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Posted By ASC, Monday, July 6, 2020

BLOG:  Science vs. the Humanities: Curiosity, Passion, and Skepticism Meet
By Ujjval Vyas

I have had recent conversations with scientists who all seemed resigned to the irreconcilability of the sciences and the humanities. In a way, recent events are representative of this theme of separateness. It has been my view for a long time that these two engines of human interaction with the world are not irreconcilable, and are, at the heart of things, the same. I normally refrain from taking a first-person view when posting to this blog, but I think this might be a useful exception.

I was not immune to this false dichotomy—that those in science and the humanities think in a fundamentally different manner and the twain shall never meet—for a large portion of my life. Over many years, and having engaged in the humanities and in scientific pursuits in various ways, I am now firmly convinced that the two worlds are like our eyesight. We have two eyes but what we perceive is a unitary thing. If we purposely close one eye or the other, we are aware that there is a left eye and a right eye, but no one thinks we interpret the world better by blinding one eye.

The historian is as plagued by the difficulty of pursuing an “objective” point of view as the physicist. When Kurt Gödel, to his own chagrin, came to realize that all axiomatic systems, including mathematics, were permanently incomplete or the Pythagoreans discovered that the square root of two was irrational, it was disturbing, but no less so than the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the rediscovery of Greek and Hebrew in the early Italian Renaissance were to historians at that time.

Both science and the humanities are about human interpretation of the world, not the world as it really is in an absolute sense. And because the human interpreter is the common element, although science and the humanities may have differing substance of examination, the flaws and limitations of interpretation are also common to both. But there are three human attributes that can help to mitigate these limitations: curiosity, passion, and skepticism. Consistently applied, they form a stable, three-legged stool, a common framework for seeking understanding.



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