Contributoria

Article Movement & Migration

The interplay between 'hard science' and 'soft science'

How they can work better together

Black/White, Male/Female, Rich/Poor and in this Context ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’

Are all these constructs polar opposites of each other, or can they come together and learn from each other in a collaborative way? What’s in a term? Why can’t both or rather all aspects of science and the arts work together and work towards a better, more knowledgeable and more inter-connected world.

I believe they can, I believe they should and I believe with just the right nudges we can start to intertwangle the hard and soft sciences. Pure mathematics has a beauty and rhythm to it, how is this any different to poetry? Why do a lot of mediums and academic subjects and departments dismiss each other, actively denigrate each other and generally, in my opinion, do unconducive things to the furtherance of science and a better world?

I disagree with this artificially and historically constructed divide. I think it’s destructive and ultimately frankly stupid. I think so many people in various spheres of thought, education and academia could learn, inspire and bounce ideas off each other to the betterment of the actual science and even the arts.

This artificial divide really illuminates the wider battles in society. For example, the battle between the sexes. Look at the current controversy over an older Nobel winning scientist named Tim Hunt and his views on girls being distracting in the lab “scientists should work in gender-segregated labs and that the trouble with ‘girls’ is that they cause men to fall in love with them”. This comment on the one hand seems quite innocuous but on closer examination shows his relatively unprogressive, quite old fashioned and misogynistic viewpoint.

The point though is that men and woman do, in my opinion and others of course, think differently and this should be celebrated. This difference is conducive to alternative ways of thinking; coming at a problem from a variety of angles of attack and coming up with a number of solutions to a problem, different but equally valid criticisms of a theory and ‘blue sky’ thinking.

Class is another artificially created human construct. If all our scientists , engineers, artists and writers were from public schools like Eton and Cambridge, what a poorer, less interesting and frankly less progressive world the arts and science would be. Luckily Britain has a relatively meritocratic system in science and, to a lesser extent, the arts. Unfortunately, if you are a writer or an artist, you are more likely to get published if you are from a certain class. Society now recognises 7 classes, rather than the original three: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22007058. It’s much more important to have access to things like ‘social’ and ‘cultural’ capital. Unfortunately, to a certain extent ‘who you know, not what you know’ still applies in journalism, writing, parts of academia and especially getting a job or starting a career.

The society we live in is a flawed construct from the outset. Whether it is how we are governed, how money is created, how our economy works, who has the power and importantly who doesn’t have that power. We are oppressed consciously and at a fundamental level by design. Large parts of our society and its people, for example in education and access to welfare, simply don’t even have access to the basics any more (food, housing, transport, education and any actual investment in them). A truly progressive society should provide these basics to all its people regardless of class, race and gender.

Getting back to the hard and soft Sciences; I think that we need to tear down this divide and build bridges to each sphere and all the stores of knowledge that are out there. We could come up with so many new breakthroughs, ideas, plans, inventions, social theories and practicable solutions if we all had equal access to the world and the entirety of academia’s output.

I find my friends who are engineers, physicists and mathematicians can sometimes forget to actually factor people into their models and equations. Equally I find my friends who are social scientists, philosophers and writers sometimes forget to factor reality, real world scenarios and practicality into their models, ideas and analysis.

I want the different spheres of academia to work better together. 100 years ago scientists were poets, philosophers and social scientists too. The great Victorian engineers and scientists believed they were designing and building a new society and that included factoring people into their grandiose visions. Often it included radical social change too, usually as a by-product of the vision but sometimes projects of large scope and scale had new ways of living, creating and sharing right at the heart of the project.

I think science in particular these days has increasingly stranded or hard to access stores of knowledge. This is because it can often take 15, 20 or even sometimes 30 years to learn, understand and then build on your predecessors work. This can sometimes lead to rigid thinking and dogmatic ways of doing things. Less ‘thinking outside the box’. What’s needed in my opinion is a more melting pot of ideas where artists, scientists, social theorists and writers can collaborate more and bounce ideas and thoughts off each other, which could possibly lead to new ways of thinking about the fundamental problem or idea that needs solving.

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