News

Harvard Law School Makes Online Zero-L Course Free for All U.S. Law Schools Due to Coronavirus

News

For Kennedy School Fellows, Epstein-Linked Donors Present a Moral Dilemma

News

Tenants Grapple with High Rents and Local Turnover at Asana-Owned Properties

News

In April, Theft Surged as Cambridge Residents Stayed at Home

News

The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

THE UNDERGRADUATE SCIENTIST, cont.,

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

he must assume the receiver's ability to translate into action these unspecified terms. But given these primitive terms, the scientist assumes that everything he wants to communicate can be made explicit.

With the humanist, the situation is quite different. In dealing with nebulous, often unformulated problems, he hopes to suggest. The humanist often assumes that the content of a message is implicit in what it seems to say; one function of criticism, for example, is to exorcise, to make explicit, the contents of fiction and poetry. This difference takes effect on the undergraduate scientist and humanist; the scientist wishes the humanist would come out and say what he means, when perhaps what he means cannot be articulated in so many words; the humanist looks without success for something behind what the scientists says and finding nothing, is annoyed or concludes scientific language is all superficial.

Third, the student scientist and humanist have different professional vocabularies. Common vocabularies are worked out for convenience in sharing experiences. But the undergraduate scientist and humanist share practically no experience in their respective professional spheres -- their areas of concentration. Thus the vocabulary which the undergraduate scientist uses to talk about his science becomes largely alien to the humanities student. The humanities student might say, "But not vice versa! Scientists can understand us." But in fact, it is not always true that scientists can understand the technical vocabulary of humanists. Aesthetics, certain types of criticism, and philology, for example, have their own jargons. Everybody deplores jargon; and nearly everybody uses it, simply because it facilitates communication with one's profession. It is not easy to drop jargon when communicating with aliens.

We have seen, however, that the difference in language is not merely a difference in vocabulary, not simply a matter of substituting, say, "Hund" for "dog." The different linguistic habits reflect different professional worlds, which carry over into informal discourse.

The language barrier is more likely ultimately to harm the scientist than it is the humanist; for while the scientist can dip into literature, criticism, and history if he is so inclined, the classicist cannot ruminate for a pleasant evening over the latest volume on automorphic functions, even were he so inclined. If the scientist cannot make contact about science with humanists, he faces the prospect of mumbling to himself about those things to which he has devoted his best energies and talents.

Why should the humanists care about science? Aside from the pragmatic reasons -- science is important and powerful and rich and so on -- which only repel the humanists, I think there is at least one good reason: science is another human way of creating the world, and many men have testified to its beauty.

Conclusion

I HAVE tried to show that there are both psychological and philosophical differences between undergraduate scientists and humanists. (a) The sciences and the humanities come alive in the people who study them. Scientists and humanists are, and have been, different people. They have different backgrounds and different motivations. (b) In reporting their professional activities, scientists and humanists use different kinds of concepts, different methods to picture or grasp the world. The differing ways to judge a meaningful statement, in the sciences and the humanities, reflect two deeply different orientations. These professional differences carry over to some extent into undergraduates' informal life and through give undergraduates often disparate approaches to the same problems or experiences. (c) The professional languages of the scientist and humanist are very different; again, some of the difference carries over into informal undergraduate discourse. There, linguistic differences aggravate the difficulties arising from the other differences.

What about historians, anthropologists, social psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, and economists? Social scientists combine intuition, reason, and appeal to fact into an epistemological hybrid that frequently puts them in the doghouse of both scientists and humanists. They have emerged only recently from philosophy or the study of history, and the studies by Holland and Roe show that, psychologically, they, like the humanists, differ in some respects from scientists. The relations between the social sciences and the natural sciences really deserve a complete treatment. Rather than make an abortive attempt here, we leave the issue aside.

