American Council of Learned Societies
Occasional Paper No. 47

The Humanities and The Sciences

The session on "The Humanities and The Sciences"
was presented on May 1, 1999, in Philadelphia, PA,
as part of the ACLS Annual Meeting.

by Billy E. Frye, Moderator

Creativity in Science
by Jerome Friedman

Objectivity is Romantic
by Peter Galison

Science, Literature, and the "Literature of Science"
by Susan Haack

with opening remarks by James Gustafson
and closing remarks by John H. D'Arms


Billy E. Frye, Moderator (Emory University): I have asked my friend and colleague, Dr. James Gustafson, to lead off the discussion with a few remarks about the papers that have been presented by Drs. Friedman, Galison, and Haack, and he has agreed to do so. A distinguished theologian and ethicist, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Jim Gustafson is well known to most of you. He spent eighteen years at Yale and sixteen more at the University of Chicago, an apprenticeship that led him to Emory in 1987—a progression to which our other speakers may yet aspire! At Emory, he led a seminar of faculty exploring major issues from different disciplinary perspectives. I know of no one who better understands what our conversation entails, and I am pleased to ask him to make a few observations.

James Gustafson (Emory University): I think we've had a very worthy feast here and I will make only a few comments. Each of these three presentations addresses a very different intersection of the sciences and the humanities. In this sense, they simply illustrate what could be treated more expansively in terms of many wider intersections of the humanities and the sciences. Professor Friedman gave us an interpretation and understanding of the generative intellectual process of creativity and of the ways in which it functions in science and in the arts. One issue not addressed is whether creativity functions in humanistic scholarship in the same way that it functions in the arts, and the extent to which certain forms of humanistic scholarship are now reducing the role of imagination and seeking to supplement certain versions of scientific inquiry.

But if we were to explore the creativity and the generative processes that go on in our scholarly research, we would be engaged in a radically different enterprise than the other two presentations illustrate. We would be looking for information. We would be looking for ideas. We would be looking for concepts by which we could specify not only the general basis of creativity but also the ways in which creativity functions in the context of different materials that we use. Professor Galison's presentation is one that interests me a great deal because it leads us to a consideration of particular research and its history, so that issues that often are dealt with in very abstract terms are seen to be pertinent to the ways in which certain things are depicted and therefore described—ways in which certain salient features of a depiction are highlighted; the significance of salience; the role of judgment that changes as you shift from the genius to the mechanical to the judgmental.

My own judgment is that we can advance our discussions about relations of science to humanities if we undertake more projects of this kind. That is to say, how is the same phenomenon depicted differently by different scholars? And how do we make a case that one depiction of it is more accurate than the other, relative to the interests of our research? Further, what are the proper concepts to use in order to interpret that phenomenon, and what is the context for those concepts? I believe that when we begin with a more specific phenomenon, we can avoid some of the more abstract "culture war" types of polemics in discussions of the relationship of the sciences and the humanities, because we are making particular judgments about particular issues.

Allow me to illustrate that with an incident that occurred in the seminars that I was teaching. We had a new colleague—Berkeley-trained, new historicist, feminist—who was making the argument with reference to the biological sciences that the biological sciences are social constructions. At which point one of Emory's more eminent scientists began to agree with her, as he had been reading [Paul K.] Feyerabend, [Thomas S.] Kuhn, and others. I began to get a little worried, so I said in my jocular way that I wasn't going to call my friends at NIH and tell them that there is a scientist at Emory who is now saying that contemporary biology was only different from Aristotle's biology and not better than Aristotle's biology. What was interesting was that during the next session of the seminar, the biologist asked the historian of Florentine women, "Are your studies only different from or are they better than previous studies of Florentine women?" At that point we can begin to reflect: if we introduce the word "better," we have to come up with evidence and an argument addressing what is better. And when we can do that with particular research projects in which there is a conjunction or intersection of scientific and humanistic studies then I think we can pursue these problems with greater refinement and greater effectiveness.

I'm going well beyond our discussions now, but one of the projects I think is very interesting is just a discussion of the human itself. I am interested in looking at different delineations—I won't even call them definitions—of what constitutes a human, and then the ways in which economists, psychologists, various behavioral scientists, biologists, and other scholars have their own modes of interpreting and understanding the human and the clashes that arise, concerning not only the relevant data and the relevant concepts but the value structures or value commitments of the people engaged in these projects.

