I don’t like reading editorials that compare STEM fields to the humanities because I think they often work to establish a “them against us” mentality, when in reality there is much more harmony between the majors than people tend to believe. While fields of study are partitioned by departments and majors, there’s more of a symbiosis — and in particular, a dependence — than I originally understood before coming to college. There’s poetry in chemistry and there’s a science to history. Try looking at an equilibrium constant and telling me that there aren’t valuable, real-life takeaways, or looking at history and telling me that there isn’t a scientific cyclicality, a method to better understanding.
A lot of pro-humanities pieces are often read as anti-STEM, or simply perceived as self-conscious and defensive. However, I think, for the most part, this isn’t popular opinion among those who study the humanities. I’ve been thinking about our self-sustained hierarchy of majors for a while, but I’ve been hesitant to write a defense of the humanities, not because I think it would be contentious or difficult to spell out, but because I honestly can’t think of anything that should be further from need of defense. Why study the humanities? There are enough reasons to fill millions of pages; and that, ultimately, is kind of what we do.
I think there’s a broad misconception that humanities people are sitting around, hoping for approval and validation from those in STEM. At the end of the day, the humanities — while ever expanding — are what they are: you either respect them, or you don’t. If you don’t respect my field of study, it’s a waste of both my time and yours to try to convince you that you should. But I will say that if you fail to see the value in a field as broad as the humanities — which includes everything from art to art to philosophy to literature — you’re missing out, and unnecessarily limiting yourself.
Not everyone is going to be a neuroscientist or a hedge fund manager or a doctor, but most of us are going to be citizens, and we’re all going to be humans. I don’t see my majors, or my passions, as impractical or ornamental because they allow me to better engage in the parts of life that are inevitable.
I hear a lot of dissatisfaction with the current state of the world — whether it’s the ineffectiveness of government, the deterioration of our environment, or the fact that older generations think millennials are addicted to their iPhones. These are individual debates to be had, but we definitely have a handful of issues that weren’t present 100 years ago. Maybe when we look for solutions, we should direct some attention to the splintering of education, and the critical moment in which we all pick what we’ll study.
Of course, I’m not saying that everyone should collectively switch to the humanities, because we have neither a market nor a society that could sustain itself if this were the case. Instead, maybe we should just focus on valuing the humanities more as they are, and to the nurturing these already-existing programs.
You can tell me that my Government major is dumb, go ahead, but I would then challenge you to point to almost any facet of your current life, and I can point to how it’s affected, or rather, how it could potentially be remedied by reform… by the government. Even if your main academic and professional interests lay in medicine and health, it can be noted that everything from the price of broccoli to the price of an MRI is influenced by government policies, and that the medical field would be in peril if it weren’t for strict adherence to ethics jointly crafted by philosophers and clinicians. Wouldn’t you rather have the people in government, who make the big calls that affect your life, be the same people who understand the system and are passionate about looking out for your best interest?
The United Nations representatives who gathered at the Paris Climate Summit recently wouldn’t know the specifics of the changes that need to be made if they didn’t have thousands of scientists and studies at their disposal for reference. However, those studies and all of their massively important findings would be rendered ineffective without people who know what they’re doing to enact change and implement policy — which brings us back to the idea of co-dependence.
I’m thankful for pre-meds and engineers; you’re changing the world and I’m endlessly impressed by what you do. I’m glad we live in a world where people’s interests vary enough that the wants and needs of society can be satisfied. If you’re not a literature person, that’s okay; no matter how much time I spend trying to self-teach, I’ll probably never get around to learning Python. But I respect those who do, and I think that’s essential: a mutual respect. Because at the end of the day, just like doctors need philosophers, philosophers need doctors, and bloggers need coders, the world needs the humanities. Yes, science keeps us alive, and let there be no mistake: I’m very thankful that it does. But what would it mean to be alive if we lived in a world without art, music, and analysis of the systems we’re living in? A lot of the things that make us human can be traced back to (or parallel) the humanities, and I think neglecting to recognize these things causes us to turn away from a pretty important part of life. Our respective fields don’t compete with one another. Rather, they enable each other.
In the end, all one can hope for is to find something specific that they really like, and to do it well. This can be coding, journalism, medicine, whatever. You do it in the classroom, you take it home with you and you nurture it. Nobody should apologize for mixing passion and academics, for mixing enjoyment with what will hopefully be the rest of their life. The more we realize this, the closer we come to achieving harmony.