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Attitudes to studying the humanities


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#1    tipsy_munchkin

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 10:08 AM

First of I will note I was uncertain where to place this topic. I hope this section makes sense as my final choice.

I have observed that disdain of what is sometimes termed the 'softer sciences' is a fairly common phenomena. Over the last few years there has been increasing pressure to remove funding from areas like the humanities and focus instead on the harder sciences. (I dislike the terms hard and soft science but they serve to define my point)

This also brings with it many people who have the outlook that study within the humanities requires less intelligence than for example mathematics.

This combination of viewing the humanities and social sciences as both less valid and less demanding irritates me somewhat. To my view both provide valuable knowledge that enhances the lives of others. Both require intelligence and critical thinking in order to study them.

So why are the humanities still looked upon as the 'stupid' arm of academic study by so many?

    

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#2    Imaginarynumber1

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 10:41 AM

I see the distinction between hard and the soft sciences as having to do with the data. They're both invaluable.The hard sciences deal with quantifiable empirical data, the scientific method and objectivity. The soft sciences can't be dealt with objectively. Participant observation, and what have you. Usually too many variables in the soft sciences to create objective, empirical models, etc.
I'm a big fan of Anthropology, the so called hardest of the soft sciences.

Edited by Imaginarynumber1, 16 November 2012 - 10:41 AM.

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#3    tipsy_munchkin

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 10:59 AM

I agree with your sentiments here. I feel at times those who have not studied any of the softer sciences misunderstand the analysis and critical thinking that goes into it due to this lack of ease in creating empirical models.

    

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#4    Bling

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 08:59 PM

I know when I said I was studying Sociology, there were a few raised eyebrows....as if to say 'why' and 'how easy'! I found the subject fascinating though :P


#5    meryt-tetisheri

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 10:07 PM

View PostImaginarynumber1, on 16 November 2012 - 10:41 AM, said:

I see the distinction between hard and the soft sciences as having to do with the data. They're both invaluable.The hard sciences deal with quantifiable empirical data, the scientific method and objectivity. The soft sciences can't be dealt with objectively. Participant observation, and what have you. Usually too many variables in the soft sciences to create objective, empirical models, etc.
I'm a big fan of Anthropology, the so called hardest of the soft sciences.

The variability of data stems from the very nature, and variability, of the subject matter: the methodology used to study people, their beliefs, practices, cultures, societies...etc., cannot be the same used by 'hard' sciences, under lab conditions, on particles and chemicals to produce repeated testable results. That in no way affects the credibility or validity of the social sciences. It is a pity that policy makers are reluctant to make full use or put to practice social and cultural research, many public policies would have been more successful if they had. The result is that social sciences are largely regarded as "ivory tour" academic exercises; and the careers of social scientists are restricted to academic research institutions. There is a grain of truth in the old joke of the barman with a framed Ph.D. certificate hanging behind him. I earned more than one degree in Anthropology and made zero use of them. At hindsight, my choice of a discipline that fascinated me was a very bad career move!


#6    Orcseeker

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 01:15 AM

The real teller for this is the golden age of Athens. Where all forms of expression, philosophies and sciences were all subject to support from philanthropists. In turn, prosperity and populace contentment thrived in all aspects.

This might not be directly related but recently I had been thinking. Hypothetically speaking, if say, the talent for art was in the place of importance as mathematical ability in today's society. Would those with this talent then be regarded as more intelligent which seems to be the status quo of what goes on today? Only simply because it has become a forefront in society in regards to importance?

I find most of these "soft" sciences more interesting and fascinating than the others. Quite frankly I also believe that they don't get the credit they deserve.

Even the big problems of today are evident in the history of mankind. Yet they are repeated. Historians and archaeologists uncover and document these occurrences, yet these are largely ignored. If we all learned from history our world would be a better place. Mistakes repeat themselves and the cycle of ignorance continues.


#7    tipsy_munchkin

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 10:33 AM

Some interesting points there. While I agree finding work specific to a humanities degree can be hard there are many skills learned that can be adapted. Analyzing texts and objects, assessing validity, bias, context. These are all valuable skills. The study of these areas in itself refines the ability to interpret complex data and communicate your understanding of it to others.

    

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#8    eight bits

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 11:06 AM

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So why are the humanities still looked upon as the 'stupid' arm of academic study by so many?

You didn't say where this attitude was found. I've never heard anyone say that historians lack intelligence (as an occupational group). You also mentioned social sciences in this connection. You need only read Econometrica to find social sceintists who display mathematical sophistication.