Professor Haack has given us quite a different orientation, based on some of her previous work. That is to say: here we would be discussing at a more general level what kinds of language are appropriate to the materials that we are dealing with. I won't go further except to suggest that the possible range of intersections in science and humanities has only been hinted at in these three presentations, and that with the help of some administrators it is possible for us in our universities to become much more engaged in a much more serious and disciplined way with these particular issues.

Billy E. Frye: Ladies and gentlemen, let's begin the discussion. I invite you to pose a question to the panel or the appropriate member of the panel.

For my part, I want to make this one comment: I know that the conversation we are calling for and attempting to have is extremely difficult at times. The limitations of time, the demands of disciplinary specialization, the dangers (that I exemplify) of knowing more and more about less and less. These are all very real problems of which we need to be wary, but at the same time I am equally convinced that some of the difficulties we ourselves have created, with the overly specialized, sometimes pompous rhetoric of disciplinary rigidities in our universities that make it difficult to cross the boundaries and talk with one another. And so I think it's absolutely essential to take down some of the barriers. And, again, I just want to thank you for creating the conversation and invite you now to raise your questions or remarks.

David Green (National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage): I don't know whether I'm allowed to ask two questions. One would be short, which is just an invitation to Peter Galison whether he would like to predict the next step and perhaps the role of virtual reality and artists in the development he was mapping out.

My second question is rather larger. It's clear that we have very established disciplines in both the history and philosophy of science and the history and philosophy of technology. But as far as I know, we don't really have anything approaching a history of the humanities. I guess the question is, apart from why, whether our panelists might feel there may be the beginnings of a history and philosophy of either the humanities or of any of its constituent disciplines.

Peter Galison (Harvard University); Those are two difficult questions. One of the things that characterizes a lot of the recent use of images in science—or, more precisely, the physical sciences, I won't speak to the biological sciences—is non-mimetic images: images that don't purport to stand for something recognizable as naturally occurring object, but related to the behaviors of objects in other ways. And one of the things that I gather from colleagues who study nonlinear dynamics and other related topics is that the pictures actually become quite important in terms of recognizing patterns even before it's known how to interpret those patterns. And there is an older example that Jerry Friedman's remarks call to mind: that in the case of simply scattering patterns that don't represent the object in any mimetic way, but represent a transformation of those objects, already it was difficult to try to establish patterns and to reconstruct the original spatial form on the basis of this transformed image. But I think that images are immensely dense ways of conveying and encoding information, and our ability to understand how they should function seems to me not at all exhausted by what we've seen so far. It's hard to say in any strong, predictive way where that would go. But I would look especially to the domain of non-mimetic images.

As for the second question—of whether there is attention paid to the history of the humanities—I think there is increasing interest in the history of scholarship now. Broadly construed, I know that in the history of science, for example, after a relatively long dry season of not very much interest in the history of the social sciences, there is increasing interest in that field, and a larger and larger number of interesting studies have come out about the history of the social sciences. My sense is that the history of scholarship on the humanities, which is mostly oriented towards the early modern period, will eventually move into the more modern period. The biggest gap, I would say, is the history of the humanities in the last two centuries. The early modern and pre-modern humanities—that is to say, the history of scholarship, broadly conceived, in the pre-modern and early modern period—has been an area of investigation for some time. One thinks for example of [Anthony] Grafton at Princeton who has done extensive work in this domain. But there are many others.

Harold Orlans (Change Magazine): I'd like your comments on what strike me as the rather hubristic outlook of science and Montaigne's remark that God has not pledged to limit Himself to our understanding.

Jerome Friedman(Massachusetts Institute of Technology): Well, let me say the point is, first of all, science does not give us what I call truths. We have models of how the world works and the models are as good as the experiments that support them. As we know, for example, we had Newton's laws, which worked extremely well, but we found that if you go to high velocities they are superseded by special relativity. Now it turns out that special relativity in the limit of low velocity gives you these laws exactly. So this is the way science progresses: it gives us a model, and as we learn more the model is perfected. Whether we will have the absolute model, which is the law, one never knows and cannot know. And so I hope I didn't convey the tremendous hubris that you suggest I did, because I do believe that science has its limitations. However, at the same time, it is remarkably successful. For example, today we have a so-called standard model in particle physics that is a remarkable intellectual development. Given the current accelerator energies, it explains everything observed, but we know that if we go up a factor ten in energy, it starts falling apart. There's something more there that we don't understand. And this is why experimentation continues to go on, and to go on at various levels. But we'll never know if we have the exact answer.

