The philosophy of science was the first to raise questions about the ethics and morality of science. In plain words, what is the purpose of science—who is science for? This ethical dilemma has raised much scholarly enquiry to understand why humans would not accept plain, testable facts.
Thus, the politics of science—when to release data and what particular type of impacts it would entail—has also come to much attention. It had never received such public scrutiny until the Covid-19 happened.
Prior to that, the idea of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, introduced by Klaus Schwab, also raised questions about its impact on the job security of humans and the necessity of learning philosophy and reading Shakespeare.
It raised, quite falsely, an alarm, that Scott Hartley systematically coalesced in his best-selling book The Fuzzy and the Techies: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World, published in 2016.
It is interesting to learn that he came across these two terms in the corridors of Stanford University while he was a student there. Hartley, however, very potently argued that "Humans are behind the curtain of Artificial Intelligence".
Many have since argued that this division itself is false logic to argue over—as it proposes an 'either/or' logic and thus creates a division rather than looking at the value of them both. Natalia Blagoeva, CEO of Founder & CEO, WomenH2H and a CHANGEMAKER, urges us to expand the debate to "plus-and".
The Covid-19, however, unfortunately, brought back the techie vs the fuzzy debate once again when we see Liberal Arts and Social Sciences being devalued as almost 'non-essentials' in many countries.
In Australia, for example, the recently passed law would see university fees double up for humanities, law and economics, as it plans for "job-ready graduates". Thus, it has reintroduced the science vs humanities debate—that encourages studies in STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics but making Liberal Arts and Social Sciences costlier.
But what are Liberal Arts and Social Sciences? While Liberal Arts incorporate knowing a society's transition in terms of its history, arts, culture and literature, Social Sciences is the study of humanity divided into several disciplines that minutely research the patterns of human interactions.
While we need to learn the Macbethian dilemma, we also need to learn that it has an appeal and applicability over time and space—Liberal Arts and Social Sciences can inform us how a techie needs to deal with a Macbethian rise in corporate culture.
While Sir Francis Bacon and Descartes questioned how the inquiry of science would advance—Descartes also pointed out—his oft-cited quote—"I think, therefore, I am". This is particularly relevant while we are in the middle of a pandemic trying to understand why simple rules like wearing masks, washing hands and keeping a safe distance are often seen as an imposition on people.
If 'rules' were so simple to follow, then why is there a spike in Covid-19 cases especially in the migrant communities of Europe and Singapore? Agustín Fuentes (2020) reminds us once again—"Humans are social… Being social is more than having interactions with others, being in groups and sharing feelings. The human niche, Homo sapiens' ecosystem — the way humanity exists in the world — is social through and through".
The anthropological and social aspects need to converge with the scientific community to understand why a certain system works in a country—but not in the other. The success of the immunisation program in Bangladesh and the ability to eliminate femicide, in deep contrast to neighbouring India, are apt examples of this.
The idea that societies need to be understood and contextualised to apply the fruits of scientific discovery—philosophers and scientists need this convergence—is aptly pointed out in the establishment of the Vienna Circle in the 1920s, one of the motto of which was, according to Encyclopedia Britannica: "no fundamental differences were seen to exist between the physical and the biological sciences or between the natural and the social sciences".
In today's age of digitalisation that has led to The Death of Expertise (Tom Nichols: 2017), we need to revisit the past—the way human society has progressed. The task of humans, is the task of Sisyphus, to possess the rock, to get the absurdity of life and "Invest in the effort, not the result, and you will sleep better".
In the South Asian context—do not to desire or worry about the result, but perform your duties—for we are not given any hand in the outcome of the karma.
Covid-19 is not the first nor will it be the last pandemic that humanity will witness. It is a time for soul-searching about the tasks and purpose of the human race. It is the time to understand that 'numbers can talk' and there's a story behind every number.
The intricate relationship that Liberal Arts, Social Sciences and Hard Sciences has formed cannot be severed—no matter how much one might be tempted to do so.
The rage of a person and the logic of collective action—all have social implications that cannot be addressed by only studying STEM. The pandemic and the rising death toll are glaring examples of this.
Lailufar Yasmin teaches in the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. She can be reached at [email protected].