What I have heard sometimes is that research in some branches of humanities is "mined out" (for example, it is unlikely that anyone now living will ever find anything both new and useful to say about Dante's Inferno) and unpromising in any practical way (reading the Inferno is a consumption activity, not a production activity, so even "successful" research won't ever pay for itself).

Is that really true? Meh. One of the most conspicuously intelligent people in the world, Rudolf Arnheim (yeah, I know, you've never heard of him, googlebingery will establish that I'm not making him up), devoted much of the final years of his life to re-examining the Inferno. There's a limit, then, to how stupid that activity can be. Perhaps it "pays off" in some other way.

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#9    Sthenno

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 11:24 AM

View PostOrcseeker, on 17 November 2012 - 01:15 AM, said:

Hypothetically speaking, if say, the talent for art was in the place of importance as mathematical ability in today's society. Would those with this talent then be regarded as more intelligent which seems to be the status quo of what goes on today? Only simply because it has become a forefront in society in regards to importance?


I would argue that art is definitely regarded as more important in today's society than mathematics. Most people you meet would struggle to name a famous mathematician but could name countless artists, writers, composers etc. These people are seen to be at the forefront of society in regards to importance, but they're definitely not seen as more intelligent than mathematicians or scientists.


#10    Orcseeker

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 01:06 PM

View PostSthenno, on 17 November 2012 - 11:24 AM, said:



I would argue that art is definitely regarded as more important in today's society than mathematics. Most people you meet would struggle to name a famous mathematician but could name countless artists, writers, composers etc. These people are seen to be at the forefront of society in regards to importance, but they're definitely not seen as more intelligent than mathematicians or scientists.

Businesses run this world. I think it is changing a little bit, just a little bit. Things like the music industry, the biggest and most prominent artists are controlled by business. This is one of the biggest forms of expression and it is controlled.


#11    tipsy_munchkin

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 01:43 PM

View Posteight bits, on 17 November 2012 - 11:06 AM, said:

You didn't say where this attitude was found. I've never heard anyone say that historians lack intelligence (as an occupational group). You also mentioned social sciences in this connection. You need only read Econometrica to find social sceintists who display mathematical sophistication.

What I have heard sometimes is that research in some branches of humanities is "mined out" (for example, it is unlikely that anyone now living will ever find anything both new and useful to say about Dante's Inferno) and unpromising in any practical way (reading the Inferno is a consumption activity, not a production activity, so even "successful" research won't ever pay for itself).

Is that really true? Meh. One of the most conspicuously intelligent people in the world, Rudolf Arnheim (yeah, I know, you've never heard of him, googlebingery will establish that I'm not making him up), devoted much of the final years of his life to re-examining the Inferno. There's a limit, then, to how stupid that activity can be. Perhaps it "pays off" in some other way.

I'm not suggesting its a point of view I endorse but it is certainly one i have witnessed personally from others. Stupid is perhaps a too strong word but there are certainly those that still perceive subjects outside the core sciences as the easier option. I'm glad  that you have not encountered such yourself as it means it is not as widespread an attitude as I had feared. As a history student myself I have heard that referred to as a 'cop out' and 'not a proper subject.' This is even worse for those studying the arts.

If you look above Bling appears to have encountered a similar attitude at times.

Edited by tipsy_munchkin, 17 November 2012 - 01:44 PM.

    

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#12    Sthenno

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 01:51 PM

View Posttipsy_munchkin, on 17 November 2012 - 01:43 PM, said:

I'm not suggesting its a point of view I endorse but it is certainly one i have witnessed personally from others. Stupid is perhaps a too strong word but there are certainly those that still perceive subjects outside the core sciences as the easier option. I'm glad  that you have not encountered such yourself as it means it is not as widespread an attitude as I had feared. As a history student myself I have heard that referred to as a 'cop out' and 'not a proper subject.' This is even worse for those studying the arts.

If you look above Bling appears to have encountered a similar attitude at times.

Which university are you at?! I struggle to believe that history is regarded as a 'cop-out' options anywhere. Maybe within certain academic circles, but not to the student population as a whole, surely?


#13    tipsy_munchkin

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 02:20 PM

I am not referring to fellow students. I am surprised but pleased that its an attitude you have never encountered. Sadly there are people in the world who see only maths and the major sciences etc as real subjects worthy of further education.

Edit to add: I am not suggesting it is a dominant attitude. I'm simple expressing my shock that its one that still exists at all.

Edited by tipsy_munchkin, 17 November 2012 - 02:40 PM.

    

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#14    Babe Ruth

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 04:08 PM

A good thread.

I guess it's the difference between the arts and science?  Some people are into science, some are into art, and of course some are into sports and martial arts.

Maybe it's the use of the word 'liberal', as in Liberal Arts? :-*





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