Martin Ostwald (American Philological Association; Swarthmore College and University of Pennsylvania): I want to say a number of things. First of all, I want to compliment the administration of the ACLS for having staged this particular colloquium, and I want to compliment them and the speakers for the variety of approaches and the variety of expression that we have been witnessing this morning. As far as substance is concerned, one word that came up in my mind as foremost in all the speeches is "truth." And I have come to the conclusion and have been confirmed in the conclusion that there ain't no such thing. [Laughter] There is an approach to truth, and I think it's an approach that characterizes activities in the humanities just as much as in the sciences. I believe with the first speaker that one might try to accomplish something similar for the humanities as has been accomplished by our three speakers this morning, and in a way a tiny beginning has already been made. I don't know whether you are aware of The History of Manners: a series of volumes published some years ago, of uneven quality, but the attempt certainly shows that not every generation puts into the foreground of its consciousness and its activity the same kind of thing. And as a matter of fact, in my own field—Classics—I could write, I suppose, more than one volume about the different approaches to the human animal in classical antiquity, the methods of exploring it, and the ways of understanding it that have emerged in the last two centuries. So the kind of change which you observe in your various fields and your various manners can, I'm sure, also be traced in the humanities, and when that is accomplished, I would not be surprised to discover how closely they follow step in step.

Jerome Friedman: May I make one comment on that? In my talk, I tried to place art at one point and science at another. But there's a continuum all the way across, and the point is that creativity is similar throughout the entire continuum. In a certain sense, the humanities proceed by inquiry, and the same kinds of insight and flashes of insight in terms of understanding something that come in the sciences will come in the humanities, making relationships between various aspects of the study. So I don't see any real differentiation from that point of view.

Susan Haack (University of Miami): I'm sorry if it seems a little churlish to disagree with someone who was so nice about this, but I think I had better own up. I think there is such a thing as truth. I'm a contrite fallibilist who believes that we very rarely have it, and that when we do have it, we very rarely know that we do. I'd like to ask you this question: I take it that the idea of approaching Australia when there's no such thing as Australia doesn't make any sense. And I'm inclined to say that, similarly, the idea of approaching the truth when there's no such thing as the truth makes about as much sense as the approaching Australia idea. Perhaps I'll say one more thing (I don't think it's anything fancy): I think that Aristotle had it right to say of what is that it is, or of what is not that it is not, is true.

Jerome Friedman: Let me comment upon that, because I don't actually think it's a disagreement. No, clearly there are laws of nature: there's no question about that—otherwise, we wouldn't be in the business of trying to understand them. However, the question is whether we will ever get there, and if we do get there, how will we know it. How will we know that we have gotten the absolute truth of the laws of nature? That's the real issue. For example, in mathematics you have Gödel's theory, which tends to create some problems in mathematical logic—and mathematics has always been considered such a precise and well-structured point of view. So, in a strange sense the real issue here is: yes, there's probably something that we will get to, but we will never know whether it is the truth. For example, people today are working on the ultimate theory of everything. We will not know whether we have gotten there, because what kind of experiments do you have to perform in all conceivable situations to ensure that the theory of everything really is covering everything. So we make great progress, and science is wonderful, and we understand immense numbers of things: it's unbelievable what we understand. But whether or not we will ever get to "the truth" is an open question.

Susan Haack: Well, I don't think we disagree. Charles Peirce, who is a philosopher I greatly admire, once wrote: "Out of a contrite fallibilism, combined with a high faith in the reality of knowledge, all my philosophy has always seemed to grow." Every time I read it, I say, "Me, too."

Martin Ostwald: I'm not sure whether Professor Haack really intended to ask me a question. I can answer her very simply by requesting that she reformulate her question to me by substituting Plato for Aristotle. Plato did believe that there were absolutes—in absolute moral values that are noble in a certain way. I do not think that Aristotle followed him in that. He was influenced by Plato but he broke down the quest for the absolute much more in the way in which Professor Friedman and I seem to be wanting to do it, if I interpret you correctly.

Susan Haack: That is a different question altogether. It's one question whether there are truths, another whether there is such a thing as "the truth." I think Professor Friedman and I agree that there is and there are, though our access is fallible and limited to a very high degree. It's an entirely different question whether those truths extend to moral truths as opposed to factual truths—another and, I think, much harder question. And nothing that I said committed me either way on that question, which I still refuse to answer on the grounds that it might incriminate me. I haven't thought it through enough.

