Starving for Wisdom

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May 7, 2017 – MCAT CARS Passage

Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”

That epigram from E.O. Wilson captures the dilemma of our era. Yet the solution of some folks is to disdain wisdom.

“Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?” Rick Scott, the Florida governor, once asked. A leader of a prominent Internet company once told me that the firm regards admission to Harvard as a useful heuristic of talent, but a college education itself as useless.

Parents and students themselves are acting on these principles, retreating from the humanities. Among college graduates in 1971, there were about two business majors for each English major. Now there are seven times as many. (I was a political science major; if I were doing it over, I’d be an economics major with a foot in the humanities.)

I’ve been thinking about this after reading Fareed Zakaria’s smart new book, “In Defense of a Liberal Education.” Like Zakaria, I think that the liberal arts teach critical thinking (not to mention nifty words like “heuristic”).

So, to answer the skeptics, here are my three reasons the humanities enrich our souls and sometimes even our pocketbooks as well.

First, liberal arts equip students with communications and interpersonal skills that are valuable and genuinely rewarded in the labor force, especially when accompanied by technical abilities.

“A broad liberal arts education is a key pathway to success in the 21st-century economy,” says Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard. Katz says that the economic return to pure technical skills has flattened, and the highest return now goes to those who combine soft skills — excellence at communicating and working with people — with technical skills.

“So I think a humanities major who also did a lot of computer science, economics, psychology, or other sciences can be quite valuable and have great career flexibility,” Katz said. “But you need both, in my view, to maximize your potential. And an economics major or computer science major or biology or engineering or physics major who takes serious courses in the humanities and history also will be a much more valuable scientist, financial professional, economist, or entrepreneur.”

My second reason: We need people conversant with the humanities to help reach wise public policy decisions, even about the sciences. Technology companies must constantly weigh ethical decisions: Where should Facebook set its privacy defaults, and should it tolerate glimpses of nudity? Should Twitter close accounts that seem sympathetic to terrorists? How should Google handle sex and violence, or defamatory articles?

In the policy realm, one of the most important decisions we humans will have to make is whether to allow germline gene modification. This might eliminate certain diseases, ease suffering, make our offspring smarter and more beautiful. But it would also change our species. It would enable the wealthy to concoct superchildren. It’s exhilarating and terrifying.

To weigh these issues, regulators should be informed by first-rate science, but also by first-rate humanism. After all, Homer addressed similar issues three millenniums ago.

In “The Odyssey,” the beautiful nymph Calypso offers immortality to Odysseus if he will stay on her island. After a fling with her, Odysseus ultimately rejects the offer because he misses his wife, Penelope. He turns down godlike immortality to embrace suffering and death that are essential to the human condition.

Likewise, when the President’s Council on Bioethics issued its report in 2002, “Human Cloning and Human Dignity,” it cited scientific journals but also Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Even science depends upon the humanities to shape judgments about ethics, limits and values.

Third, wherever our careers lie, much of our happiness depends upon our interactions with those around us, and there’s some evidence that literature nurtures a richer emotional intelligence.

Science magazine published five studies indicating that research subjects who read literary fiction did better at assessing the feelings of a person in a photo than those who read nonfiction or popular fiction. Literature seems to offer lessons in human nature that help us decode the world around us and be better friends.

Literature also builds bridges of understanding. Toni Morrison has helped all America understand African-American life. Jhumpa Lahiri illuminated immigrant contradictions. Khaled Hosseini opened windows on Afghanistan.

In short, it makes eminent sense to study coding and statistics today, but also history and literature.

John Adams had it right when he wrote to his wife, Abigail, in 1780: “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History and Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”

Adapted from Nytimes.

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This was an article on Education.

Have a great day.
Jack Westin
MCAT CARS Instructor.
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24 Comments


  1. Humanities/literature=important in education

    Reply

  2. Humanities enrich us = important; author gives three main reasons and justification

    Reply

  3. need an understanding of both humanities and science, humanities important

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  4. author agrees that humanity is important subject above all others.
    however, in today’s society people are retreating from humanity and focuses on sciences or other subjects.
    author lists why humanity is important.
    author uses important figures as examples as to why humanity is valued.

    Reply

  5. Author enumerates the reasons why soft skills are necessary along with technical and scientific skills, he advocate for literature and literary studies for next generations

    Reply

  6. Humanities enrich our souls and is vital to study: because it helps with communication skills, making ethical decisions, and help interact w/ people

    Reply

  7. Author is advocating for the need for literature in this society where there is more information and less wisdom. Literature gives us a way to communicate with people, to understand people and will help us make public decisions.

    Reply

  8. MI: Author argues that humanities are important, 3 reasons.

    Reply

  9. MIP: combining study of science (technical) w/ study of humanities (interpersonal) = optimal for making judgements; tone = +

    Reply

  10. Today’s world is filled of information but lacking wisdom, which comes from Humanities. Less college students are studying Humanities, and more focused on science and technology fields that foster technical skills. The Author here is writing a persuasive essay about how studying Humanites can be practical in today’s age, and offer three reasons why. Interpersonal skills and communication/Making better ethical or important decisions, and emotional intelligence.

    Reply

  11. MI: Humanities are an essential component of education. It improves communication skills, guides ethical decision making, and compassionate behavior towards one another.

    Tone: For Liberal arts education

    Reply

  12. Humanities = important + so is science

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  13. MIP: Humanities just as vital as science to answer questions of future.

    Reply

  14. MIP: need both science + humanities

    Reply

  15. MI: studying liberal arts = leads to individual success and success for society

    Reply

  16. MIP: liberal arts = critical thinking + important, need both humanities and science

    Reply

  17. Liberal arts is an essential attribute to society such that it enriches our souls and even professional careers in sciences, economics and politics. For instance, ethics and morals contribute to a large part of what needs to be decided by society and is an integral part of humanities and liberal arts.

    Reply

  18. Interest in LA = decreasing, LA = critical thinking RTA (Zakaria) + humanities = enrichment AU, Author believes that LA is important

    Reply

  19. Humanities is essential in the labor force and in the modern world in general. It is better to study the sciences together with humanities, because humanities will make a better student, worker, and even a more empathetic person to society and relationships. It will also help with policy, and understanding deep topics that people without a humanities background would not grasp.

    Reply

  20. Theme: The author is a proponent of the liberal arts education and she feels that studying both humanities and sciences will make a person 1) more marketable in the labour force 2) able to make better decisions especially when ethics are involved and 3) increase our EQ so that we can better understand other cultures and be better able to relate to people. (central)

    Tone: Informative, encouraging (promoting liberal arts)

    By “information” author is referring to the hard and analytical sciences and by “wisdom” she is referring to philosophy (arts and humanities; so wisdom is the analogy for liberal arts which people have somehow developed a disdain for or sort of forsaken in their pursuit for the former (analogy).

    People these days favor sciences more than liberal arts (parents and students themselves…) but technical skills have become over-rated (flattened) and companies now favor those with liberal arts education as well as their technical skills as they have better inter-personal skills and can work with people. Having done humanities also make one more able to make ethical decisions at work and develop higher EQ (algorithm)

    Reply

  21. MP: it is important to study both soft and hard science because in combination it make a more proficient human being (verbal skills/critical thinking/technical skills)

    Reply

  22. MIP: need more to study humanities (important) + science of better understanding

    Reply

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