Humanities and sciences


Where and how did this difference begin, is there anything universal to this or is it due to certain historical condition to how things developed in Europe. The founder of Heterodox Academy Jonathan Haidt gave this talk of incompatible sacred values between truth and social justice. And how the telos of Universities ought to be ‘Truth’.

In my view, this distinction begins with The role of church in European History.The distinction of secular and religious. The aim of the church had to do with what people believed. So, the eventual marxist world view simply took over the hole left behind by the long irrelevance of church in academia in many european societies.Present role of Humanities dept in I believe comes from the role of the church, if one were to consider their aim was to spread their belief system. Church still has an impressive anthropological division, translations into many native languages etc.

In other worldviews, like stoicism or buddhism,jainism,advaita,ajivika had a more cosmic oriented worldview. I see the differences in universities as an evidence of deeper epistemological differences between christian worldview and their greeko roman heritage. This model has now been transported to other places and is leading to similar problems. I was reminded of this view once again by the tweet storm of nassim taleb. One cannot read the history or even consider the ideas of west without asking in what ways has the role of church been in shaping the west and its impact in development of every idea that has come from the west, claims of universalism needs to be independently checked.It maybe that the church has found ways and means to keep itself out of the scrunity in different ways to be able to survive and adapt to developments of science, this could be in the role of the institutions or the kind of rhetoric deployed or organisations at community level or perhaps in academia itself.Perhaps this the crucial difference in comparison with other societies , they didnt have time enough to adapt and this is leading to further troubles.

Hence I do wish for other people of different beliefs or none to have their own independent study of the west and test the ideas and the claims.All Ideas,claims need to be independently tested.  Otherwise one might find oneself undone by some future eventuality that one didnt consider beforehand and suffer a mighty loss.

Here is how nassim taleb connects these,

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Bharata Bharatavanshi

25 thoughts on “Humanities and sciences”

  1. Why do we have to choose either/or? There is a difference between “education” and “training”. The Humanities deal with values (political philosophy, ethics, etc) and with man’s inner life (Literature, Music, Art). Science deals with the empirical world. The great Indian epics come under the Humanities. They are not about the empirical world and treating them as if they are literal accounts of events is foolish (in my opinion).

    Humanities subjects also teach students to write well (at least they are supposed to) which is a skill that can be applied to whatever you want to write about.

    Training for a career is very important. The world needs engineers, computer scientists, doctors and even investment bankers. Not everyone needs to be an artist or a writer, but everyone needs to know the basics of their own tradition. South Asians need to know who Tansen and Sadarang were, just as European schoolchildren are taught who Mozart and Beethoven were. Just as every Western schoolchild knows the name William Shakespeare, we should know the names of Kalidasa and Mirza Ghalib. History is also a Humanities subject. If you don’t know where you came from, how can you know where you are going?

    Is there perhaps too much “leftist” ideology in Humanities Departments? One can argue that. I’ve been out of school for nearly a decade now, so I don’t know what is currently being taught. It is true that Post-Colonial Theory was big in the English Department when I was an undergrad. We are all entitled to our own views on whether PoCo is a good thing or not.

  2. We are all entitled to our own views on whether PoCo is a good thing or not.//

    Agree with the general spirit, this sentence sticks out sorely. When it begins to interfere with politics, economics, general competence of societies, its a huge problem. It makes little difference when 18 trillion dollar economy of US does it, but for 2 trillion dollar or even less than 500 billion dollar and far less economy size of India in earlier years, it completely caused huge loss. Because competence was sacrificed, the bogeyman of west coming to exploit was raised and India never had a manufacturing revolution.

    Now, the resentment of no jobs is being used to fuel new identity politics, when they themselves were responsible for it in first place. Can the leftists ever admit that they was horribly wrong about anything and take responsibility?. Even chomsky engages in no true scotsman fallacy. soviet union was state capitalism for him. No true socialism fails, they already failed economically, now like scavengers, are looking to feed on resentment caused due to their failures.

    shouldnt we be rich first and then care for such entitlements. Otherwise one ends up in endless poverty, cynicism, left wing game of oppressor-oppressed dialectical dynamics rhetoric unleashed for power.

    1. You don’t have to like PoCo but to generalize from that to the entire Humanities is problematic. Indian culture was formed in large part by The Mahabharata and The Ramayana. Similarly, the Persians have the Shahnameh, and Hafiz of Shiraz. Urdu speakers have Ghalib and Faiz.

      Science has its place and so does the Humanities. I read somewhere (I can’t recall where): Science tells us how things work, the Humanities tell us who we are.

      1. Again, it comes to skin in the game, in other areas, when things collapse, the fault and consequences has to be borne by those people. Here, marxism continues in universities inspite of the huge damage it has done already.

        1. How many professors are actually “Marxist”? Can we have some numbers on that? Or is anyone to your left a “Marxist”?

          Note: I’m not a Marxist. I believe capitalism needs to be reformed, in the welfare state and that too much income inequality is a bad thing. But that is hardly Marxism.

          Also which universities are the “Marxists” in? Certainly not the IITs….

  3. Try to look beyond the Knowledge because all forms of knowledge is the result of the framework in which they gets forged which is a big problem in the hierarchy of Academia itself.

    Humanities use broad generalizations & these broad frameworks gets discussed among public but Academicians tend to be always debating the knowledge they are creating which is mostly inconclusive or is similar to ‘Coastline paradox’ {The closer you look the messier it becomes}, thus academicians get completely cutoff from real world & that’s why all humanities solutions are theoretically intriguing but never produces the desired results.

    1. Deep Bhatnagar, humanities could improve sharply by incorporating more interdisciplinary study, more math, more science and more enlightenment methodologies into their thinking. Isn’t this worth doing? If this happens then liberal arts will complement the rest of academia and the private sector better.

      Currently Google, Facebook, Apple, consulting and most elite jobs in the world greatly prefer a combination of hard/technical sciences and liberal arts. They have found that liberal arts are correlated with better product development and process innovation. Improving liberal arts would greatly accelerate global economic growth.

      1. Liberal arts should of course be combined with something. That’s how you get a job. This is not the pre-2008 financial crash era when you could walk out with an English degree from a good university and into a job. If I had a do-over, I would have added a second major in something “practical”. English Lit and Music are wonderful, but perhaps business or international affairs or something would have made me more marketable. Anyway, it’s ten years too late. But, I’ve fortunately figured out that my particular path ahead lies in academia (an MA and perhaps go the whole way and get a PhD). A tenure-track job would be nice (not that many of those exist anymore).

        I did try to take a computer science course on edex earlier this year. Took notes on all the lectures (didn’t really do the coding) and realized that I absolutely hated it. My mind doesn’t work that way. Give me a 500 page novel to read and tell me to write an essay on it. I can do that, no problem. Writing code, not so much. So I gave up halfway through the course (but you can’t say I didn’t try).

        Not everyone can do everything. Most computer scientists cannot write 5,000 words on a work of literature or sing a khayal for an hour. People specialize in what they are good at and that’s fine.

        1. Kabir, lots of people are hired right out of undergrad with English and Music degrees from famous universities all the time in Investment Banking, Consulting, Corporate Finance, Marketing, Business, HR type roles. Many companies greatly value “intelligence” although they don’t say so openly because it is politically incorrect and can get them into trouble. They think they can teach you what you need to know after hiring you.

          Kabir, the world greatly values three types of privilege far above all else:
          -physical health
          -mental health [This is my addition; although few would describe it this way. These are all the “intangibles”, “people skills”, self confidence, empathy, understanding, charisma, personality, character etc. that are so valued in business]

          Since you went to a good university they are far more likely to assume you have these three privileges and interview you. You could probably still make it corporate or start up America–especially with this economy. Businesses are always looking for people with these privileges because they make lots of profits for business. You have a high marginal product of labor.

          The large majority of inequality in wealth, income, divorce rates, having children out of wedlock, committing crimes, being incarcerated can be explained with these variables. Therefore if the world’s hard scientists, economists, data scientists were asked how to reduce measured inequality; their recommendation would likely focus heavily on improving physical health, mental health and intelligence for the global poor and lower middle class.

          Eastern philosophy (including I suspect ancient Iraq and Egypt and China) had “forbidden knowledge” techniques to do just this but kept the knowledge hidden. Muhammed pbuh referred to this (black magic) extensively and discouraged the use of science to increase intelligence. Although the sound power of reciting and listening to the Koran and meditating perhaps did de facto increase intelligence. This should be studied carefully by neuroscientists. I am certain that Muhammed pbuh privately knew a lot more than he let on but avoided public discussion.

          However, now AI, neuroscience and genetics are learning how to increase physical health, mental health and intelligence. This is causing a civil war within global academia and the current conflict with post modernist type activists.

          Hope to write many articles on this subject. And would be curious to learn your thoughts.

  4. Very nice Bharata. Gave you a hat tip:

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes interesting points. I don’t fully agree. Rather science, mathematics, statistics, data driven analysis and enlightenment methodologies (such as Voltaire’s) need to be further brought into the humanities. The humanities need to become blended interdisciplinary fields. A related problem is that global academia is becoming increasingly less interdisciplinary and myopic. Most wisdom lies in interdisciplinary understanding and analysis. In the correlations between multiple variables [or general equilibrium versus specific equilibrium].

    Kabir, can you watch the entire Jonathan Haidt interview? It would help you understand why so many economists, statisticians, neuroscientists and hard scientists are so afraid of post modernism.

    Economists have long known that IQ test score standard deviations are higher for men than woman. But studying these subjects is taboo. Would it be okay to discuss the distribution pattern (versus mean) of IQ scores for different select sample populations? It might greatly help with better policies, right? [Haidt mentions how the Chancellor of Harvard was removed for talking about standard deviation differences between different sample populations.]

    Haidt mentioned how the Obama administration tried to reduce differences in school suspensions between different groups of students. Here is the problem:
    Black student behavior violations > Latino student behavior violations > Caucasion student behavior violations > Asian student behavior violations
    This policy sharply reduced discipline for black students and sharply increased disciplinary actions against Asian students for almost no explicable reason (to drive Asian suspensions up). Was this fair?

    Here would be an interesting analysis to run:
    -compare Asian and caucasion student misbehavior (or suspension rates or crime rates if data on student misbehavior is not available) holding:
    —–out of wedlock birth rates and single mother headed household rates constant?
    —–IQ test scores constant?
    —–IQ test scores, out of wedlock birth rates and single mother headed household rates constant?
    I wonder how much of the difference between Asian and caucasion misbehavior rates can be explained by these variables.

    The US could greatly reduce her crime and incarceration rates if caucasions committed crimes and were incarcerated at Asian American rates. I have long felt that studying this issue could dramatically help America. But I also know that this is a dangerous taboo subject.

    The sad truth is that most graduate students and faculty walk on egg shells while trying to study these important issues. Many just avoid important issues altogether. This is yet another way post modernism is greatly reducing global living standards and hurting the global poor.

    Request to Razib, Zachary; please watch Jonathan’s presentation. Do you have any perspectives on it? Would you agree with me that post modernism represents a large fraction of global structural racism, global structural sectarianism and global structural bigotry?

    1. I’m not going to watch Haidt. He’s a conservative and I do not like conservatives. Frankly, I am busy preparing for a music mehfil and I don’t have time to watch an hour long interview of someone with whom I am inclined to disagree very strongly.

      He wrote one interesting book, “The Righteous Mind” but now he’s become over-hyped. Perhaps he should stick to his own field of expertise (the psychology of morality).

      1. Kabir, Haidt is a “liberal” who supports high taxes [perhaps similar in some ways to a Swedish market socialist] and is heavily criticized by conservatives and Republicans. Unless you listen to people like him (albeit not necessarily him) you can’t understand the civil war between liberals (inspired by enlightenment scholars such as Voltaire) and post modernists.

        I found listening to him useful because he helped explain why the post modernists are well intentioned. Heck the English imperialists were well intentioned in India and they colonized the Indian mind with post modernism. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Usually the ones who hurt us most are trying to help us. Often those who try to hurt us end up helping us.

        You believe that Auranzeb was trying to help when he slaughtered millions of Shiites, Sufis, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists. And I believe you are right.

        Bharata, I have found many very well intentioned intelligent leftists who do a lot of good. Many self declared leftists oppose post modernist ways of thinking. The labels of “left”, “right”, “liberal”, “conservative”, “moderate” have become mostly meaningless.

        1. I have heard Haidt speak live. I used to work for a think tank in DC and he spoke at a board meeting. This was sometime in 2014. Of course, he spoke on a narrow topic: the emotional and moral differences between Republicans and Democrats. On this narrow topic (based on his research) he made sense. When he starts expressing larger views about the state of the university today is when I think he becomes more problematic.

          The think tank is called the Convergence Center for Policy Resolution (if you are interested)

          I don’t know how “liberal” he actually is based on the things he has been saying lately. Anyway, I think you know by now that I am firmly with the post-modernists (correctly understood). No amount of listening to anyone is going to convince me that my entire framework is wrong. So let’s leave this topic here.

          Finally, I am very busy until after May 3 when I have to give an hour long music performance. So it is not likely that I will be on BP much in the next few days.

          P.S. No, I don’t believe Aurangzeb Alamgir was trying to “help”. Don’t mischaracterize my position. He was an absolute monarch like all other absolute monarchs who did whatever he needed to do to preserve his power. The man presented his brother’s head to his father on a plate. That’s how much he was concerned about protecting his position.

          1. May your music performance be spectacular!

            I think Aurangzeb was well intentioned and trying to help. He had many good qualities. I usually don’t emphasize this because most of global academia and media excessively lionize Aurungzeb.

            You entire framework is not wrong. In fact Aryan or Eastern philosophy is post modernism or the transcending of all meta narratives and the transcending of all universalist norms. This is done through expanding the heart, and increasing our own intelligence. Only a very intelligent person (with Sathwa Buddhi) can transcend all meta narratives and universalist notions.

            I have met a lot of reasonable post modernists too. Many post modernists are meditators and trying to become more subtle and go deeper. However they are not in the majority of the movement.

            It is easier to support one’s own views if you can understand alternative views better.

            Haidt in the above video proposed a detailed plan to reduce poverty that involved a large increase in government spending. In what possible way is he not a liberal?

          2. So, I haven’t watched the video and cannot comment on any specific claims in it. But it is my impression that he has become more conservative in recent years.

  5. I wont blame POMO entirely, as i mentioned earlier. POMO is a surface level excuse for marxists, they tend to use it to blunt others criticism. But when they make criticism, they dont engage in pomo, instead they make assumptions of inherence and criticize based on that. It is just a rhetorical tool

  6. As an aside, I don’t think I met one “Marxist” professor in my entire BA English Literature (Drama) program. I’m sure they exist, more in some fields than in others. But perhaps you are over-hyping the extent of the “problem” as you see it.

    Yes, Humanities professors tend to be more left-wing than professors of Engineering, CS, or Business. There are many articles speculating as to why this may be. One possible explanation is that in the Humanities, there is almost never one right answer.

    1. Because unlike things need to actually work in real world, in humanities, one can just make things up and have one’s fellows just peer review him/her. That is it. Easy to rig the game in peer review because that is all there is. In every other profession, basic verifiability of competence means that one can hope to succeed.

      Arundhati roy for starts among writers, in India, India’s poor economy in its earlier years were blamed due to hindus. Marxist economist called it “Hindu rate of growth”. Indian media,academia still is in denial of the enormous damage done by marxist /left economists to Indian economy, thereby stagnating social problems and using the friction in faultlines to further drive their ideology harnessing resentment. You have to see things in terms of impact, not just number of people. JNU for example has many on the left, so is the case with jadavpur university. Left wing ideology basically trouts one victimization as being the primary cause for any lacunae or failure rather than being simply wrong in one’s ideas of development.

      Another example is arvind virmani, a noted economist who worked at world bank, said that one of the reasons for malnutrition in India is due to poor sanitation, rather than food. As due to poor sanitation, there are more diseases and less absorption of nutrients. But the left in India which is mostly elite completely overlooked the importance of sanitation altogether for past 70 yrs. One bit of credit that must go to Modi should be this. And Arvind virmani speaks of the trouble he faced time and again by left activists and others regarding this issue.

      Bank nationalization under Indira Gandhi and even emergency was supported by Marxists as well.
      Any sale of loss making govt assets are opposed, this inspite of huge amounts of money in loss when they can be allocated in healthcare, education instead. And please, stop this “this isnt true socialism”, “this isnt true communism/left”. If left is in alliance with congress and they have been for long time, then that is also an issue.

      Hence one has to look at consequences to derive conclusions. For example, noam chomsky on venezuela says, they didnt diversify the economy. Except if they had done so, the same folks would have complained on subsidies for rich businessmen etc.

      In India the comparison often is made with farmers and industrialists on subsidies. But only 15% of Indian gdp is due to 57% of India trapped in agriculture because manufacturing was never allowed due to insane rules on hiring and firing etc that meant no business was willing to expand based on those laws. So in order to fight exploitation, anti business rules were made which stopped people from moving away from agriculture and with the feudal mindset continued as well. Manufacturing should also be seen for its sociolocial impact as put by mihir sharma (I read beyond my political inclination ), he speaks of how that played a crucial part of mindset transformation. Now we are at the beginning of the end of manufacturing across India and people havent found an alternative. This means, certain feudal mindsets are perhaps here to stay longer in India than before.

