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Why Engineering Freshmen Should Take Humanities Courses 564

Posted by Soulskill
from the need-to-sleep-some-time dept.
Lasrick sends in an article from John Horgan at Scientific American explaining why he thinks engineering freshmen should make a bit of space in their course-load for the humanities. Quoting: "But it is precisely because science is so powerful that we need the humanities now more than ever. In your science, mathematics and engineering classes, you're given facts, answers, knowledge, truth. Your professors say, 'This is how things are.' They give you certainty. The humanities, at least the way I teach them, give you uncertainty, doubt and skepticism. The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities, whether political, religious or scientific. This skepticism is especially important when it comes to claims about humanity, about what we are, where we came from, and even what we can be and should be. Science has replaced religion as our main source of answers to these questions. Science has told us a lot about ourselves, and we’re learning more every day. But the humanities remind us that we have an enormous capacity for deluding ourselves."
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Why Engineering Freshmen Should Take Humanities Courses

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  • Oh, gag me. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @02:29AM (#44109653)

    The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities,

    BULLSHIT.

    The "humanities" in modern American academia are so fucking orthodox they might as well be called the "government worship department."

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @03:00AM (#44109773)

      but they do introduce Engineers mainly male engineers to to girls something that normally dosnt happen much briefly.

    • Re:Oh, gag me. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Karmashock (2415832) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @03:54AM (#44110013)

      Yep.

      The sad thing is that they COULD be all those things but they're not.

      They don't even encourage freedom of thought or expression. Its all the same memorize that, repeat this, agree with this position or lose points. Its worse then science because science is at least objective.

      The humanities are by their nature SUBjective but are frequently taught as if they are objective without providing any means of testing or disproving anything.

      In science, 1 person can disagree with 1,000,000 people and be right. And be proven right. And have his name go down there after as the guy that was right when everyone else told him he was wrong.

      Can you do that in the humanities? Nope. Being right or wrong is mostly a popularity contest. Its politics.

      • Re:Oh, gag me. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gtall (79522) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @06:40AM (#44110565)

        I think you had a numb of an idea but then you lost the thread. Science and tech are to some extent rudderless. What the humanities should teach is how to build rudders. And good humanities departments do just that. They don't pronounce this or that science or tech good or bad, but rather how to evaluate them in the presence of externalities that have no counterpart at the science and tech level. This is probably what makes you think that they devolve into politics. However, politics is how societies (at least in free ones) enforce externalities. That latter is precisely what is going on now with NSA and information privacy. Privacy is an externality that doesn't translate particularly well into the tech, or if it does, there are several translations, no canonical translation.

        • Mod Parent Up (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @08:17AM (#44111259) Homepage

          So true. Or as Albert Einstein said:
          http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/einstein/einsci.htm [sacred-texts.com]
          "For the scientific method can teach us nothing else beyond how facts are related to, and conditioned by, each other. The aspiration toward such objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which man is capabIe, and you will certainly not suspect me of wishing to belittle the achievements and the heroic efforts of man in this sphere. Yet it is equally clear that knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what is, and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the goal of our human aspirations. Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. And it is hardly necessary to argue for the view that our existence and our activity acquire meaning only by the setting up of such a goal and of corresponding values. The knowledge of truth as such is wonderful, but it is so little capable of acting as a guide that it cannot prove even the justification and the value of the aspiration toward that very knowledge of truth. Here we face, therefore, the limits of the purely rational conception of our existence.
          But it must not be assumed that intelligent thinking can play no part in the formation of the goal and of ethical judgments. When someone realizes that for the achievement of an end certain means would be useful, the means itself becomes thereby an end. Intelligence makes clear to us the interrelation of means and ends. But mere thinking cannot give us a sense of the ultimate and fundamental ends. To make clear these fundamental ends and valuations, and to set them fast in the emotional life of the individual, seems to me precisely the most important function which religion has to perform in the social life of man. And if one asks whence derives the authority of such fundamental ends, since they cannot be stated and justified merely by reason, one can only answer: they exist in a healthy society as powerful traditions, which act upon the conduct and aspirations and judgments of the individuals; they are there, that is, as something living, without its being necessary to find justification for their existence. They come into being not through demonstration but through revelation, through the medium of powerful personalities. One must not attempt to justify them, but rather to sense their nature simply and clearly.
          The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us in the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. It is a very high goal which, with our weak powers, we can reach only very inadequately, but which gives a sure foundation to our aspirations and valuations. If one were to take that goal out of its religious form and look merely at its purely human side, one might state it perhaps thus: free and responsible development of the individual, so that he may place his powers freely and gladly in the service of all mankind."

