that term.
 
fresh_42
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fresh_42
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I think. I should clarify, I still do think there were limitations. I don't think People like Gauss or Euler dabbled in Biology much (though there mathematics may have aided...) but as far as physics/engineering/math go, they seemed to have much of it down for their time.
 
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I remember someone who's opinion I trust (sorry no reference I recall) saying that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was the last truly omniscient human being. I think it a good choice.
 
Was he fully up on the knowledge of his day in archeology, biology, math, physics, chemistry, anatomy, astronomy, paleontology, EVERYTHING?

Certainly in math he was unsurpassed or nearly so and the was brilliant enough to master any of those subjects had he chosen to and he made contributions to several, but "universal scientist" ? I think not. I do think he was likely closer than anyone else of his day.

It's likely an impossible task to figure out who was the last real universal scientist and of course it depends on exactly what is mean by that term.
I remember someone who's opinion I trust (sorry no reference I recall) saying that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was the last truly omniscient human being. I think it a good choice.
In view of these statements, would some of you folk contend that it is still to a degree possible, despite the initial premise? And to what extent? Would it be possible without losing mastery in a given field?
 
fresh_42
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in a single subject, e.g. a complete expert in physics, or mathematics, or biology ...
..., or even the combination fields, physical chemistry, chemical physics, ....
 
TeethWhitener
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Philip Anderson probably comes as close in physics as anyone can get. Terence Tao in math. Roald Hoffmann in chemistry.
 
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it's even worse
I think we should say, "it's even better" -- human knowledge has expanded so much that it is beyond any individual to grasp it all. I see that as a good thing.
 
WWGD
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I think we should say, "it's even better" -- human knowledge has expanded so much that it is beyond any individual to grasp it all. I see that as a good thing.
The ecstasy of having the information available, the agony of having to filter through noise, jumbled data files/APIs, etc. to access it.
 
fresh_42
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Can somebody please invent an upload for all the things I still want to read?
 
WWGD
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Can somebody please invent an upload for all the things I still want to read?
I remember someone, I think a Russian with a heavy accent asking that I "Upload the file" , which sounded like "Applaud the files". So I went and clapped: " Go files, you can do it!".
 
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All I know is that the more I learn, the less I know...

It does seem to be increasing exponentially. No human could absorb all of it today, but in the future we will be able to -- or at least our AI descendants will be able to.
 
epenguin
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It runs both ways doesn't it? If you were in chemistry or biology at any one time you used to have to hardly know anything else, on the other hand what you did know was complicated and specialised. You did not benefit from the systemisations that happened at a later time. You could not now learn chemistry or biology without quantum mechanics, which complicates in one way and simplifies in another. It's called interdisciplinarity, and has by now been around for a long time. Maybe if you are in pure physics (less so in applied) you can afford to ignore it, but not if you are in much else.

The term interdisciplinarity reminds me of perhaps the most interdisciplinary conference I have attended, about 20 years ago on molybdenum enzymes. You didn't know molybdenum was involved with enzymes? We will all be wiped out if they stop working. Attendees were expected to follow discourses on the genetic structure and control of the genes (genetics) evolution and bioinformatics, protein structure (crystallography) electron paramagnetic resonance (molecular biophysics) synthesis (organic chemistry) reaction mechanisms ( physical organic chemistry) involving or not molybdenum and protein, let's see now, that would make it bio-inorganic physical organic chemistry wouldn't it? Most of these in any one talk, will that do? But nobody blinked an eyelid at this, True some elders commented that it was easier for the young researchers who had been trained that way to move around in all this, including in the laboratory. I guess it sounds a bit strenuous if you're not in it, and it is even if you are in it. I guess you have to stay in it otherwise it sounds terrible from the outside. Not that any of these active participant will know everything about everything.
 
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It does seem to be increasing exponentially...
Exactly, the more we know, the more we can know. That's the definition of "exponential," right? The slope is proportional to the value.
 
