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Elise Niemeyer's picture

The humanities and science answer the same essential questions

One thing that really struck me about the conversation we had in professor Grobstein’s group on Thursday was the distinction made between the external nature of science and the internal nature of the humanities. It seemed as though we were discussing the humanities as if they resulted from humans’ desires to understand themselves and the sciences as reflections of our need to understand the external world apart from ourselves.  I agree that this distinction can be useful, but in light of focusing on evolution through reading Mayr, I’m not so sure that this distinction is as absolute as we had previously thought.

 Despite the seeming objectivity of science and its emphasis on nonhuman ideas and entities, it seems to me that everything in science is at least subtly, if not overtly, the result of humanity’s need to understand its place in the world.  Evolution is the most obvious example of this, but anything from geology to astronomy to chemistry is at some basic level an exploration how humanity came to be as it is today and an investigation of our place in the universe with which we interact.  It is this quest for understanding that causes stories to develop out of scientific knowledge.  There is an underlying need for explanation of how the world works in relation to our own existence.  The question of why things are the way they are is where the sciences and the humanities seem to overlap.  Both types of study attempt to answer this question in varying degrees, but neither can provide the definitive answer.  While the sciences can continually refine explanations, the root or "truth" can never actually be reached.  The humanities can try to address the “why” issue through personal, more overtly human creations, but essentially this type of explanation will be different for every person.  At least in my opinion, science and the humanities are driven by the same ultimate, distinctly human, questions, but attempt to answer them in different ways. 

Elise

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