I'm an individual interested in multiple academic disciplines such as neuroscience, biological engineering, computer science, history, anthropology, psychology, political theory ... to name just a few. Currently, I have a normal (40 hours/week) engineering job that leaves me enough free time to follow these topics to a moderately satisfying degree.
However, primarily due to intellectual curiosity, I'm considering doing a PhD (in Europe) and would ideally want to move to research later (discipline: something along the lines of genetic engineering, computational biology or cognitive neuroscience - not sure yet, but my background is in computer science). Given the highly specialized nature of modern scientific research that seems to demand intense working hours, one concern that I have is the fear of becoming highly one dimensional: completely failing to follow progress in other fields and in society as a whole, with publish or perish environment creating an inescapable feedback loop, where one cannot afford to read articles and books on topics not related to work, or follow public debates; yet alone write a blog about e.g. social issues.
I realize there are academics out there who seem to be prolific across multiple disciplines (e.g. Chomsky, Pinker ...), but the question still stands: in a modern research environment, can one satisfy multiple intellectual interests that transcend immediate work requirements, or has the game become too competitive and focused for that? What are the main variables?