BillTre
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Doing anything complex now a days involves knowledge of many different fields, often extending beyond just science/technology, for example running a research fish facility involves the following:
  • genetics (population, mutagenesis)
  • evolution awareness of how fish are related
  • ecology (fish water systems are simple little ecologies)
  • fish physiology, fish medicine (fish vets)
  • mech. engineering, architecture (building new facilities)
  • materials (in building and equipment construction, testing for toxicity to fish)
  • plumbing
  • water chemistry relevant to fish (inorganic mostly for water, organic for fish treatments, dissolved gasses)
  • electronics (power, control, monitoring, equipment)
  • record keeping (databases, handheld input devices (palm pilot at the time), networks)
  • rules and regulations (OSHA, money control, personnel, toxic chemical handling/disposal
  • university regulations (many)
  • also, what I call hand skills can be important (for example dissections or making things)
In these kinds of complex situations, it is really important to to have a variety of different knowledgeable people whom you can turn to for information and advise.
 
WWGD
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All I know is that the more I learn, the less I know...

It does seem to be increasing exponentially. No human could absorb all of it today, but in the future we will be able to -- or at least our AI descendants will be able to.
But there is plenty of redundancy, falsehoods and general noise to it. Who knows how much actual knowledge is left after you filter those out. It reminds me of the difference between data and knowledge.
 
It runs both ways doesn't it? If you were in chemistry or biology at any one time you used to have to hardly know anything else, on the other hand what you did know was complicated and specialised. You did not benefit from the systemisations that happened at a later time. You could not now learn chemistry or biology without quantum mechanics, which complicates in one way and simplifies in another. It's called interdisciplinarity, and has by now been around for a long time. Maybe if you are in pure physics (less so in applied) you can afford to ignore it, but not if you are in much else.

The term interdisciplinarity reminds me of perhaps the most interdisciplinary conference I have attended, about 20 years ago on molybdenum enzymes. You didn't know molybdenum was involved with enzymes? We will all be wiped out if they stop working. Attendees were expected to follow discourses on the genetic structure and control of the genes (genetics) evolution and bioinformatics, protein structure (crystallography) electron paramagnetic resonance (molecular biophysics) synthesis (organic chemistry) reaction mechanisms ( physical organic chemistry) involving or not molybdenum and protein, let's see now, that would make it bio-inorganic physical organic chemistry wouldn't it? Most of these in any one talk, will that do? But nobody blinked an eyelid at this, True some elders commented that it was easier for the young researchers who had been trained that way to move around in all this, including in the laboratory. I guess it sounds a bit strenuous if you're not in it, and it is even if you are in it. I guess you have to stay in it otherwise it sounds terrible from the outside. Not that any of these active participant will know everything about everything.
Sorry, that bit was unclear. Ignore what?

Doing anything complex now a days involves knowledge of many different fields, often extending beyond just science/technology, for example running a research fish facility involves the following:
  • genetics (population, mutagenesis)
  • evolution awareness of how fish are related
  • ecology (fish water systems are simple little ecologies)
  • fish physiology, fish medicine (fish vets)
  • mech. engineering, architecture (building new facilities)
  • materials (in building and equipment construction, testing for toxicity to fish)
  • plumbing
  • water chemistry relevant to fish (inorganic mostly for water, organic for fish treatments, dissolved gasses)
  • electronics (power, control, monitoring, equipment)
  • record keeping (databases, handheld input devices (palm pilot at the time), networks)
  • rules and regulations (OSHA, money control, personnel, toxic chemical handling/disposal
  • university regulations (many)
  • also, what I call hand skills can be important (for example dissections or making things)
In these kinds of complex situations, it is really important to to have a variety of different knowledgeable people whom you can turn to for information and advise.
Yet some young'uns would have you believe that their field is the best because its used everywhere or it makes the most money or what have you.
 

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