Crossing the Boundaries

Ever happened to you? You have a good idea for something, only to find out that it already exists? I’ve had that many times recently. It’s one of the drawbacks of modern society, so much has been done and thought of already. Hundreds of years ago all you had to do is drop a leaf into a cup of hot water to invent something new (tea). Now it takes a lot more to be innovative.


Universities have changed a lot since Plato started the first western one around 2392 years ago (yup, looked that up). Students who attended his acadamy were tought philosophy, mathematics and gymnastics. Not one of them; all of them. Today universities have dozens, sometimes even hundreds of different things you can study. Being good at “gymnastics” is in some countries just the easiest way to get into a good university.

With so many things to study, in so such a diverse range of subjects, there is no way that you’re going to learn it all. If you go study philosophy today, you’ll most likely won’t learn a thing about mathematics, computer science, social sciences, chemistry, physics, biology, German literature, French literature or business, to name a few. All these areas are so amazingly big that knowing everything from only one of them is impossible, let alone multiple ones.

Some areas have things in common of course. Computer science is founded on mathematics and engineering. Social sciences deals with social networks, computer science deals with networks a lot as well. A lot of knowledge and experience can be shared throughout many areas of science.

I often get the feeling that it would be good if every student would study a totally different area of science beside his/her own. I think there’s a lot to be gained by this. For example, people who have studied English literature learned to analyze books and texts and to put them into their historical context, looked at the evolution of characters and writing in general. What would happen if somebody like that would study computer science, would they come up with totally different approaches to solving problems that we currently do? Or vice versa. If you study something, you learn to think in a certain way, a way that may be very specific to your area of interest, yet that may be applicable on many others.

And then I realized that there’s already something to make this happen. Not every university has it, here in the Netherlands, but it’s coming. It’s the major/minor system. You choose a major, for example computer science which takes up most part of your study. You also pick a minor, which is smaller than the major, but can be totally unrelated. Say, literature.

Good to realize that it already exists, but a waste of brain activity on my part.