Dr. Wahied Khawar Balwan
The disciplines of science and arts have gradually moved apart. Though in the 14th century, liberal arts combined the study of both disciplines yet rapid scientific progress in the 20th century witnessed delinking of science and arts. Currently it has been realized that syncretic study of these two academic branches is imperative hence requires to be revived. Innovative courses are needed to be devised so that best of science and arts, in amalgam, enrich knowledge.
The word science emanates from the Latin word scientia which means knowledge. The Compact Oxford Reference Dictionary defines science firstly as systematic study of structure and behavior of physical and natural world through observation and experiment. Secondarily it defines science as an organized body of knowledge on any subject. Authors Marx and Cronan-Hillix describe science as the enterprises by which human beings obtain ordered knowledge about natural phenomena by working with a particular methodology (viz. controlled observation and analysis) and set of attitudes (e.g. skepticism, objectivity etc.). The Compact Oxford Reference Dictionary defines arts as subject of study pertaining to human culture. Often the terms arts and humanities are used synonymously. The Compact Oxford Reference Dictionary defines humanities as studies related with human culture like literature or history. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that the term humanities is plural for the word humanity which was coined in 14th century Europe. Humanities according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary are branches of learning (e.g. Philosophy, Arts or Languages) that probe human constructs and concerns (as opposed to natural processes which are subject matters of disciplines like Physics and Chemistry) as well as social reforms (as in Anthropology or Economics). This definition appears to include arts and social sciences under humanities but excludes sciences.
LIBERAL ARTS: MEETING GROUND OF SCIENCE AND ARTS
The perceived divide between science and arts has sparked academic debate. This divide is more noticeable now than it was at the time of European renaissance and reformation. Movements such as renaissance and reformation promoted the philosophy of humanism and stressed the study of liberal arts. Liberal arts comprised science and arts (or humanities). The Merriam-Webster Dictionary delineates liberal arts as college or university studies (e.g. in Language, Philosophy, Literature and Abstract Science) intended to primarily impart general knowledge and to develop general intellectual capacities (like reason and judgment) in contrast with professional or vocational skills. The term liberal arts came into limelight around 14yh century in Europe. The word liberal originates from the Latin word liber that means free. Thus liberal arts referred to education meant for a freeman unlike that for a slave. This suggests that liberal arts were domains of the privileged. The subalterns could, at best, acquire skills. Universities in the Western world taught seven liberal arts during the medieval period. These were Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic (the trivium) as well as Geometry, Arithmetic, Music and Astronomy (the quadrivium). Even today one gets to hear of a few educational institutions offering courses of study in liberal arts especially in the United States of America. These days the liberal arts include the combined study of Literature, Languages, Philosophy, History, Mathematics and Science. Therefore liberal arts connect the chasm between science and arts. However, institutions genuinely imparting education in liberal arts are rare in India.
Early twentieth century witnessed the slowly widened gap between science and arts. C.P. Snow expressed unhappiness at this disconnect. According to him, till the late nineteenth century an average educated person was equally conversant in both the disciplines. But phenomenal progress of science and technology in the twentieth century and rising trend of specialization in education detached arts from science. Scholars in science as well as those in arts appeared to begin to consciously mystify and zealously protect their disciplines. Consequently, most people were compelled to choose one discipline to the exclusion of the other. This gave rise to an artificial dichotomy between two disciplines. It was opined that reducing specialization in education, embracing of interdisciplinary approach and propagation of scientific literacy among populace could help shrink the gulf between science and arts. However, in today’s world with its emphasis on excellence, decrement of specialization in education does not seem feasible.
CURRENT SCENARIO IN INDIA
In India, institutes training engineers and technologists include instructions in both science and arts/humanities in their curriculum. Inclusion of science comes as no surprise since engineering or technology embodies application of science. But it is intrigue why is arts (or humanities) taught to budding engineers or technologists? The argument is that unless one has wide worldview one cannot function well as an engineer or technologist. For instance, in order to write an effective report one has to master the skill of writing. If one has to flourish as a team leader one has to have some understanding of human psychology and sociology. Verbal skills help one make successful presentations in front of potential clients and sell products in the face of stiff competition. Familiarity with economics helps engineers and technologists in attuning processes and products to market demands thereby garnering greater profits. Very few students are interested in serious study of arts/ humanities, majority of them generally consider study of these disciplines as wastage of time. They cannot be blamed because often the rationale for inclusion of arts in engineering or technology courses is either not articulated properly or simply subverted. Students of engineering or technology must be clearly explained why study of arts forms a part of their curricula. Besides, the components of arts in engineering/ technology curricula should be customized to aid engineering or technological education. For example, civil engineering students could be taught how to write persuasive reports on proposed construction projects in their English class. Agricultural engineering of the future need to be made aware of motivations, emotions, attitudes and prejudice of the farmers. Erudite lectures on Psychology and Sociology make no sense to engineers but linking psychosocial concepts to situations they are going to encounter in their professional lives is sure to stimulate interest. Oil technologists could be explained how market forces influence pricing of oil in their Economics class. Training in comfortable facing interview boards and delivering effectual presentations would help engineers and technologists across the board. In short, bespoke courses are needed; the prevalent generalized approach must be discarded. The cafeteria approach to higher education proposed by the University Grants Commission Promises to let students in non-professional colleges and universities opt for courses of study they are interested in pursuing. This approach implies tailoring of learning experience by individual students. It holds the key to bring together of science and arts disciplines. For instance, a student can choose courses in Physics, Mathematics and Philosophy. Another one can combine Agriculture, Economics and Journalism. This approach if implemented intelligently may not only address learners’ unique need but also enhance their prospects in the job market. However, the approach failed to take off because of lack of logistic and the controversy surrounding its offshoot – the choice based credit system.
There is some efforts to combine knowledge of science and arts. The disciplines- History of Science, Science Journalism, Gender Studies of Science, and Medical Sociology etc. are cases in point. Many more innovative disciplines may be generated by twinning science and arts. Examples are Linguistics of science, Physics of Music, Cognitive Science of Poetry Writing and Appreciation, Application of Statistics in History, Politics of Scientific Enterprise, Geography and Literature and Mathematical Modeling in Psychology. Such courses, at present rarely offered in India, would cater to the niche and ensure better student-teacher ratios. However, interdisciplinarity should not become the excuse for dilution of academic standard; the quest for excellence must continue.
‘Any error in this manuscript is silent testimony of the fact that it was an human effort’