          John Taylor Gatto talks about the core purpose of education in his writings, which include self-development, becoming a good citizen, and preparation for work. Unfortunately, so much focus now in schools is on preparation for work, and it is overall preparation for work like rote factory work that is less and less in existence. But, adding some humanities courses when someone is 18-21 can't repair all the damage of a missing part of K-12.
          http://www.awakenedamerican.com/content/john-taylor-gatto-explains-secrets-elite-boarding-school-education [awakenedamerican.com]

          And:
          http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/16a.htm [johntaylorgatto.com]
          "I'll bring this down to earth. Try to see that an intricately subordinate

      • Re:Oh, gag me. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by nbauman (624611) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @06:43AM (#44110579) Homepage Journal

        Did you ever take a humanities class?

        I realize there are good humanities classes and bad humanities classes, like everything else in the world, but you don't have any idea of what humanities is all about.

        In my freshman humanities class, the first thing they gave us to read was the Apology of Socrates. Out of respect for the short attention span of people today, I'll refer you to the Wikipedia article. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apology_Of_Socrates [wikipedia.org]

        Bottom line: Socrates disagreed with most of the other citizens of Athens. He was right. They were wrong.

        • by khallow (566160)

          Bottom line: Socrates disagreed with most of the other citizens of Athens. He was right. They were wrong.

          That's your subjective opinion. Remember if you will, that this was written by Plato after the fact and meant as a bit of propaganda. It might be mostly truthful, but it's still meant to push a certain point of view.

        • Did you ever take a humanities class?

          Yes, at school. This is where everyone should be exposed to a broad range of subjects to a reasonable level so they have an idea of which area (sciences, engineering, humanities etc.) they want to study at university. In the system I went through (before the UK government damaged it) everyone going to university had to do maths up to basic calculus, english language and literature plus a foreign language and a humanity up to the age of 16 (O' level) if they wanted to go to university.

          If students are no

      • Science is not objective. If you question global warming, you'll be descended on by hawks all over the god damn place--try Fark or Slashdot for example. The more real evidence you bring, the more nonsensical this ridicule becomes--for example, the great conspiracy of replacing high-quality core samples with low-quality tree rings to eliminate the medieval warm period is countered with claims that the claims about the hockey stick model are part of a great conspiracy to discredit the hockey stick model...

    • Re:Oh, gag me. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by solidraven (1633185) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:20AM (#44110099)
      Don't forget the stereotype wannabe communists!

      I agree engineering students should get some basic classes on economy and maybe one on communication so they stop making awful presentations. But psychology, sociology, etc., hell no! First of all, it should be the other way around. I have yet to meet a research psychologist that actually uses statistics correctly. And political science and philosophy majors tend to lose flat-out in debates against engineering students, simply because the latter knows how to analyse the situation correctly. Engineering is more about analysing problems, seeing the possible solutions for said problems and then implementing them. Arguing and being sceptic is based on the same premises. So in fact it should be the other way around.

      If it's the other way around it might also make more of them fail, reducing the over-supply of humanities majors.
      • Re:Oh, gag me. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by _anomaly_ (127254) <anomaly.geekbits@com> on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @08:39AM (#44111545) Homepage
        I agree with some of what you say, but after reading a bunch of posts where people are trying to use anecdotal evidence as proof that something is as such everywhere, I had to comment at some point.

