The Generalist


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By Muhammad Natsir Tahar

How wide would the business cards of classical scientists be if all their professions were written at once like this: mathematician, astronomer, meteorologist, geologist, zoologist, botanist, pharmacologist, agronomist, archaeologist, ethnographer, cartographer, encyclopedia compiler, diplomat, hydraulic engineer, inventor , university chancellor, minister of finance, etc.

They did exist. The owner of the business card is Shen Kuo, an 11th century genius whose inventions include the magnetic compass and fossils. It was just an official job, apart from other things he was passionate about, such as writing poetry and composing music.

Shen is the Leonardo da Vinci of China. Like Leonardo, he recorded his ideas in a notebook, lost for centuries and found only recently. Just as Western scientists are very much interested in all fields, scientists from the Arabian peninsula from the past are generalists, multi-talented.

Arab scientists recorded in history have first opened the gate, they introduced the magic of the trio of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle -all three had the longest “businesscards” of their time- when Europe was still sleeping long.

History has proven how the Arabian peninsula and its surroundings have produced many great scholars and scientists in the fields of philosophy, science, politics, literature, society, religion, medicine, and so on before Europe rose. It’s not one person who specializes in one specialty, but almost all of them are bought up brilliantly by one person at a time.

Among them is Al-Farabi who is known as: physicist, chemist, philosopher, logician, psychology, metaphysics, politics, music, and many others who acted simultaneously. Another prominent philosopher was Ibn al-Haitham, although he was better known in the fields of science and medicine, but was also an expert in religion, philosophy, and astronomy.

Indonesia has at least Umar Kayam, a versatile figure who has lived and worked in the republic. He works as a lecturer, scientist, official, short story writer, to film player. His father gave him the name Umar Kayam because he was inspired by a Sufi generalist, philosopher, astrologer, mathematician, and famous Persian poet who lived in the 12th century, named Omar Khayam.

What about modern humans, people of the digital era who are all compact and instant? Before this era was born, the world had gone through a petty squabble between the versatile generalists and the later specialists.

Generalists criticize specialists for the assumption that they are too compartmentalized and specialize in everything that is considered easy and can be done all at once, but is broken down into several different professions. For example, Physics which began to be reduced to mechanics expertise, theoretical expertise, quantum energy, expertise in the concept of force, impulse, momentum, relativity, dynamic and static electricity, light and sound.

Meanwhile, specialists think that specialization is the right way to comprehensively master one aspect of human life. Although not holistic, that is, not mastering all fields of science, specialists emphasize optimal excellence in only one field. On the downside, as the generalists predict they are very vulnerable to ignorance and dependence on others.

An example is the relationship between a doctor and a pharmacist. In the past, a doctor was a profession that could handle and give medicines to patients, but nowadays the role of making medicines is left to pharmacists so that the doctor’s task is becoming increasingly narrow, namely only examining and diagnosing patients and then given a medicine concoction that must be redeemed. at the pharmacist.

The work of doctors continues to narrow to specialists in almost all fields, for example dental specialists, then oral surgeons, ENT specialists and so on, precisely in very close areas.

Ultramodern society should not side with one pole, but make an elaboration of the belief and gratitude that the human brain capacity used is only below 10 percent of what it should be, there is still a lot of empty space.

Specialization is indeed deeper but they are more confined to ignorance or even ignorance of many things, so that being a generalist is a necessity these days. Later, human specialists who are generalists or multi-tasking will be created.

The importance of being a generalist is, humans will have many choices of professions when we have to catch up with smart machines that increasingly seize all job opportunities in the future. Welcome back generalists! ~