[Humanist] 27.454 between STEM and the human sciences

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Oct 22 10:02:58 CEST 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 454.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 21 Oct 2013 16:26:35 -0400
        From: Wendell Piez <wapiez at wendellpiez.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 27.444 between STEM and the human sciences?
        In-Reply-To: <20131019055037.1E9D25EB8 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

On Sat, Oct 19, 2013 at 1:50 AM, Humanist Discussion Group
<willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> you wrote:
> Can we not begin to address the problem Hollinger identifies by
> overcoming our own estrangement from the techno-scientific inheritance
> to which we owe so much, including the machine that is at the foundation
> of our discipline? Once that happens I think we can be quite creative in
> our mediating.

I agree that to the extent we are estranged, it militates against our
being able to mediate, and that overcoming that estrangement is
necessary for a creative response.

Yet I am also doubtful that any single one of us coming to terms with
"styles of scientific reasoning" (so vast a project could take years)
is going to be up to the need, or even that if many of us do so (as we
may indeed be doing, assuming we have ever felt such estrangement much
at all) that our efforts on behalf of our peers should be successful,
all by themselves. It's a bigger problem than that.

Fundamentally, I think the struggle for respect here only masks the
real struggle, which is one over resources and support. There is a
scarcity of resources, to be sure, even though (it seems to me) it is
an entirely artificial scarcity, created by interests that would
rather see public and even private money otherwise allocated (for
whatever reason and to whatever ends) than to support either sciences
or the humanities. In turn, the roots of the artificial scarcity are
in the exploitation by a few (motivated by profits or ideology) of
widespread fear and resistance to changes that are well underway and
not always welcome: and these are cultural and demographic changes as
well as political, technological and social. In other words, we are
suffering only from "an attitude problem" (as my high school band
director used to say), but its roots are deep.

The society is doomed that does not know that any education, for the
few and for the many and in however many forms it can be made
available (the more esoteric the better), is always the best possible
investment in the future, regardless of supposed relevance or utility.
We are now way past the point when a person could reasonably expect to
live and die in a settled world, surviving in much the way their
ancestors did. Nurturing global civilization requires deep and
sensitive knowledge of languages, cultures and their histories as well
as quantitative reasoning skills. The more peculiar the knowledge we
bring to each other the better off we are: say an Ivy-League-educated
major in Post-colonial Studies gets a job with an Internet tech firm
doing market research, and finds herself sitting next to a
statistician who went to a community college. Who stands to profit?
Everyone. Education demands diversity, welcomes questioning and
embraces with enthusiasm the fact that the world is already way too
big for any of us as individuals to begin to comprehend. Since as
individuals we all need to know much more than as individuals we will
ever know, we also need to know how to communicate across boundaries,
with other "styles of reasoning" whatever they may be.

In other words, to the extent there are two sides here, I don't think
they can get together until they decide they should be working
together for the same outcome: a society that includes (along with the
tech entrepreneurs) cancer researchers, and professional dancers, and
mechanics who help us develop and maintain all these technologies
(while earning enough livelihood to be able to support the dancers).
With not a few college professors mixed in. If a Professor of
Chemistry doesn't stand up for a Professor of English, who will? That
there are high-concept debates over ways of knowing, styles of
reasoning or the nature of evidence is good: as long as people have
time to philosophize, I guess they think their jobs are safe enough.
At least, until it becomes a matter of hanging separately because we
didn't hang together.

Cheers, Wendell

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