The nonsensical schism between humanities and sciences

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(Courtesy/Odyssey Online)

According to British physicist and writer C.P. Snow, “the intellectual life of the whole of modern Western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups…at one pole we have the literary intellectuals, … at the other scientists and, as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension—sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding.”

Indeed, we witness a divide between the humanities’ contributors and scientific contributors, particularly within university student populations. Without merit, science-inclined individuals typically assert superiority over their humanities-inclined peers, who consequently react defensively. As a psychology/English double major (i.e. a disciple of two humanities/social sciences), I hope to reverse the illogical and potentially toxic polarization of the humanities and sciences both in the classroom and outside of it.

In order to eradicate this rift, we must acknowledge the positive societal contributions of both sides’ members. Surely, we college students are aware of and even have invoked the stereotype that science/engineering majors’ writing of lab reports and construction of kart parts constitute greater effort than humanities/social science majors’ writing of analytical papers (e.g. that especially insightful argument that the majestic race horse, Secretariat, represents humans’ tendency to get too far ahead of the pack) and conducting of experiments that make their participants look like dunces. Gender stereotypes also persist; too commonly we associate men exclusively with the “high-class,” “technical” sciences, whereas we pigeonhole women as deliverers of “overly flowery language” and explorers of the “lowly” humanities/social sciences.

Contrary to popular belief, humanities/social science scholars make meaningful and sophisticated societal contributions; they call attention to injustices and remark on current trends and previously undiscovered or unproven relationships. Furthermore, their ability to adapt to sudden environmental changes and devise abstract, multiple solutions creates an open-mindedness and easygoingness that are sorely lacking under our current social climate.

Although repetitive calculation of rigid, concrete solutions also has real-life applications, there’s something to be said for passion, spontaneity, creativity, and individuality in one’s work. I don’t intend to diminish prospective scientists’ and engineers’ goals and contributions, for they fulfill many difficult and important roles. After all, I could never build or design anything physically, and in school I was always a liability as a science lab partner. However, future scientists and engineers should prioritize life satisfaction and occupational enjoyment as much as they prioritize financial security. While scientists and engineers deposit their exorbitant paychecks and collect their Nobel Prizes in chemistry (which, humble brag alert, my late great-uncle, Herbert A. Hauptman, won in 1985!), I’m perfectly content with both living sustainably and perhaps attaining such lofty goals as topping the New York Times bestseller list or earning prestige for my psychological journal articles.

Besides their readily apparent distinctive approaches, we must recognize science- and humanities-minded individuals’ subtler shared goals. Whereas my father and his two brothers are all doctors, my mother is an accounting specialist (or as my stepfather puts it, “does homework for a living”), and my late Grandpa Ira contributed to the Fairchild Lunar Mapping Camera’s creation, my late Grandpa Manny wrote short stories and poetry and created cartoons. Evidently my family’s diverse occupations have variegated my life’s trajectory, for I’ve capitalized upon my high mathematical and linguistic aptitude. As an English/psychology double major, I can articulate myself eloquently and wittily and gain a better understanding of human behavior, thought and emotion; both of these skills hold significant real-life relevance irrespective of one’s field of study. Other tasks applicable to both scientific and humanities-based scholars include collaboration and the organization and fluency of ideas. Even as a social science, psychology has legitimate scientific and mathematical foundations; effective writers’ mastery of both a strict grammatical code and literary devices draws parallels to successful mathematicians’ and scientists’ comprehension of complex concepts and operation of sophisticated equipment.

Ultimately, we can become more well-rounded individuals by taking influence from both sides, as the respective book smarts vs. common sense and nature vs. nurture debates demonstrate. Theoretical physicist, writer and Dartmouth College professor Marcelo Gleiser summarizes my argument succinctly, for “the classroom is the ideal place for this conversation between the sciences and the humanities to unfold. By exposing students to the two sides of the cultural divide, we stand a chance of building bridges that will actually close the gap.”


Michael Katz is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email michael.katz@uconn.edu.

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