        I agree engineering students should get some basic classes on economy and maybe one on communication so they stop making awful presentations.

        Agree.

        But psychology, sociology, etc., hell no!

        Disagree. There's no harm in this, and in my experience (like what everyone else's comment is based on, but no one is disclaiming) you can only benefit. Yes I slept through most of my Psychology lectures and still got an A, but there were interesting bits that made me think from time to time. There were humanities classes that made me read books that I would have never picked up, and I'm grateful for it. I still refer back to things I learned in Music History from time to time.
        It is my belief that engineering students should take a healthy dose of humanities classes, not as many as possible as the article implies and not none at all as most comments here scream outright. The more well-rounded we ALL are, engineers and humanitarians (if that's the right word here) alike, the better off we all are.

        I have yet to meet a research psychologist that actually uses statistics correctly.

        Never mind the anecdotal evidence, but it's not proof of anything, especially when I would lay a healthy bet on saying most "engineers" (or those purporting to be an engineer) haven't done an integral since school, and a lot probably don't recall for what they are even used.

        And political science and philosophy majors tend to lose flat-out in debates against engineering students, simply because the latter knows how to analyse the situation correctly.

        Disagree. But then again, your evidence is as anecdotal as mine. I agree that engineering students typically know how to analyze a problem or situation better, but the Philosophy courses that I took taught me a lot about how you should form logical arguments, critical in these debates about which you speak. On the other hand, the Logic classes at the engineering school taught me the subject from a different perspective, where I learned more about how to combine logical statements to get the desired outcome. Both related, and neither more significant than the other in my eyes.

        Engineering is more about analysing problems, seeing the possible solutions for said problems and then implementing them.

        Agree.

        Arguing and being sceptic is based on the same premises.

        Somewhat agree, but a subject such as philosophy is heavily based on forming arguments and being skeptical.

        So in fact it should be the other way around.

        Agree, in a way. It should go both ways.

        TL;DR;
        This war on humanities is mostly derived from a preconceived notion that "they're stupid and we're smart" that a lot of students in the sciences have towards those in the humanities. If a lot of us would get off our pedestal for a second, and open our minds to more than what's outside the realm of science, we may just learn something.
        It doesn't mean we have to denounce what we've learned in our science and engineering courses.

        I was a Computer Engineering and Computer Science major and got a M.Eng.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      The "humanities" in modern American academia are so fucking orthodox they might as well be called the "government worship department."

      Wow, that's sad. It's a complete 180 from how college was in the late seventies. Of course, we'd just gotten out of a very unpopular war, the previous President had resigned in disgrace, and we had recession and inflation at the same time.

      However, a few humanities courses wouldn't hurt some slashdotters. I haven't seen any in this thread yet, but some comments make me think t

  • Better idea: (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheEyes (1686556) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @02:32AM (#44109661)

    Scientists should take courses on Rational Thinking [lesswrong.com]. That's basically what you're after here, and it has the advantage of specifically targetting the problems you are trying to address, rather than taking the shotgun approach and trying to get every STEM student to become a Renaissance Man.

    • Re:Better idea: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by beelsebob (529313) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @02:47AM (#44109725)

      In your science, mathematics and engineering classes, you're given facts, answers, knowledge, truth. Your professors say, 'This is how things are.' They give you certainty.

      Humanist misunderstands what Science and the Scientific method are, tells us we need to be taught to question things, when the entire basis of the field is questioning things, and never believing anything to be fact, knowledge or truth.

      • by AdamWill (604569)

        "Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012)"

      • Re:Better idea: (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mjwx (966435) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @03:04AM (#44109787)

        In your science, mathematics and engineering classes, you're given facts, answers, knowledge, truth. Your professors say, 'This is how things are.' They give you certainty.