      Now you see, how design of the left, it creates problems, stops competence, leads to systemic failures and makes itself as a hero fighting for the masses whose poverty and lack of economic opportunity was entirely result of the left. And no one exposes this.

      Jonathan haidt is a scientist who actually studies how human beings interact and based on that makes his arguments, liberals/left already have arguments in mind irrespective of evidence. And Haidt is a liberal who actually looks at evidence. And evidence isnt conservative or liberal, it is what it is.

      1. +10 Bharata.

        Agree with everything you wrote.

        Many self declared “leftists” now support neo-liberal economic policies and globalization; but support LBGTQ rights, want to reduce global poverty, and want to help minority/liberal muslims etc. I don’t know why they still call themselves left, but they do. As long as many of your allies on economic policy and social policy are self declared “leftists”, maybe we should avoid demonizing the “left” overmuch.

        A lot of the most successful people in technology call themselves leftist. And it is a lot more than can be explained by virtue signaling. Many of them are very pro Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sufi, meditation, veganism, organic lifestyle, environment, music, Yoga etc. They are our closest friends and allies.

        Could part of the issue be that you are conflating the Indian left (which you are dead right about) with the global non Indian left? I would be very careful not to do this. Many of my best friends are spiritual “leftists” and I you would adore them.

        I should also mention that I know several spiritual conservative Christians who are also our allies.

      2. What you are talking about is politics (not Humanities). Arundhati Roy is not an academic.

        Some of what you say about Indian politics makes sense. Some I disagree with. That is not really the subject of this post.

        As an aside, what we all do here at BP is an exercise in the Humanities: the writing and critiquing of views. This is not a science experiment.

  7. It is very important to have evidence based judgement on both policy and industry, otherwise one ends up in tribalism. Consider this, left has failed at economics already,this failure is infact due to their misunderstanding of human nature and psychology. If they could get economics so horribly wrong where one can have some sense of measurements, one needs to ask, in social sciences, where evidence is much shakier, how can one trust them. What kinds of policies or views would lead to societal level collapse due to virtue signalling left brained ideas like it did in economics?. These chickens come home to roost after a long time indeed. So one has to be very careful. Left should have a place, so should everyone , but one has to decide things based on evidence, first at small scale and then larger and if it fails, one must admit failure and move on to next idea rather than stick to the same idea no matter what. So, even someone like amartya sen indulges in flawed thinking. So he points to kerala, except marxists were in power in West bengal for many decades, that didnt turn out well, so what explains?. The simplest answer is that kerala is a false positive, but instead he takes that as an entirely positive example and extols it. So, even nobel prize winner in economics indulge is stupid thinking, another recent criticism of another Indian economist kaushikbasu by nassim taleb was rather good.

    Kabir, you have to consider that science/math is more nuanced than humanities, the endless examples, analogies , statistics, math,physics problems are all so nuanced that it can be used for better guidance in humanities as well. Even if we agree on values coming from humanities, the solutions would be better if guided and delivered through sciences/math.

    1. I don’t know enough about Science or Math to comment. I have never been good at those subjects nor cared for them much. I was always interested in Literary Fiction, Theatre, and Music. Those are my areas of interest. That is why I have my own blog strictly limited to those areas.

      I did enough Science to pass high school in the US. In college, even English majors had to take two “science” courses. I did Physical Geography and Astronomy because they seemed easy. I have now forgotten 90% of whatever was taught in those courses.

      1. That is fine.I have forgotten a lot of math as well, its very very hard. It really is. Thats ok. If you cant grapple with math/science directly, you can atleast read the literature about various scientific experiments, books by scientists to get a decent flavor of how nuanced things can be and how those analogies can be useful in other areas as well. May be it might serve you even better than me or others for you will have many tools in your kitty that you can deploy more effectively.

        1. Yeah, I really am not interested enough in any kind of science to care. I did OK with Biology in 9th grade but Chemistry and Physics were nightmares.

          I have enough books to read already–many of which are still sitting on the shelf and which I haven’t gotten to. I have all of Marcel Proust to get through (in French this time), which at the rate of one paragraph in French a day is going to take a long time.

          I have Shakespeare to reread as well as Salman Rushdie.

          Some people just don’t care for science and some people just don’t care for the arts. That’s life.

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