Science, humanities intertwined

Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, once said, “It is notoriously difficult to define the word ‘living.’” In college, our main goal is precisely to try and define living, to help us know more about ourselves and the world around us.

But in the descriptions we apply to how we do this, we put up barriers to our thinking: “I’m a math and science person.” “I’m really good at history and English.” “I just want to make art all day.”

These can be summed up into two basic schools of thought.

The hard sciences of education, things that can be quantitatively measured and described, explain the “hows” of life – how insulin molecules help the regulation of glucose in the blood stream, how marginal tax cuts at low rates have diminishing economic returns, how the Earth revolves around the sun.

On the other side, the humanities of education, the less definite fields, explain the “whys” of life – why a particular movement in a musical composition evokes emotional responses, why we emphasize with trends along social divisions, why we care to explore the universe around us like our ancestors before did.

In fact, looking beyond superficial descriptions of the fields shows that they rely on each other more than we’d expect. Sciences use the humanities for the assumptions made about human nature and society to seek new experimental goals.

And of course, a world constantly changed and better understood by science impacts the decisions we make and why we make them.

Simply put, the “how’s” of life expand upon the “why’s” we ask. And the “why’s” of life guide us to the “how’s” we seek.

There are many students who complain about having to take classes outside of their major. Some wonder about the usefulness.

Luckily for us, UM supports this well rounded education. The general education requirements that eat up schedules during freshman year can challenge assumptions and perspectives and lead to changed majors and career plans. There are programs and events on a wide variety of subjects, like the “Taking Flight” humanities initiative, that is open to the entire student body for free.

But the choice to pursue fields that we don’t normally care for falls upon us, the students. As we register for spring semester, we should take note of the importance of both modes of thought and try to fill out a schedule that is diverse as well as interesting.

This may be only a small token step, but it’s definitely important and valuable. It may be notoriously difficult to define living, but only both bodies of thought together can get close.

Patrick Quinlan is a freshman majoring in international studies and political science.

November 14, 2012


Patrick Quinlan

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