        Humanist misunderstands what Science and the Scientific method are, tells us we need to be taught to question things, when the entire basis of the field is questioning things, and never believing anything to be fact, knowledge or truth.

        So what you're saying is that 1st year Humanists need to take an engineering course?

        I'd definitely agree with that.

      • by Dahamma (304068)

        I'm not saying I agree with everything the guy says (and he clearly thinks his point is much more insightful than it really is), but I also can't say I ever REMOTELY saw any attempt in *freshman* math or physics classes to question what was taught...

        And, whether you agree with it or not, he addresses your exact point in his last 2 paragraphs. Might want to read to the end next time before commenting on his "understanding"...

      • Yes, someone who thinks science professors say things like "This is how things are" and expects science students to just accept it, have never been a university science undergraduate.
        It's more like the professor suggests something then everyone questions the idea if it's not apparent where it came from.
    • Re:Better idea: (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Dahamma (304068) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @02:53AM (#44109741)

      Wait, you think taking a few survey courses in non-technical subjects is molding a student into a "Renaissance Man?" I can't even imagine how horribly boring you must be in any social function...

      There is NOTHING wrong with an engineer learning about history, religion, literature, psychology, etc, as long as - which is what the article points out - you approach it with a sense of uncertainty, doubt, and skepticism. In fact, I find it patently absurd that anyone who considers themself remotely intelligent or rational could argue breadth of knowledge is a bad thing.

      • Re:Better idea: (Score:4, Insightful)

        by IRWolfie- (1148617) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @03:37AM (#44109957)
        You aren't doing a degree in engineering to learn about "history, religion, literature, psychology", so yes if it takes away from your engineering subjects it is a bad thing.
        • Re:Better idea: (Score:4, Informative)

          by Pseudonym Authority (1591027) <SammyKakeNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:18AM (#44110087)
          No. It's called a University for a reason. The entire point of assembling a wide array of experts in many fields in one place is so that ideas between them can be easily exchanged. If you want to only study one thing, go to a trade school to be a plumber or something.
        • by Sique (173459)
          Actually, it does not take you away from your engineering subjects. History of engineering itself is a wonderful topic, and it helps you to understand many of today's building codes and regulations. And the history of engineering can only be understood if you know about the intellectual climate at different points in time, the barocque idea of Nature being an immense and intricate clockwork, for instance.
      • There is NOTHING wrong with an engineer learning about history, religion, literature, psychology, etc, as long as - which is what the article points out - you approach it with a sense of uncertainty, doubt, and skepticism. In fact, I find it patently absurd that anyone who considers themself remotely intelligent or rational could argue breadth of knowledge is a bad thing.

        Shouldn't the well rounded stuff have been dealt with in high school?

        • That teaches you the basics, and ideally it should teach critical thought, but it does not and cannot do so on the same level as an education whose goal is not to teach facts, but to expand the mind. High school is for learning basic algebra, that everyone needs to know (even drug dealers had better know how to convert grams to ounces to kilos, etc...). Higher education is supposed to require a truer understanding (though it also fails at this all too often). Sure, any high school student can tell you that
  • Should take law (Score:5, Interesting)

    by anarcobra (1551067) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @02:35AM (#44109669)
    Engineering students should take courses in law so they can have some idea how to avoid legal problems.
    Also, it could give us some lawyers who actually know what they are talking about.
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @02:35AM (#44109671)
    I would have thought it more important that humanities students take a basic science and engineering course, so they at least have some understanding of how things work, scientific method, and what a theory is. I think the idea that scepticism comes from humanities rather than science is a joke, and shows a complete misunderstanding of falsifiability and Karl Popper [wikipedia.org]'s work on the philosophy of science.
    • Yes! This! A thousand times this! PLEASE let me never have to deal with anyone who thinks some contrived term someone pulled out of their bottom to create the tools to describe an invented social-philosophical-literary issue is as worthy as a differential equation again.

