Thursday, November 17, 2011

STEM Versus Liberal Arts

FLG watched this Malcolm Gladwell video about the Norden Bombsight. The last few minutes really emphasized a point that FLG thinks is too seldom recognized when people discuss STEM versus liberal arts education:
We think the things we make can solve our problems, but our problems are much more complex than that. The issue isn't the accuracy of the bombs you have; it's how you use the bombs you have and, more importantly, whether you ought to use bombs at all. There is postscript to the story of Carl Norden and his fabulous bombsight, and that is, on August 6th, 1945, a B-29 bomber, called the Enola Gay, flew over Japan and using a Norden Bombsight dropped a very large thermonuclear device on the City of Hiroshima. And as was typical with the Norden Bombsight, the bomb actually missed its target by 800 feet, but of course it didn't matter. And that's the greatest irony of all when it comes to the Norden Bombsight. The air force's $1.5 billion bombsight was used to drop its $3 billion bomb which didn't need a bombsight at all. Meanwhile, back in New York, nobody told Carl Norden that his bombsight had been used over Hiroshima. He was a committed Christian that had reduced something that would reduce the total suffering in war. It would've broken his heart.

Here's the thing -- science, engineering, math, technology are about what is and what can be done to manipulate what is. It says nothing about why, how, or whether we should use that knowledge.

The best that technology can do is try to determine relevance to people, but it cannot determine what is meaningful to people. Meaning is not something technology or science can provide or interpret or analyze. Meaning is intrinsically and inherently human. How we derive meaning, sometimes religion, sometimes philosophy, sometimes just raw emotion, cannot be synthesized. But it is ultimately what is meaningful that is important, not the technological ability to do something.

FLG has written this before, but he believes very strongly that those are educated in the STEM fields, both to do self-selection and the habituation of that type of education, are in important ways less capable of interpreting the meaning of the scientific and technical knowledge because they lack the requisite insight into what is meaningful to people.


Anonymous said...

Hey! As a STEMmie, I resent that remark! I am no worse off in thinking about the humanity than some schlub who stumbled through Underwater Basketweaving at Chico State. Sincerely, dave.s.

FLG said...

Hey, That's my favorite go-to bullshit class! I always say Bumfuck State though.

FLG said...

In all seriousness, remember that FLG was once a STEM major as well. His fellow engineering students were all sorts of fucked up when it came to thinking about humanity. Too often, they view human and societal problems through a deterministic lens.

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