Boundaries

It is often assumed that the more knowledge that is gained in a specific area the less there is to discover within that specialty. Indeed if boundaries are placed on a specialty area the knowledge to be gained within the defined area may indeed be finite. As a species we do seem to love borders and boundaries. They help us to define who we are, what we do, what we own, who is an insider and who is not. Definition of areas provides a helpful mechanism for control and management but if the definitions do not change as new knowledge is produced the specialty area over time becomes frozen and static. This does happen in all areas to some degree once effective and useful boundaries have become barriers to knowledge acquisition. Technologies do become obsolete, organizations do become irrelevant and professions do shrink and disappear. The pursuit of knowledge however always continues it just moves outside of the old boundaries and new structures, organizations and professions form. It is useful to think of knowledge acquisition not as a single linear structure but as a series of rooms. Successful knowledge organizations and societies are adept at filling existing rooms and then creating doors and building new larger rooms. The field of cancer research was once a study of the cell. Fifty years ago with the discovery of DNA and the definition of its structure the field of Genetics blossomed and led to Genomics. The mapping of the genome quickly led to the development of Proteomics. Boundaries and barriers may be useful to those setting them as long as they realize that they are artificial and that new knowledge will always trump them. Unfortunately those who set boundaries often come to think of them as real.

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