Technology and Humanities

I read a couple of things about the intersection between technology and the liberal arts today, otherwise totally unrelated but the need for a connection between the two.

What the humanities can learn

The first was in the conclusion of Walter Isaacson’s “The Innovators,” a book about the inventors of the “digital revolution.” He started by talking about how engineers need to understand the arts and humanities (as Steve Jobs insisted Apple did) and moves on to how the opposite is also true:

The converse to this paean to the humanities, however, is also true. People who love the arts and humanities should endeavour to appreciate the beauties of math and physics, just as Ada did. Otherwise, they will be left as bystanders at the intersection of arts and science, where most digital-age creativity will occur. They will surrender control of that territory to the engineers.

Many people who celebrate the arts and the humanities, who applaud vigorously the tributes to their importance in our schools, will proclaim without shame (and sometimes even joke) that they don’t understand math[s] or physics. They extoll the virtues of learning Latin, but they are clueless about how to write an algorithm or tell BASIC from C++, Python from Pascal. They consider people who don’t know Hamlet from Macbeth to be Philistines, yet they might merrily admit that they don’t know the difference between a gene and a chromosome, or a transistor and a capacitor, or an integral and a differential equation. These concepts may seem difficult. Yes, but so, too, is Hamlet. And like Hamlet, eat of these concepts is beautiful. Like an elegant mathematical equation, they are expressions of the glories of the universe.

Most people have a bias one way or the other. You won’t be surprised that I know more about BASIC and C++ than Hamlet and Macbeth. You don’t have to — indeed can’t — know everything, but you can certainly learn to appreciate the other “side.”

What the scientists can learn

The other piece I read was about scientists being “easy prey for jihadists”. The study suggests that terrorist recruiters look for an “engineering mindset” as what’s required are people who are “intelligent and curious, but unquestioning of authority.”

Immunising the Mind – his report – gathers a wide spectrum of opinion in support of the contention that science education fails to inculcate critical thinking in the way that the debates within arts teaching do.

Again, basically the same conclusion but the other way around. Scientists, the report suggests, should understand more about the humanities, in this case learning about debate and arguing varying positions.