Why is Literature so Scared of Genetics?
This semester, we’ve read a lot of works that pit literature and science against each other. Brave New World does it, Oryx and Crake does it, Generosity does it…you get the idea. I can see the conflict–heck, I try to make my sociology major friends admit that their chosen vocation is not a “real science” at least once a week. As a “hard science” major it’s easy to feel like you’re studying stuff that will have a REAL impact on the world one day while everyone else is lounging around, reading about people who don’t even exist. And usually, when you’re a science or engineering or math major, you’re not very good at writing, and you’re even slower at reading….when you’re not good at something, it’s easy to disparage it, and doubt it’s usefulness.
But, I’m also an English major, so I get to see how it’s easy to dismiss learning facts by rote as boooring and unimaginative, and to look down just a little on people who can’t write a good paper to save their lives. A stanza of poetry, a work of art, a favorite book–these are the things that make life worth living to the humanities majors, and without these things, the lives of the science people must be oh-so-empty–even if the science people don’t know it. I see this sort of idea come through a lot in Oryx and Crake, and most definitely in Brave New World too.
What I don’t get is why this argument isn’t abandoned as dumb. Science and Humanities are two sides of the same coin. These two broad disciplines don’t exist in opposition, battling it out for the minds and souls of the human race. In fact, they work together to improve the condition of humanity. Books, art, movies–all these are wonderful. They inspire us, they bring us together–basically, they’re important, to our mental health if nothing else. Science and engineering–here it’s easy to see the improvements in the quality of life worked through the ages (electricity, vaccines, the internet–the list goes on). But to get scientific advancements, you need inspiration. I like to use Star Trek as a great example of how the humanities can directly inspire real scientific advancements. Star Trek had a lot of devices on their show that hadn’t been invented, and that no one even thought needed to be invented. But for a whole lot of future inventors and scientists and astronauts and engineers, that show was the spark–the inspiration for them to become real-life versions of the characters they idolized as children. I can point to the first African American female astronaut as concrete evidence, if you’d like some: Mae Jemison, who went into space on the Endeavour in 1992, cited Nichelle Nichols’s portrayal of Lt. Uhura on Star Trek (The Original Series, or TOS) as her inspiration for going into space. Isn’t that awesome? Science and fiction, working together. Want another example? The man who invented the iPod was directly inspired by an android named Data on The Next Generation (the second Star Trek series) who was able to store his music as files inside himself, and listen to them anywhere and anytime he wanted. Sound familiar? Oh right….that’s because we do that now. With the iPods invented, because of Data.
So why don’t science and humanities work together more often? Think of all we could accomplish! I for one will not be letting the opportunity pass me by. If your major specializes in one or the other, I’m telling you, you don’t know what you’re missing. Whenever people ask me about my major, they seem puzzled that I picked two separate ends of the spectrum, but to me it makes sense. Why limit myself to one end of the spectrum? All I’m saying is, try it. You just might like living on the other side.