    • You do know that Karl Popper was a humanities professor, right?

  • by blarkon (1712194) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @02:39AM (#44109685)

    In general, advocates of the humanities have done a poor job of explaining why they are necessary. Which is problematic given that one of the things one would hope that someone in the humanities could do was come up with excellent persuasive arguments about things.

    • by AdamWill (604569)

      I think it's just Americans.

      The rest of the world doesn't even comprehend this bizarre concept of 'the humanities' that you've invented, and would outright piss itself laughing at the ridiculous arguments about its 'necessity' or otherwise in which you manage to tie yourselves up.

      'Justifying their existence' is trivial, but also unnecessary: to the demand, I reply 'ars gratia artis'...

      • by lxs (131946) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @03:20AM (#44109869)

        It's not just Americans, but it is the idea that everything you learn must be done in the interest of making money.
        The Humanities are important because they link people with their culture on a deeper level than the latest blockbuster does. They enrich the soul and give you a place in eternity, which in turn boosts your self esteem and reduces depression. Even the things your average geek enjoys like video games and science fiction are informed on a deep level by culture and the arts.

        In short, Humanities deal with the things that make life worth living. Dressing it up as hard science does both science and the arts a disservice.

    • He may have found a way to teach the humanities that "give you uncertainty, doubt and skepticism" but those concepts are fundamental to understanding how science works and students should be getting them in their science courses. As much as some scientific education is didactic fact-loading, it is equally possible to deliver a humanities course which is dogmatic - and possibly more common seeing as the route between a text and its accepted interpretation might be significantly more difficult to lead a stude
    • The case for the humanities is easy:

      1. Science is about how the physical world works.
      2. Engineering is about how to get the physical world to do what you want.
      3. The humanities are about deciding what you want in the first place.

      A metaphor

      Say life is about finding the shortest path through a graph. Science tells you what the edges of the graph are -- what nodes are connected to what other nodes. Engineering gives you a shortest-path algorithm (say, Dijkstra's). The humanities tell you what node to find the

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Well, let me make the case for them:
      1. There's more to "the humanities" than literature and the arts. They also include language and linguistics, philosophy, and sometimes history.

      2. There are skills that fall under "the humanities" that are damn useful - anyone can benefit from being able to write or speak well, anyone can benefit from learning what is and isn't a valid argument, and anyone can benefit from learning how to extract an idea of reality from documents that are frequently suspect or outright ly

  • by stenvar (2789879) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @02:40AM (#44109693)

    Engineering students should take humanities courses, and they often do. But humanities students should also take science and engineering courses. It's called a liberal arts education, and it should be mandatory. No English major, anthropologist, or historian should get a degree without demonstrating a reasonable understanding of statistics, calculus, physics, chemistry, and computer science.

    Unfortunately, most people educated in the humanities are thoroughly ignorant of science, engineering, and mathematics. As a consequences, they are completely baffled by how the modern world works and then proceed to produce utter garbage in their own fields as a result.

  • Same everywhere (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    As someone with an engineering and philosophy degree, I found the humanities are just as deluded if not more so. Sure there is room for interpretation in a way that isn't possible with a science that has a greater likelihood of having a verifiable subject matter. But too often that interpretation is a narrow path. Don't believe me. Try supporting something outside the canon of though in humanities and you will face just as much dogma as anywhere else. The Humanities have their idols too, and they don't

    • by lxs (131946)

      So it was useful to you. By experiencing both worlds you taught yourself to recognize bullshit.

  • Complete BULL SHIT (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ANonyMouser (2641869) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @02:45AM (#44109707)

    Learning Science/Engineering **should** teach logic and an understanding of fallacies. These are the most subversive skills one can have because few things in society measure up when you can see why they are incomplete or just plain wrong.

  • by GumphMaster (772693) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @02:47AM (#44109719)

    The majority of engineering programs I have seen in Australian universities include non-technical content in the form of humanities, economics, accounting, and law units. Is this unusual? They are supposed to produce well rounded engineers, but generally demonstrate that square pegs and round holes are only sometimes compatible.

