I have been remiss in plugging my DonorsChoose widget and project selection. Aside from a cutesy announcement last week, I haven’t done a very good job in explaining why I chose humanities over science. It’s not simply because I am vociferously staking out my position within the FTB network as a contrarian, although that is probably part of it. It’s because I am a passionate believer in the value of the humanities.
We, as a society, keep expending precious energy and human capital fighting old battles. When I read the newspapers, particularly the politics sections, George Santayana’s maxim “the one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again” repeatedly pops into my head (although apparently that isn’t what it means). Our pathetic knowledge of where we have been as a society and as a species leads us to run down the same blind alleys again and again. Our lack of knowledge about how human beings behave leads us to pie-in-the-sky policies that only work if human beings adhere to a rigid narrative of either decency/rationality/vice/whatever. Our inability to learn from our past mistakes puts us in the dangerous position of repeating them, often with disastrous result.
Science is a wonderful tool – possibly the most important discovery humanity has ever made. Science is, however, only one aspect of an underlying process of relying on evidence, reason and rigour when deciding what is true and what is false. Taught properly, the humanities incorporate this process and help us tie together disparate narratives of what has happened, and what is happening. When applied to literature, it helps us understand the context of great works in order to further our understanding of the subjective realities of our fellow creatures. When applied to philosophy, it allows us to critique ideas based on their utility and how closely they reflect the observed world. When applied to history, it allows us to construct a cohesive picture of how things came to be the way they are, based on all the evidence rather than just some.
Training in the humanities, most importantly, helps nurture our ability to construct rational arguments. To take several facts or pieces of evidence and synthesize them in such a way as to allow others to understand a position that may be foreign to them. In a time when the barrier between the average (first-world) person and new ideas is nearly non-existent, and when these ideas often conflict with each other, it is more crucial than ever to defend those aspects of inquiry which foster critical thinking, and allow us to present ideas coherently. This is a job for the humanities.
So please consider donating a few dollars (if you can) to the worthy causes indexed within the DonorsChoose project.
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I agree with your passionate support of the
I’ve been thinking about this recently in relation to one of my management information systems classes. While there is certainly a highly technical side to modern day enterprise computing, the classes are pounding in the message of communication, problem solving, and conceptual understanding. I have an advantage over many of the other students because I have a previous degree in… (let the laughter begin you ‘hard’ science folks…) General Studies. While some of my classes could have been more rigorous (and don’t get me started on the BS that was included in some of them), I was exposed to fairly good quality education from 14 different departments in the university. I learned something valuable and useful from each discipline that has transferred to my adult life, including and especially, a great appreciation of learning itself.
Looking back, there were serious downsides of course, but that is a different topic.
I will support a humanities project.
Thanks so much for your donation!
I was lucky to get that kind of broad-brush education at the high school level. Where I lived, there was a 5th year of high school which allowed me to do all of my maths/sciences, but still left me with time to do History of Western Civ, Intro to Philosophy, World Religions, Drama, and English Literature. That kind of education is crucial, and yet we get so little of it in the sciences.