Susan McClary (University of California, Los Angeles): I'm a musicologist, and one of the things that I was thinking of when I listened to Peter Galison's wonderful talk is that musicology has wanted to go back and freeze itself in that moment of objectivity. And there are reasons for that that have mostly to do with postwar politics. During the Second World War and during the Soviet era, there were tremendous abuses in interpretations of music, literature, and many other things. That isn't your problem—that's our problem: how to be able to interpret again without tripping over the same traps that occurred in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union. And of course, the same kinds of issues arise in the biological sciences. I've been reading Gerard Diamond recently, my colleague at UCLA. He tries to get into questions of why it is that people in various parts of the world advanced more easily—whether there were differences in innate faculties or resources. Or when you talk about anything that gets close to human beings such as sexuality: how to understand sexuality? Is sexuality something that is connected to what we are biologically, or is it completely culturally constructed? It seems to me that these questions lead to the same kinds of tensions that we are dealing with today: inquiries that may be scientific but that are very much charged, that can have real ramifications in the world. I wonder if you would mind speaking to that. I know that your perspective comes out of the biological sciences, but these seem to me to be issues that bring the humanities and the sciences very close together: what we do when we get into those difficult areas where interpretation can impinge on the way we understand our lives.

Peter Galison: Thank you. I think our discussion actually touches on something quite important, and that is that we are accustomed, in the moral and political sciences, to the idea that certain virtues can conflict and that some of the things that we desire may conflict with other things that we desire: that both may be good, and that we may not be choosing between the good and the bad but between two goods that conflict. And part of what I wanted to suggest is that the epistemic virtues that we have in science can also sometimes find themselves in conflict, at certain times and in certain places and disciplines. So, for example, in the mid-to-late nineteenth century or even in the early twentieth century, photography of certain processes—anatomical processes, microscopic photography—often lead to blurry black and white pictures with very little depth of field. Accuracy was being sacrificed for objectivity. But objectivity was not an arbitrary and absurd epistemic goal: it was a virtue. It was put in place for exactly the reasons that you suggest in your question, namely in an attempt to eliminate the system-building sort of ideological overview that was distorting the visual world in order to make it conform with some pre-established system. Very capable scientists across a wide range of disciplines were willing to make that kind of sacrifice. And that's what Lowell does at a certain point in his discussion of Mars. He could draw a better picture, a colored picture, a more detailed picture of what he was seeing through the telescope than he could get out of a blurry black and white picture that wouldn't reproduce in the newspapers and that was costing him a debate, a very public and painful debate, about the surface of Mars. But he was willing to make that sacrifice because he was so committed to this notion of objectivity.

Later, in the other examples that I discussed, people were not willing to make that sacrifice; they said that adding judgment and interpretation was crucial to be able to extract the interesting lesions, the interesting magnetametric measurements of the sun, the interesting features of certain biological or anatomical processes, and that in order to be able to make salient the features that were necessary for the advancement of science, they were willing to sacrifice the kind of mechanical objectivity that would have disallowed any kind of intervention in these images. Now I've chosen the images because it's a big but restricted domain, and I'm not trying to talk about all scientific practice. But the example of these two sometimes conflicting virtues of accuracy and objectivity addresses, it seems to me, the concern that musicology as you describe it seems to be facing as scholars begin to debate the disadvantages of allowing interpretation, because it allows a kind of crushing of history and of music and of theory. At the same time, to disallow interpretation in an extreme fashion—in order to achieve a certain kind of objectivity—flattens and deadens the discipline. So I think that the issue that is common to my concerns and the concerns that you voice has to do with what happens when at a given time epistemic virtues find themselves in conflict.

Philip L. Quinn (American Philosophical Association; University of Notre Dame): A generation ago, as many will recall, C.P. Snow wrote about the sciences and the humanities as two cultures: cultures that didn't understand each other very well. Snow thought, perhaps prejudicially, that scientists were better at coming to terms with humanistic culture than the other way around. For the sake of historical perspective the question is, "So, what's new?" Is the problem any different now than it was then? More urgent? Closer to solution?