  • The article seems to imply that the humanities are not science, but helping the real science (and lists engineering, of all things). I completely disagree!

    Science is a way of thinking, an approach --- you can and must apply it to everything: Humanities as well as Natural Sciences as well as Engineering. It includes rigorous work, sceptical thinking, an open mind, etc. --- and it is necessary for ALL scientists to follow, regardless of their field.

  • Wait what (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Azure Flash (2440904) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @03:04AM (#44109789)
    "In your science, mathematics and engineering classes, you're given facts, answers, knowledge, truth. Your professors say, 'This is how things are.'"

    That's a funny way to hear "those are only approximations", "there's always going to be some margin of error" or "we're not 100% sure how this behaves".
    • Re:Wait what (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zaelath (2588189) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @03:47AM (#44109993)

      Yes, if anything taught me to be skeptical it was my science courses; they teach you over and over again how every model you have is a shitty approximation that helps the level of understanding you need for that course. e.g. the model of the atom changes *drastically* between it's primary school introduction, to high school, to undergraduate, to post graduate courses.

      The humanities course were full of people that were extremely confident that their morals were correct and universal, there was a much tighter focus on what to think rather than how to think.

      I see a lot more people with humanities backgrounds being very confident that God is real and Climate Change is not, and for the same reasons.

  • by mandginguero (1435161) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @03:20AM (#44109867)

    Many recorded signals and data are filled with noise making it difficult to tell what you are looking at. I guess it depends what level of science education you deal with, but when I teach, students look at the figures and graphs presented in the literature. Some of the effects are easy to see, others are very subtle. A basic understanding of statistics is critical for describing how we come to measure phenomena. From statistical mechanics, to understanding co-morbid disease, or computer vision, probability distributions show just how variable most things in the world actually are. If you tried to stop a stopwatch at the 1 second mark many times in a row, very rarely do you actually hit the goal, but if you plot your responses they will cluster around a mean of more or less 1 second. A large part of forming a scientist is knowing how to play in these distributions of samples.

    What about the process of science? Framing a good question is hard. Is the question testable? 'What does the universe look like' is an ill posed question for a scientist. What form could the answer possibly take? If you can whittle it down, say 'what does the universe look like in the infrared spectrum.' Ok, this we can start collecting data to address, but can you still say what the answer might look like? The more specific the question, the better. If you can't clearly say what form the answer will take, then how can you expect to find it in the data?

    How long have we been searching through SETI data? How will you know what evidence of communication from an extraplanetary source looks like? Is it more likely that we will find false positives, or let actual alien missives go undetected?

    I think with regards to what the humanities can contribute to science education, philosophy and framing of questions is huge. Ultimately the scientist and philosopher are starting the from same place - wanting to answer a question, the difference is in how they go about finding the answer. Communication skills can never hurt scientists either - how many of you have tried to pick up a journal article expecting it to make sense on the first read? Anything that can help frame and communicate uncertainty would benefit scholars of science, but I think it naive to imply that these skills and foci are not already taught in science curricula.

  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @03:24AM (#44109885) Homepage

    In my experience, scientists and engineers come ladled with doubts on human authority. In fact, it is often something that derives their dislike of the humanities—they trust numbers and figures, but when it comes to interpreting poems or arguing politics, their skepticism leads them to wish little to do with it. (and if it's not skepticism then it's their relative lack of skill)

    I go to an engineering school which has almost no arts program. (Some english, history, and philosophy -- just what we need for general accreditation.) Although I myself am pretty keen on literature and many of the humanities, I hear all the gripes from the engineers. And I can tell you exactly what is wrong with this "scientists need humanities to understand such and such" approach. Scientists and engineers understand exactly what they need to achieve what they want, and thoroughly resent being shoe-horned into somebody else's idea of a well-rounded graduate when it has absolutely nothing to do with their personal interest or goals.

