(Illustration by Tom Tian, AB’10)

Collective intellect

The greatest show on Earth: UChicago’s interdisciplinary circus.

Interdisciplinary research is in Chicago’s DNA. A biologist and a poet mapped the metaphysical genome and, after peer review by a philosopher and an economist, published the results in the Journal of Sociology, Biology, Theology, and Astrophysics. Well, not really. But recent campus initiatives do stand “at the intersection of quantitative biology, neuroscience, and the study of social and individual behaviors,” as well as “stimulate direct dialogue between the arts and science,” and build on UChicago’s “eminent interdisciplinary tradition.”

Why not bring everybody under one tent—a big top, perhaps. Imagine how much knowledge could grow from more to more through a single Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Collaborative University Scholarship (CIRCUS). In the center ring, Gary Becker, AM’53, PhD’55, tames a bear (market), while Martha Nussbaum walks the tightrope of philosophical insight and its implications for the law, John Cacioppo studies loneliness from the isolated perch of a unicycle, and academic acrobats like John Boyer, AM’69, PhD’75; Olufunmilayo Olopade; and Rocky Kolb build intellectual pyramids that connect the Habsburgs to human genetics to the Higgs boson.

After all, as Robert Maynard Hutchins once said, “If the first faculty had met in a tent, this still would have been a great university.”