There is now a quite fashionable intellectual cult dedicated to proclaiming the unity of the sciences and the humanities. Rhapsodies about the poet as the mathematician's partner in framing the Universe in the image of man's mind are among the cult's offspring. "History, seen in the large, provides no sanction for a conflict between the sciences and the arts," writes a prominent physicist discoursing on the nature of physical reality; and he claims to show even the of the sciences and the humanities to be essentially the same.

This verbal cloud linking the sciences and the humanities hides two dangers. First, it leaves the undergraduate student of science unprepared for the distinctions de facto between scientific and humane which he will encounter in the liberal arts college, in Harvard particularly. Second, it gives rise to the belief that the unity of the sciences and the humanities as human endeavors is necessary rationally to derive, or to excuse the kind of general education which a liberal arts college wants to give. For general education to rest unity as its justification is for general education to false premise. Thus the need for general education derived from a hypothesis other than the unity of the sciences and the humanities.

Corresponding to these two dangers are two reasons for dwelling so heavily on the differences between the sciences and the humanists in the Harvard undergraduate community. The first reason is the hope that this review of differences may crystallize the vague anxieties and feelings of uneasiness in some undergraduate scientist as he circulates among the literary intellectuals. He should recognize that it is only a historical accident that he, and not the humanist, is regard one who is "different." Since the humanists created intellectual citadels of which the scientist is now a member, the humanists are naturally the better entrenched.

The second reason for emphasizing these differences is the desire to force out into the open what I believe to be a flat failure of Harvard's program of general education, namely that it does not adequately equip the undergraduate scientist or humanist for intellectual discourse with a member of the other world.

Commendably, Harvard encourages diversity; it admits students from varied social, economic, and psychological backgrounds. It is not Harvard's announced intention to encourage splintering, and at least one goal of general education is to open channels of serious communication among its diverse students. The program of general education has largely failed to attain that goal.

How important this failure is depends entirely upon the inclinations and biases of the undergraduate student. If he is a scientist all of whose friends are scientists, problems of communication with humanists simply do not arise. The humanist who runs at the sight of an equation need not fear that his knowledge will become catholic. And if friends who are in different fields are content to limit their intercourse to the core of experience and language shared by all members of the larger culture, again no problems arise. It is only when the student scientist and humanist want to communicate on a really sophisticated level that they discover a Harvard education offers substantially no preparation.

If you spend time listening to conversations in the Freshman Union, and then come into an upperclass house -- even one with an "intellectual" reputation -- you are likely to be struck by this difference: the upperclassmen have largely given up trying to communicate across the borders of their own areas of specialty, when they try to communicate seriously at all. The upperclassmen have learned that the College does not, in practice, support their attempts at catholicity. The freshmen have not learned, yet.

So the student scientist at Harvard whose conception of human experience extends beyond the boundaries of science is faced with the choice of letting the non-professional side of him atrophy, or of developing it without the aid of his formal education.

The lesson of history, to use a thoroughly non-operational concept, is that men can successfully live in more than one intellectual world. Priestley, discoverer of oxygen, published twenty-five volumes of theology; the great mathematicians Sylvester and Hamilton were voluminous poets. From these examples and many more like them, it does not follow that all one needs to do is sit back and wait for the gap between scientific and humane in America to close, as it did in Europe. The conspicuous lack of significant scientists or humanists who straddle the gap today testifies otherwise. Men can live than one intellectual world. The question is, will they?

The obvious pious wish to make now is that the science student develop the channels of communication with humanists of the system of education. But the fact is, that without the co-operation of humanities students he cannot develop such channels; for to establish a sophisticated language shared by scientists and humanists is to educate both. Besides, it remains to be shown that our pious wish is desirable in whatever value system the scientist accepts. To implement that wish requires effort, at least, and more likely, something close to divine inspiration. The will to try, and divine inspiration, like the operational viewpoint, are unsocial virtues. Hence, while we cannot propose our pious wish as the necessary conclusion to all that precedes, we can at least let it stand. It is one alternative to the intellectual inertia that threatens to keep the undergraduate scientist and humanist in discrete worlds.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags