Marrying Intellectual Disciplines is a Necessity
“Literature not only illuminated another’s experience, it provided, I believed, the richest material for moral reflection. My brief forays into the formal ethics of analytic philosophy felt dry as a bone, missing the messiness and weight of real human life.”
― Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
I have an adamant belief: all intellectual disciplines are equal in their importance and legitimacy in humanity. Engineering is just as valuable as sociology and mathematics is just as valuable as ceramics. Not everyone agrees with me.
I was fortunate to have open-minded parents and a wonderful liberal arts education which taught the importance of every discipline, however, this mentality of mine was also formed from years of reinforcement of the contrary.
In my first year of college, I was taking a First Year Seminar taught by an uppity sociology instructor. The class was 50 minutes (9-9:50am) and I had to walk across campus for a Latin exam at 10am. At 9:51am, my professor was still rambling on, so I stood up to leave. He stopped me, asking why I was interrupting him. I promptly responded saying “I was trying not to interrupt but I have an important Latin exam in 9 minutes and my professor locks the door, so I must leave. Also, class ended at 9:50am.”
He then told me my exam wasn’t important because it was Latin, and I needed to stay to listen to his anecdote about traveling Brazil with his ex-wife. Needless to say, I still walked out, barely making it to Latin before my professor locked the door.
This was not the only blatant disrespect I’ve had toward me and my disciplines I am passionate about. As a Creative Writing and Classical Studies major, I was often questioned what I would do with my life that would give me a stable job, as if studying my passions wasn’t good enough.
This joke is one I’ve heard more times than I care to admit:
Them: What’s the difference between a writer and a park bench?
Them: A park bench can support a family.
There is a very obvious divide between liberal arts and STEM academics. This should not be—every discipline is valuable and necessary for our growth as a species and for us to be better observers of the universe.
The reason I am writing about this today is because I have recently pored through Paul Kalanathi’s autobiography When Breath Becomes Air. It’s good, you should read it. And it dictates my belief in the necessity of marrying all disciplines very poetically.
Kalanathi was a neuroscientist who died too soon to cancer. However, his autobiography paints a beautiful image of the importance of studying literature and doctoral practices and how both of these things helped him understand the truth of humanity. He repeats how he couldn’t have reached any contentment in his understanding of people if he didn’t study both.
If you believe your study is worth more than another’s, then you are wrong. I urge everyone to consider how every discipline not only helps us be better individuals, but works symbiotically with other studies to increase empathy and improvement to humans as a species.
Thank you for reading! Cheers! x