Why Scientists and Artists Should Stahp Already

At the University of Nerds and Premeds, most of the people you run into are science majors. A casual sampling (by asking everyone you encountered what their major was) would show you that our university is made up primarily of chemistry, biology, psychology, mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering and physics majors. The occasions that you run across someone not in the science/medical field, the next question you think to ask is where they’re from. (“Oh, you’re a Spanish major? Cool! Where are you from?” “About fifteen minutes north of here.”) It seems that most of the humanities/not-science majors are locals.

At the same time, UNP is a big proponent of multiculturalism and well-roundedness (like, erm, most colleges these days, I guess). Thus, there are language classes offered here that other colleges in the state could only dream of having (*ahem* Japanese not 101), events that you’ve only heard about taking place minutes from campus, and a stiff humanities/fine arts/social sciences core requirement that all majors have to meet. The diversity of campus outside of this, too, is astounding—it’s hard to walk across campus and not encounter someone who is bilingual. For someone who loves people and language, it’s extremely interesting.

Yet, you sometimes get the impression, talking to many people in science or its related fields, that humanities majors are foolish, largely useless or less intelligent. A lot of artists/humanities majors seem to think scientists are overly-analytical, exclusive and cold. I’ve witnessed it first-hand in the person who casually flaps their hand at high marks in Spanish and literature but praises good grades in math or science, and second-hand in stories of Finn’s professors who grade their science-students-turned-obligatory-humanities-students with a vengeance. There seems to be a noticeable divide between the two fields, and it makes anyone proficient in both feel a little out-of-place, no matter where they go.

To use myself as an example, I’ve been writing since I was five or six years old. (I have every notebook that I wrote in from age six to age fifteen, when I got my computer, and there are enough of them to fill two dresser drawers.) I took years of Spanish in elementary, middle and high school, and loved every minute of it. I’ve been studying Japanese on my own since I was about sixteen. I draw, play instruments, and love colors, books, and people. Yet I’m here at UNP as a chemistry major with a concentration in biochemistry.

People here who know me think that’s… well, weird. My fellow natural science majors, for the most part, hate writing, would rather not have to take enough foreign language to fulfill the core requirement, and are appalled when I forget a decimal point or doodle a picture of a molecule in the corner of my lab notebook.

Yet, having strengths outside of math and science has put me at what seems to me to be an unbelievable advantage. I have no qualms with giving presentations, writing essays for chemistry, answering word problems, visualizing molecular geometries or hybrid orbitals, understanding three-dimensional calculus concepts, naming alkanes, understanding comparative biology or drawing things seen under a microscope. Because I like writing, drawing, communicating, and language, I’m better at the things that a lot of other people in my major have trouble with. It’s not because I’m particularly skilled in either realm, either—it’s just that they cross over in ways that I didn’t anticipate, and those points of intersection are where I take a breath and enjoy doing exactly what I’m good at.

I know other students who have noticed a similar pattern in their academic lives. Most of us who are humanities-people-turned-scientists are doing a lot better overall than we thought because our interests and proficiencies aren’t confined to one subject. This is the primary reason I favor well-roundedness and requiring science majors to take some humanities (and humanities majors to take some science)—it really does help you out a lot.

In light of this, I’m a lot more secure in my major than I was at the beginning of the semester. I’ve learned to stop thinking of subjects as confined in little boxes and to think of them, instead, as woven into a tapestry of connections. Biologists don’t pretend not to need chemistry, and chemists don’t pretend not to need physics, but if you think about it, calculus and biology need visualizers, chemists need conceptualizers, and all scientists working in labs need communicators and writers.

Yet, a lot of humanities draws off of science and technology, too. As Finn said, “There’s no use teaching people how to use [insert film-related technology here], because it’ll improve by next year.” It helps a writer to be able to navigate a word-processor and computer, a film student to know that the sun freakin’ changes position in the sky during the day *ahem*, and artists to know anatomy. On a less obvious level, writers can’t write accurate fiction without knowing how the human body works to at least an extent (try writing a chase scene without understanding how adrenaline affects the body) or without understanding basic scientific concepts specific to the genre (SciFi writers, obviously, should understand whatever scientific principals they employ, but writing a post-apocalyptic novel is difficult without knowledge of nuclear fallout, viruses, etc.). Artists, too, benefit from brushing up on their science for the same reasons, and need geometry to draw things with depth. Translators become much more marketable with knowledge in another field, such as science or math.

That’s not to say that there’s not an obvious difference between the two fields, but rather, to say that it’s surprising how often the same principals or skills are employed in both fields. I can’t imagine taking calculus II without being able to visualize vectors and three-dimensional space the way I visualize a sketch before I draw it, nor can I imagine writing persuasive English papers without the analytical skill to pull apart a subject and sew it back together that I use when reading scientific papers. People skills are unbelievably handy in chemistry lab (“Hey, would you mind grabbing me a graduated cylinder while I get the hydrochloric acid? Awesome, thanks!”) as well as in Spanish class. Rational pattern-seeking is exceptionally useful in Japanese (She said that word in this context, then in that context—by process of elimination, it probably means this) and mathematics in general.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make is simple—science and humanities are more interdependent than proponents of either subject seem to realize. The thought that Sapphire and I articulated about biology and chemistry applies to the rest of the academic realm, I think. “They need you, but they make what you do meaningful, and vice versa.”

From a chemistry major who’s been told by many people to change majors because I don’t belong where I am, Science and Art, “Please stahp fighting.” Can’t you two just admit that you love each other and move on with your lives?

I think that would make every student a little bit happier. ^^

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