Monday, September 7, 2009

Design Provides a Link Between Humanities and Science

The separation between the humanities and the sciences is being closed to a degree by the growth of design education. The argument by C.P. Snow (left) in "The Two Cultures", (a 1959 lecture later turned into a book) was that the breakdown of communication between the "two cultures" of modern society — the sciences and the humanities — was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems.

Although there are still arts and humanities teachers who do not warm up to science and math and vice-versa, there is a growing number of architecture, digital media and design courses that link the two cultures - basically by necessity given the nature of the design fields. Architecture is virtually impossible without engineering and math. Digital animation, media production, and game design require computer programming and math. Product design involves chemistry, material science and math.

Design, media and technology are continuing to close the gap between the "two cultures" but much work remains. Digital animators like John Lasseter (Pixar, Disney) recognize that a successful film like "Toy Story" needs a strong story that relates to people as well as the ground-breaking digital animation effects that draw people to the theater.

John Brockman, in his book "The Third Culture", argued that the future intellectuals would now consist of “those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world” who are dealing with the real issues facing humanity in our new world of bioengineering, cyberspace, and nanotechnology. Science was now the dominant paradigm and the achievements of the new public culture it creates “will affect the lives of everybody on the planet.”

In a newer book, "The New Humanists", (right) Brockman continued the argument with “Unlike the humanities academicians, who talk about each other, scientists talk about the universe.” The traditional literary camp is “indulging itself in cultural pessimism,” in contrast to the optimism of science, whose discoveries are “either good news or news that can be made good thanks to ever deepening knowledge and ever more efficient and powerful tools and techniques.”

1 comment:

Bonnie Diehl said...

There is a difference between applied scientific research and basic science research. The elite theorectical scientists claim that applied scientists have 'sold out.' True scientists pursue truth and knowledge. They don't want to 'make a buck' off their discoveries. If you complain about your measly salary as an assistant professor, you are not a true scientist and should go work for a company.

This is a social dichotomy within the field of science that is slowly blurring. But not fast enough for me.

Martha Nussbaum's article entitled Education for Profit,
Education for Freedom
(AAC&U Liberal Education, Vol. 95, No. 3)

is a good read because but it tries to clearly delineates the division between economic vs. social value development.

However, if we are going to have a win-win situation in our capitalistic society, I think we should blur those lines. In other words, education is good for our democracy but also good for individual capital acquisition (if you are into that kind of stuff).