In praise of the humanities.
“Does writing matter?”
What do you think of writing, of writers? Maybe, like me, you have thought ‘What’s the point’? Wouldn’t I be better as a driver, nurse, a doctor, an engineer? I thought that. I had what might be romantically called a ‘dark night of the soul’. I think I got that line from Mother Theresa, who, after her initial calling, says she never again heard the voice of God. It’s in an article Time did on her. But back to me and my doubts about the humanities. While in the depths of writing essays for my degree, I often wondered, what’s the point in reading the work of some guy that died over a hundred years ago? What’s the point in writing at all?
Here’s an interesting take on that view. Suppose aliens landed on earth? First thing, since they have come to us, they are technologically superior. Otherwise we would have gone to them. So, the chances are, as regards science, there probably isn’t a lot we can teach them. But according to an eminent scientist, Edward O Wilson, there is a lot we can tell them, but not through science, instead we can tell them about ourselves through the humanities.
Wilson claims, running parallel to our biological evolution is our cultural evolution; that this is entirely a product of the human brain. I think what he means is, science can explain how we are put together, but only a play, book, or poem can tell aliens anything about our humanity; that which makes us human. Wilson believes that the laws of the universe will prove to be the same everywhere, but that what will always change and evolve will be the humanities. There is a scary side to Wilson’s argument, I believe. But I hasten to add, this is my interpretation, no doubt influenced by the fact that I am presently immersed in research for my book about the final battle between science, in the guise of genetic engineering, and religion. Genetic engineering could change the face of humanity forever, and the very nature of humans. I’ll finish with the final quote from Wilson’s chapter ‘In praise of the humanities.’ “We are doing very well in science and technology. Let’s agree to keep it up, and move both along even faster. But let’s also promote the humanities, that which makes us human, and not use science to mess around with the wellspring of this, the absolute and unique potential of the human future”.
The meaning of human existence, Edward O. Wilson, New York, 2014.