A few days ago, there was an interesting story in the NY Times about new curriculum at Binghamton University which will try to bridge the divide between the sciences and the humanities. I meant to write about it on this blog, but didn’t find the time. Now I’ve read a reply which perfectly and concisely expresses my thoughts. Sheril Kirshenbaum, a marine biologist at Duke University and co-author of The Intersection on ScienceBlogs:
Experience has taught me neither field can be addressed comprehensively through a single lens, and we make the greatest strides and forge new directions through the convergence of people and philosophies.
I couldn’t agree more, although getting there took me some time. When I began writing my Ph.D. thesis, I shared the office with Daniela Wentz, a doctoral student in Media Philosophy. I think she’d admit that, being relative novices in our fields, both of us were rather cocky about the perceived superiority of “our” epistemological position. I had just read Popper (and some Lakatos) and thought that only quantitative empirical research deserved to be called “science”, whereas she felt that deconstruction in the vein of Derrida was the be-all and end-all theory of knowledge.
We quickly became very good friends. As we spent countless hours debating the pros and cons and whys and whynots of our respective philosophical approaches, both in the office and over glasses of red wine in the cafés of Weimar (Humanities scholars know how to debate in style, you have to give them that), the respect for the other’s methods of scientific inquiry grew. I believe that my understanding and appreciation of science benefited immensely from these discussions. So if you’re an empirical researcher who doubts the epistemological value of the Humanities, that’s really something I can recommend: Find a friend in the Humanities to fight with!
One final thought about linguistic implications: In my native language German, the word “Wissenschaft” – as the literal translation of “sciences” – does encompass both the sciences and the humanities in its meaning.