You don’t become interdisciplinary by learning how other disciplines operate. You become interdisciplinary by learning how Interdisciplinarity operates. The dominant approach to the understanding and development of interdisciplinary scientific research assumes that if collaborators from different disciplines can learn each other’s language, or at least learn each other’s key terms, that, perforce, they will be more capable of conducting effective interdisciplinary research. This is the approach predominates in the areas interdisciplinary studies and the science of team science, including the NSF supported Philosophical Toolbox Project, the work on team science supported by the National Cancer Institute, as well as the interdisciplinary approach coming out of the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies. In part, this approach relies on the idea that by uncovering these language differences, participants are making something that is usually tacit explicit. This paper uses a phenomenological approach to this problem to show, first, how this understanding of the tacit and its relation to the explicit is mistaken and misleading, and second how ontologically (that is, at the level of meaning-making) it is our pre-projections (how we create regional ontologies) that inform our disciplinary stances. It will then show how these pre-understandings can be attuned-to in a way that allows participants in cross-disciplinary situations to express (or at least formally indicate) the gist of these pre-understandings such that collaborators can share in each other’s disciplinary atmosphere and to carry forward their thinking in that shared atmosphere. It will then be shown how this sharing might be done and how it could potentially improve our capacity to work interdisciplinarily.
This work relies on the distinction between the hermeneutic as and the apohantic as. That is, it explores our human capacity for taking things as something in the contexts of our concernful dealings and involvements with them, and their significations for us that arise temporally from our goals, purposes, and inheritances. Disciplines are founded in, but not founded by this hermeneutic structure. Disciplines are structured at the apohantic level (the level of assertions) by staking out a regional ontology and developing contexts of concepts that guide theory development, methodology, and the practices that serve them. Thus, in order to move from a disciplinary orientation to one’s work to an interdisciplinary orientation, one does not simply need to understand another discipline’s assertions (its key terms or its tribal language), rather, one needs to understand how disciplinarity itself arises out of the involvement structure that informs the hermeneutic as which pre-structures our relation to the world. Only by carrying forward the possibilities that arise from this understanding (and one need not be conscious of this capability) can one successfully engage in truly interdisciplinary activity. In putting forward this approach to the problem of interdisciplinary communication, which is a problem that has vexed the dominant approaches, this work demonstrates the value of a transdisciplinary philosophical approach.