The study of Humanities is a waste of time for Science lovers. Or is it?

ED X Academic and Business Writing Journal 3 – Additional Writing

Some people believe that people in technical fields don’t need to work on writing or reading much. Other people believe that studying the humanities is a waste of time. Still others believe that we should all learn outside our comfort zones: English majors should learn some computer coding skills, and engineers should read Shakespeare. What is your opinion?

The study of science regardless of the kind, requires only two things – 1) clear logical thinking and 2) the ability to ask questions (why, what, when, who, how). This is as true for physics and mathematics as it is for molecular biology or chemistry or data science for that matter. Off course, there are some rules that you would have to remember, however even those rules are a result of the first two points – logical thinking and questioning.

Learning to write which is a literary exercise is remarkably similar to the study of science. It also requires the same two things that the study of science demands – clear logical thinking and the ability to ask questions. These two tools allow us to construct a good interesting article that follows a logical sequence and answers all the important questions. In his book, On Writing Well, William Zinsser, described the predicaments of science lovers  and liberal arts lovers in an elegant manner – ‘Take a class of writing students in a liberal arts college and assign them to write about some aspect of science, and a pitiful moan will go around the room. “No! Not science!” the moan says. The students have a common affliction: fear of science. They were told at an early age by chemistry or a physics teacher that they don’t have “a head for science.”

Take an adult chemist or physicist or engineer and ask him or her to write a report, and you’ll see something close to panic. “No! Don’t make us write!” they say. They also have a common affliction: fear of writing. They were told at an early age by an English teacher that they don’t have “a gift for words.” Both are unnecessary fears to lug through life, and in this chapter I’d like to help you ease whichever one is yours. The chapter is based on a simple principle: writing is not a special language owned by the English teacher. Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly can write clearly, about anything at all. Science, demystified, is just another nonfiction subject. Writing, demystified, is just another way for scientists to transmit what they know.’

Even if I am very smart and know my subject (any subject related to science) very well, it won’t help me if I am unable to communicate with the rest of the world. Learning to write well and making technical material accessible to layman will ensure that I am able to share my knowledge and expertise with all. That is when scientific works become valuable. Whether a scientist should study literature and poetry, or not, is a matter of personal choice. However, anyone who chooses to study literature and poetry will find more joy, enrichment and meaning in life. That is no less important that the pursuit of any scientific glory.

Scientific discoveries and technology has given us comfort, convenience and power and its pursuit is undoubtedly noble. But life becomes beautiful when you learn music, poetry, literature, philosophy, cultures – things that not only drive us and give us pleasure, but defines our very existence. Engineers need not give up all the technical stuff that they have to deal with every day, but they can bring out the romanticism in them by studying literature, painting, poetry or music. There is another side of their personality that they can yet explore and they will find incredible pleasure in it.

Many people who have studied humanities and have been exposed to the creativity and novelty of the human mind are accustomed to thinking that, that is the only side of human life worth nurturing. We know that we live in a connected world. Everything is interconnected. Science and technology has made invaluable contribution in improving our lives, our economies, our knowledge – it has brought us closer to each other than ever before. You could be a great artist but without an audience what good is your art? Technology made it possible for us to reach out to a wider audience and has also made it faster, cheaper and better than ever before. Therefore if you isolate yourself from these advancements then you will fall behind and will not be able to keep up with the rest of the world. If you are painter, you need not become an expert in coding, but you should be aware of the technological advancements in the world of painting. It is in your interest to know how you can leverage technology to make your craft better, and if you are interested in making a living as a painter you need to know how to market your work better with the help of technology.

No matter what field you decide to pursue in life, learning should never stop. We can get insights from various subjects, we can learn from each other. That is what makes life meaningful. We should welcome any opportunity to learn something that can add value to our life. We need to abandon a narrow view of life and embrace a holistic approach. Let us seek to enrich ourselves in every way possible.

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was one of the most respected and beloved presidents of India. He was a scientist par excellence and is well known as the missile man of India. His whole life was a pursuit of knowledge and excellence. He was also a shining example of how to live humbly and with simplicity and share knowledge and wisdom with others. He wrote multiple books which deals with various topics ranging from science, technology, economics, agriculture, healthcare, infrastructure, education, spirituality and the overall improvement of society. Not many are aware that he was also poet. He chose not to pigeon-hole himself with only the study of science, but to embrace all possible subjects that he felt was worth studying. We may not be President Kalam, but at the very least we can learn from his life and be open to learn and teach any subject that can help us to make a difference. Here is a beautiful poem by the ex president of India for you to enjoy:

The Vision

I climbed and climbed.
Where is the peak, my Lord?
I ploughed and ploughed.
Where is the knowledge treasure, my Lord?
I sailed and sailed.
Where is the island of peace, my Lord?
Almighty, bless my nation,
With vision and sweat resulting into happiness.

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