    If you want the STEM crowd to embrace the humanities, stop trying to justify why they should join your program and come up with a new program especially for them. Let their literature be Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert. Teach them "Art in Fractional Dimension with Computer Generated Imagery." Give them a music class where they build instruments and synthesizers. Let them walk into the classroom and feel on the very first day like they have something to contribute.

    When science and math students walk into a humanities classroom and all their talent and ability in math and science is immediately considered moot, it's not them rejecting the humanities, it's the humanities rejecting them.

  • You say we need this to learn uncertainty, doubt and skepticism? .... silly, silly, silly ... Maybe you missed the obvious but real engineers and scientists are pre-wired with doubt, skepticism and an every questioning, non-believing nature. We end up being what we are because we question everything, we want to know why the things are the way that they are, why things work the way that they do etc. I don't know any real engineer or scientist that is willing to leave well enough alone or do something just b
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @03:28AM (#44109905)

    I almost flunked out of college in computer science because I couldn't pass my humanities classes. I had to take writing 5 times in order to finally pass--and I mean literally 5.

    American English is my native language, and I'm much better at spelling and grammar than most people I know. I just can't think of things to say about literature and history for which I care nothing. In other words, my computer science brain is not well-versed in the ancient art that they eloquently call "bullshit".

  • If students graduate from university without a knowledge of the world outside their field, this is a despicable failure of the primary (and secondary education). Most education systems are built to give us a broad knowledge at a lower level and let us focus as we move up the educational pyramid, because only the rare renaissance genius has the ability to excel in everything. This story makes it seem as if John Horgan has some fantastic idea about giving us a broader education, but the only difference is tha

  • "All" authorities? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by crioca (1394491) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @03:34AM (#44109927)

    The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities, whether political, religious or scientific.

    But not academic.The humanities have become woefully dogmatic and riddled with citogenesis, where theories without a solid body of supporting evidence are held up as solid platforms from which other assumptions can be made. Then again, perhaps the humanities could use an influx of students of engineering and hard sciences. Could be entertaining... [wikipedia.org]

  • by Stolpskott (2422670) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @03:39AM (#44109969)

    The problem with what Mr Horgan is advocating is that his argument is based on his view of the Humanities subjects that he teaches, and the way he teaches them.
    His view of science subjects, as fields dominated by facts and accepted doctrine based on those facts is an accurate representation of the way science subjects are taught by many teachers, but it does not match the science teaching I received from the teachers and lecturers throughout my school and university life.
    There, I was taught that scientific "facts" are opinions tested and supported by experimentation, and which have not yet been proven incorrect. I was taught to consider the experiences of others, but to keep my eyes open and brain engaged, observe the world around me and to form my own opinions, then conduct my own experiments to determine the validity of those opinions. I was given the freedom to decide on the nature of those experiments - did I want to form experiments with a goal of proving and supporting my opinions (the "bias for confirmation" approach, and one in which Mr Horgan is right - we do have an immense capacity for self-and collective delusion), or did I want to actually test the accuracy of those opinions by trying to disprove them?
    In short, my science teachers taught me to see all sides of a question, consider as many variables as I could find, look at things as they are instead of how I would like them to be, and form opinions based on those observations. But also to continuously re-evaluate my opinions in the light of any new information that comes to light.
    I cannot comment readily on the teaching of the Humanities subjects, as from the age of 14 I concentrated exclusively on the mathematics and science disciplines, plus the fact that some of my friends were starting to experience a pronounced swelling in the chest area. However, my anecdotal recollection is that a lot of my humanities lessons were dominated by "facts" based on what was written in the Bible, a history book, geological or archaeological "facts", and accepted grammar in foreign languages.

    On that basis, I feel a more accurate target for his attention would be the teaching methods in schools across all disciplines, where the individual teachers discourage independent critical thinking in favour of memorizing lists of "facts" designed to (1) prepare students for an exam, and (2) give the teacher an easier lesson plan with less preparation.

