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OPINION: Dismantling the divide

To continue my trend of pointing out issues I have come across in our community it is time to point out another: the false dichotomy and conflict created between the arts and sciences.
First, let me explain my motivation, which is twofold. When I was in high school, in Dartmouth, I did all the sciences. It was my ambition to become a pathologist or a physicist. I loved science and math dearly. My friends, who exclusively took arts, frequently said they did far more work than me because papers were harder than math, chemistry and physics. I, naturally, always disagreed with this and asserted they were different types of work and were, in many ways, equal in value despite the fact I spent several hours a night doing more work than they did.
This year I am taking calculus. I was met with support from many of my close friends who have a great appreciation for math and science. But more often, especially within our own community I was only asked why I would ever want to submit myself to such suffering.
Finally, the other day when I was in the McCain building, where I spend far too much of my time weekly, I heard a statement I found worrying. A defense of taking an arts degree that consisted of putting down other students by simply asking, “Yeah, but can you write?”
While this may be a valid question, it is completely inappropriate. This question not only oversimplifies their own degree but also another entire discipline.

(Photo: Ashley Corbett)
(Photo: Ashley Corbett)

The humanities and sciences teach two different skill sets, many of which are not transferable. Many students of the humanities cannot make proper sense of a scientific paper, let alone write one, one of the issues that leads to the amounts of scientific illiteracy across the western world. It is true, as this student in the McCain pointed out, that many science students cannot write a paper for the humanities to the same caliber that someone who has studied the humanities should be able to. Is that really their fault?
The answer is clearly no. Neither the humanities or the sciences give students the proper opportunity to learn about the other to appreciate them and learn a further skill set that will aid them in their own fields. Humanities could often do with a good dose of scientific objectivism, as we all too often get caught up in our own ideas of what something should say, closing ourselves off to other interpretations because they do not fit with our own world view. The sciences could benefit from some of the humanities writing techniques that allow us to express complex ideas eloquently in a way that our grandmothers would understand without having studied a topic for years.
This is all to say what might be the most obvious: the sciences and humanities are simply different. They allow us to learn different skill sets, which used alone are good and sufficient, but when used together make a stronger argument. One is simply not better than the other and in most cases they are just incomparable.
It is far past time for us all to bury the hatchet and get over ourselves so we can all increase the value of our learning by being interdisciplinary. By not shutting each other out of our respective studies and working together to make knowledge as a whole better. We need to stop comparing ourselves to each other and thinking that one has more worth. We all work hard and we should all be able to appreciate that fact, despite our inability, perhaps, to understand the other all of the time.

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

One reply on “OPINION: Dismantling the divide”

You start by saying there is a false dichotomy between the humanities and science and then end by saying the two are simply different. You’ve gotta make a clearer distinction!

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