I think there are only two religions left in the world today, they are STEM and HASS. These are acronyms borrowed from university speak – STEM stands for Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics; HASS is Humanities Arts & Social Sciences, and they are capture an essential division in intellectual society. I have tried to reconcile them to each other but each claims the fundament as its own. Even in my own personality i find it impossible for the two to co-exist peacefully. I feel like one is grafted onto the other, and that graft is constantly itching, threatening to putrefy and dissolve.
Many years ago a classical education consisted of a mixture of disciplines from both sides. I think this was useful, it attempted to strike a balance. These days people strike off in one direction or another and the neglected half becomes withered and sclerotic. Thus scientists have bad dress sense and social skills, whilst drama students are allergic to mathematics. And I include the greatest dramas of all – organised religion – firmly as belonging on the HASS side of the divide. In their purest form, the humanities derive truth from revelation rather than logic. For science, there is no revelation, only induction from observation. This is the great dividing principle.
The two have always coexisted, but in the end there is only room for one final explanation. After overturning a long dominance held by religion, STEM and HASS are nowdays engaged in a turf war for this belief-space. They each attempt to dominate the other by offering alternate explanations and theories, or by the very firmness of the commitment to their own cause. There was an interesting example of this recently in the New York Times (discussed at Leiter Reports) when the philosopher David Albert clashed with Lawrence Krauss over the origin of the universe. It seems that the philosopher won this particular tussle, but the progress of science (itself the child of philosophy and alchemy) has been undermining the foundations of theologians for years.
To the scientist, maybe there is something faintly decadent and Dionysian about work in the humanities. What is the purpose of it? It seems there can be no great discoveries on par with splitting the atom or inventing the computer. Instead it is all just talk talk talk, clashing of egos, and drinking of copious amounts of wine at gallery openings. To someone in the humanities however, science is a cold geeky space where research is about the ever finer splitting of hairs in obscure branches of study, so far removed from ordinary life as to be essentially meaningless in import. Occasionally great inventions are hurled out into the world to good or evil consequence, little considered beforehand in either case. And no amount of new invention changes what it is to feel, or to be alive. Science is the study of the world, humanities is the study of life.
Although there are many within STEM and HASS who might disagree, to me the core difference between the two boils down to a simple inversion in the nature of one’s world view. STEM sees the world as the ultimate reality, and as human consciousness as being within it. HASS, on the other hand, sees human consciousness as the ultimate container, with the world existing inside it. From one observation flows the study of the world, from the other comes the study of our soul. They do not deny the existence of the other, but they each lay clam to be on the most fundamental soil.