  • by macson_g (1551397) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:24AM (#44110119)
    To meet girls. Simple!
  • by moeinvt (851793) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @08:01AM (#44111053)

    "The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities, whether political, religious or scientific."

    Courses which encourage skepticism, critical thinking and rejection of authority sound great. In my experience however, many college "humanities" courses only enforced the dogma of political correctness and bland mainstream thinking.

    As an engineer, I was required to take a specific "communications" course. I was so pissed at having to endure this politically correct brainwashing that I wrote a letter to the Dean of the college of engineering to complain. One of the textbooks in this course was even named "Diversity". Total waste of time and money. College English? Waste hours dissecting fiction and poetry for supposed hidden meanings? Economics? Mainstream Keynesian/Monetarist crap. Stimulus is good, fractional reserve banking is normal, the Fed is above reproach, etc.

    Psychology-101 and philosophy-101 were the exceptions. The statement that "the humanities" are somehow subversive by nature is WAY too broad.

  • by tibit (1762298) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @08:28AM (#44111403)

    The humanities, at least the way I teach them, give you uncertainty, doubt and skepticism.

    Dude, if the way engineering and science are taught doesn't give one a healthy dose of skepticism, they are not being taught right. The humanities are not the answer to incorrect teaching of science or engineering. Feynman's Caltech commencement speech [lhup.edu] is all about how science should be done. It's all about doubting yourself and actively working to undermine your warm feeling of being right. You must be your worst adversary - that way, and only that way, you can be guaranteed to win the battle. You control your worst enemy. That's the way good science is done, that's the way good engineering is done.

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @09:05AM (#44111879)

    online classes are better then big lecture classes done by TA's and can be a lot cheaper as well.

    College costs are way to high with lot's of skills gaps to be adding more required classes do you want what used to take 4 years to be 6 years now?

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @09:21AM (#44112069)

    1) Old famous philosophers. Meh. More modern philosophers (e.g. Popper, Hofstadter) whose ideas on epistimology are directly related to science. Yes. Worth studying. Engineering is build in science, which is in turn, built on epistemology.

    2) Psychology courses related to the psychoanalytic school? Waste of time. Neurophysiology and Evolutionary psychology, in contrast, show you how you do things and why you do things respectively. Machinery only exists to serve people. If you don't understand what people want, and why, you *will* fail.

    3) Biology and ecology. Useful for any engineer. Natural systems are studies of genetic algorithms and generated solutions in action at different domains of complexity. You'd be nuts to ignore them.

    4) History. A definite yes. Problems (engineering and otherwise) have been solved in *many* different ways over time. Social contexts have drifted drastically. The ancient Romans would be aghast at our political and sexual behaviors. Theirs were *quite* different. Engineering was different too. Consider that their cement was superior to ours.

    5) Anthropology, both primate and social. This too, helps explaing why we do what we do, and sort of rubs your nose in the fact that *your* peculiar, local social context, including your understanding of engineering, is just one of many. Something most Americans, engineers or not, fail to realize. Primate anthropology demonstrates that there are many different successful strategies for success in nature. The patriarchal society of Chimps and the matriarchal societies of bonobos couldn't be more different. Both are successful species. You're forced to understand that there are many different solutions for almost every problem.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @09:56AM (#44112479)
    In video game you need to tell a good story. And there are guidelines for that going all the way back to Aristotle's seminal work called Poetics. It also greatly helps if you are familar with how stories have been told in great literature, movies, and even comic books. Crappy video games are missing important elecemnts like dramatic conflit, background development, character development, artistic flourish, etc. You learn all these studying other media and earlier works.
  • by bigsexyjoe (581721) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @11:37AM (#44114159)

    In humanities, you parrot the professor and get a good grade. In tech courses, you objectively prove what you know is right and get a good grade.

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