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28 July 2014

Science Matters: Questions of Science and Humanities

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It was in May of 1959 when C. P. Snow, the English physicist and novelist, gave a talk at Cambridge University called ‘The two cultures’, later published under the title “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution”. Snow started the ball rolling on a debate that would grow in intensity as the negative impacts of separation between science and humanities became clearer.

John Brockman later spoke of a third culture and the importance of scientific awareness, with scientists themselves needing to communicate advances to the wider public via essays, media articles and conferences made accessible to anyone who might be interested, thus leading to the popularization and standardization of new concepts.

No predictive capacity?

Human Sciences have been said to have no predictive capacity and that research in the field is acknowledged in the social realm but less so by the scientific community, which is constantly required to support all findings.

However, professors such as María Burguete and Lui Lam, in their book “Science Matters: Humanities as a complex system”, propose a new scientific framework, taking a holistic approach that could provide a scientific basis for humanities (Science Matters), saying that the division is not created by science itself but by those who practice it.   The absence of a common language or shared principles among scientists makes it difficult to find multidisciplinary departments at academic institutions or research centers.

The essence of what is human

This idea of science is highly restrictive and unreal, because all knowledge fields work towards the same goal: to uncover the essence of what it is to be human in all its complexity. The only difference is that humanities depend on society and use systems created by the environment itself, while science resorts to abstraction and experimentation, separating itself from society, which is not a determining factor for results.

Advances made in human sciences are not only empirical, they are also theoretical and conceptual. Terminology such as Popsci or Scicomm, attributed to the dialogue between science and society, are examples of such neologisms. Not to mention the new research fields that are opening up as a result of interaction between science and humanities.

Science as art

A good example of this is neurotheology, which, according to Alfredo Dinis, studies the neuronal basis of spirituality. The field emerged as a result of recent research into neurophysiology and physiognomy, which according to Brigitte Hope can be applied to both science and art. Another solution proposed by Science Matters is to introduce philosophy into the sciences. Nigel Sanitt believes this would add an ethical dimension and significantly improve interdisciplinary communication, as knowledge not only needs to be objectivized but must also internalized.

In one of his articles, Alex Burns discusses future research and its professional legitimacy, as well as the dichotomy between the European and American scientific traditions. The latter is governed by technocratic structures and macroeconomic analysis where productivity is key. However, the European tradition is able to detect the limitations of scientific practice and its historical heritage, and that’s what makes it great.

Interdisciplinary approach

New research into potential interdisciplinary approaches will be driven by cultural evolution and the emergence of a culture 3.0, where objectivity cannot be separated from its sociopolitical origins deriving from a wide context: the regulatory culture, language and tradition. The debate, for Jerry Ravetz, will be between those scientists who believe that science should remain in control and those who prefer a more critical science, one that is aware of what the world around it needs, even if this means accepting certitudes rather than absolute truths or laws.

New hypotheses

Science Matters is not calling for a fusion of scientific methods. Its work is more conciliatory, driving the integration of results to help promote new hypotheses, analyze findings from new perspectives and generate greater depth of field, and thus avoid what might be irreversible errors.

There is still a dichotomy between basic science and applied science. Scientia (as a form of knowledge) and the ars (as a skill). While basic science predicts and explains in order to make new discoveries, forecast the future and analyze the past, and thus identify trends that offer clues to the future, applied science builds new scenarios and is fed by the artistic imagination, thus creating and designing artefacts that can address specific problems or improve the current scenario, usually having a social and even ethical impact. We must remember that artefacts are created by human action, meaning they are subject to certain values. Ilkka Niiniluoto calls it a kind of ‘social technology’, subject to specific ends.

The book “Arts: a science matter” published by María Burguete and Lui Lam, takes a further step toward a unified perspective of science. Humanists, artists and scientists write together to create a theoretical and practical vision of a common issue based on the creation and development of Art in its different aspects, which leads to new disciplines emerging such as: bioart, chemart and neuroarthistory.

Technology systems

Thanks to technology, art is increasingly enjoyed through audiovisual and digital systems (photography, video, cinema, Internet, e-book, etc). The integration of art and science has been highly productive. It represents a further link that must be used to consolidate points of view, bearing in mind that it is man who creates knowledge and constitutes it as an inseparable element of the self.

Culture is the universe of informational complexity; it does not rely exclusively on what the experts say. Humanism is not simply the recreation of the past, it is the opening of new realities and spaces for humanity.

New challenges are emerging that are shaping the concerns of modern man. These are indefensible challenges to the humanist tradition, which must play a key role in today’s society because it is our own transcendence that is at stake.

Websites for further reading:

http://www.sjsu.edu/people/lui.lam/scimat/101204-ARTS%20book%20summary.pdf
http://flyvbjerg.plan.aau.dk/Publications2006/ForesightNo2PRINT.pdf
http://eaglemanlab.net/papers/Eagleman%20Why%20Public%20Science%20Matters%20JNeurosci.pdf

Arantxa Serantes

Researcher at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela (Spain)

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