Editorial | Issue 22

Editorial | Issue 22

Cuts & divisions

Emeritus Professor Alan Musgrave told our History of Science class that our most radical innovation as humans is not the scientific method, nor our ability to farm and grow crops, but language. 

Our greatest treasure as a species is our ability to communicate complex ideas with one another. To communicate effectively through writing and speaking you need to be able to structure your thoughts. Without the ability to communicate with clarity students of any discipline lack a fundamental tool to enable their ideas to benefit society. 

To improve the world around us our thoughts need to be grounded in knowledge of our culture, our history, and our ideas. We need to understand our failures as humans as well as our triumphs. The humanities teach us how ideas are connected to each other, how there is no line between one subject and the next.  

The split between science and art is an illusion. Scientists need creativity and passion in the same way those in the arts do. Humanities courses teach us critical thinking, logic, quality control, compassion, and an understanding of the people we share the world with. Karl Popper’s hypothetico-deductive model may seem separate to the poetry of Sylvia Plath, but both are results of humans trying to make sense of the confusion we are born into. 

You will be a better scientist if you know the history of science, and a better doctor if you know the history of medicine. But more essentially you will be a more critical and compassionate person if you know the workings of the culture you are immersed in, and those of the world around you. 

Someone said to me yesterday that to decrease the size of the Humanities division is like going into a human body and deciding one valve on the heart is not currently pumping as much blood as another, removing it, then seeing how the body gets on. Downsizing the Humanities division will affect the community of Dunedin as much as it will affect the University. Our social services, orchestras, art galleries, libraries, local businesses, music venues, council, theatres, newspapers, schools, offices, and radio stations are full of Otago humanities graduates; our society is a body of diverse, interlocking parts.

Jobs in the arts are not measurable in the time or effort needed to do them adequately. Research cannot be put into estimated hours, and teaching cannot be reduced to a student/teacher quota. In teaching and in research you do as much as you are able to do. There is no point where you come to the end of your work and go home early at a loose end. Learning about culture and people is ongoing, and extra time will always be used to add to the multifaceted and overlapping web of human understanding.

Lucy Hunter
Critic Deputy Editor

This article first appeared in Issue 22, 2016.
Posted 10:02am Saturday 10th September 2016 by Lucy Hunter.