One of These Things is Not Like The Other

Science and art have not always been as diametrically opposed as they seem to be today. We are all too familiar with the polymaths of the Italian renaissance: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo, and the like, that not only engaged in sculpture and painting, but engineering, architecture, and early naturalism. Even though current education is more accessible, there is an obvious dearth of modern day correlates to the so called “renaissance (hu)man”.

The days of intellectual titans whose expertise span the width of all disciplines has slowly dissipated like smoke in a large room. In the Italian renaissance, education was an extreme rarity. Only those that could afford the expense to be tutored and the time to explore the observable universe were educated. Thus, it is easy to see that social progression necessitated that those few who were educated encapsulated a wide variety of knowledge. This intellectual smoke, born from the fires of curiosity, was once concentrated in a confined corner and is now wafting to the rest of the room.

Naturally, the likelihood of being on the vanguard of several different academic genres is inversely proportional to the sum of human knowledge. Perhaps even the highly specialized nature of the job market necessitates an esoteric understanding that contributes only marginally to a greater societal/intellectual progression. This being so, it inevitably drives individuals to specialize their interests. We can choose between becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none or the nation’s leading Proust scholar. Willing students of all disciplines abound and there is seemingly too much knowledge for any one person to both discover and retain. The widespread access to education leads to fewer polymaths who can command both art and science but can tell us much more about the world in which we live.

Ultimately, the two concepts of art and science are not mutually exclusive. But in order for society to optimally benefit from each genre, there ought to be less intersection in the individual and more collaboration between individuals. We must rely on each other, socially, to collaborate on making the best decisions based on our diverse backgrounds and individual expertise. This multi-disciplinary approach may prove difficult as many in the science community see humanities as superfluous and lacking a sense of utility, while many in the humanities may view science as austere and lacking a sense of introspection. To adapt a phrase from Albert Einstein: science without humanity is soulless, humanity without science is brainless.

 Ben Hefner

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~ by Mismatched Sox on February 20, 2008.

One Response to “One of These Things is Not Like The Other”

  1. Collaboration, rather than the dream of the Renaissance person, does seem like the most fruitful strategy for interdisciplinarity in today’s world.

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