Another string theory

Another string theory

Theories linking different fields together often hold the promise of great breakthroughs in science and understanding.  Think of linking optics, math, and astronomy to the prediction of the motions of the planets.  The recently deceased Stephen Hawking worked for years to help explain the nature of the universe through linkage of general relativity (the macro) to quantum mechanics (the micro).

The links between music, language, neuroscience, and psychology have been explored by Daniel Levitan.  He imagines the origins of music, making a solid argument based on logic and carbon dating of bone flutes that music preceded language.  It helped prepare the brain to look for patterns of sounds, enabling the introduction and use of language.  Other fascinating insights show that the pathways in the brain activated by playing music are the same as those used in thinking about music.  The links are powerful, and help explain how Beethoven could continue composing even after going deaf.  Music Therapy is a growing field taking advantage of our increasing knowledge of the brain to help people through music.

Links between different aspects of human resources are at the core of Industrial and Organizational (I-O) Psychology.  A systems approach to interventions shows us that problems (aka opportunities) in the workplace can be addressed in multiple ways.  For example, a skills issue could be addressed through targeted training programs as well as through careful selection of talent that may already have the skills, or both. 

I recently had the pleasure of reconnecting with former IBM colleague and psychometrics guru Sage Ro.  Sage, a visionary from the field of psychometrics, has seen the power of Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) applied to learning and the workplace.  With CAT, organizations can get more reliable measures more efficiently, to, for example, predict which candidates will be the strongest performers in a given job.  By linking that type of a system with another to identify learning needs, organizations would have a more holistic approach to improving skill levels in their workplace.    

Now, think of taking this into school systems, using CAT to more efficiently target learning to fill gaps in knowledge.  Add on personality and interest inventories, and we could help students tune their goals and learning plans to most effectively help them grow into the careers of their choosing.  It’s all linked together!  Sage aspires toward a “life-span learning and development” model.

Sage Ro currently works in analytics at IBM Kenexa.


Levitan, Daniel L.  (2007).  This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession.  New York, Plume (Penguin).

Ro, Sage Shungwon.  Personal communication.  30 Mar 2018. 

Wainer, H.  (2000).  Computer Adaptive Testing: A Primer (2nd ed).  New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.




Joe Colihan