Susan Haack: I'm not sure I can answer the question as put, but I can come at it obliquely, if you'll forgive me. It seems to me, perhaps, that if you come at this issue from within philosophy, it looks very different depending on which wing of philosophy you are coming from: that is to say, if like myself, you were trained analytically. Nowadays if anybody asks me what party I belong to, if they really insist, I say, "Well, I guess I'm a sort of an analytical pragmatist." If you are trained that way, one thing that's absolutely clear from the beginning is that philosophy is a form of inquiry: we are trying to figure some things out, and I think that means that even if you work very hard, as I do, to try to avoid that aping of the sciences—trying to look more like a physicist than you really have any right to be—you do in fact have a sort of affinity with your scientific colleagues, which can be much harder to achieve with your literary colleagues. My sense is, it's more work for me to talk to literary scholars. And one of the things that I find disturbing about this is, having worked for nearly twenty years at a university only forty miles away from the Royal Shakespeare Company's home, I am full of Shakespeare, I'm an aficionado, and yet that doesn't help very much. I don't find that my breaking into Helena insulting Hermia (one of my favorite insults of all time) helps a lot in that dialogue. And I think it's perhaps because it's no longer so clear that literary scholars think of themselves as simply engaged in inquiry in the way in which I do and Professor Friedman does. Do you see what I mean?

Jerome Friedman: I think that this question has many different ramifications. One is the question: are there differences in the activities? Yes, there are. There are also great similarities. That's what I tried to point out in my talk. The question is, what is the public perception, or the perception in each field? That question has to do with the education that actually takes place in our society. For a long time it was thought that science was only for people who wanted to be specialists. People in the humanities did not get a real grounding in science, and science departments did not make courses available to people in the humanities, which I think is one of the things that contributed to this separation. I think there's a greater awareness today that we live in one culture. Humanities is an activity, science is an activity: it is human activity, with many great similarities. To be a cultured person today, one has to understand all these things. And I think there's a greater willingness today in the educational system to try to provide this understanding. For example, many physics departments across the country now have courses called "Physics for Poets," where the idea is to try to get across the conceptual points of view to people who are going to focus on humanities, economics, or social sciences, without going into the fine details of the mathematics. And I think that as we extend our educational system, this difference in the two cultures will start melting away.

Peter Galison: I'd like to take a crack at that. I think that the C.P. Snow debate, which came out of an internal Cambridge squabble with F.R. Leavis, phrased things in a way that I think doesn't help us very much: that is to say, I don't think it's the same discussion that we are having now. Snow in the end wanted to make points about whether each side knew certain facts: his favorite phrase, which he repeats over and over again, was "Do you know the second law of thermodynamics?" And I think that the knowledge of certain particular results is really not the issue. The issues that interest me in joining the humanities and the sciences and, I think, interest in different ways Jerry and Susan, have to do with what counts as a demonstration or as an argument. In the cases that I presented here today, how do pictures function and what role do they play in different sectors of the culture? I mean to ask questions about practice rather than results.

For example, if you look at, say, the way popular science is often presented in journals, it consists of results isolated one from the other, written in a narration of a constantly shifting set of metaphors. And to me that removes precisely what is the most interesting feature of science: the connected or extended argument, the fact that things are linked together. I don't think that C.P. Snow's argument about teaching people cool scientific facts, and getting them to be able to say "entropy always increases" at the appropriate signal is an advance in linking the humanities and the sciences, but I think that the issue comes to mean something when we ask questions about what counts as reasoning, what counts as a demonstration, what is an argument in different contexts. Or when the humanities, social sciences, and sciences have to grapple with common problems that none of them can solve independently: issues of computer privacy or weapons and other questions that simply cannot be isolated in one sector or the other. They are not going to be solved by simply applying a formula from an older, idealized moral philosophy, and they are not going to be solved in the normal everyday language internal to computer science or molecular biology. These are two places where I would look for common ground: extending issues of practice, or focusing on a common topic where different skills are needed. Neither of these is captured by the C.P. Snow/Leavis debate that is, it seems to me, of no great present concern.

Brian Foster (University of Nebraska): I wonder if this C.P. Snow question might be addressed in a slightly different way looking at applied science. Somehow, we tend to have these discussions by looking at "pure" science and the humanities, but in fact the cultures of applied science and basic science are more different than the cultures of basic science and the humanities. Applied science is an extraordinarily messy business: it's ideological, and it's driven by economics and government and manufacturing processes and all kinds of things that make it very, very different from what drives basic science. So I wonder if our panelists could comment on whether one might help advance the discussion a bit by looking at that contrast: by triangulating on this issue with basic science and pure science and the humanities.

Jerome Friedman: Let me comment on that. I think I would have to disagree with you that there's such a fundamental distinction between basic science and applied science. Actually, it's a continuum: many applied scientists learn a great deal in basic science, and—this has been historically the case—in carrying out their applied science. Conversely, many basic scientists learn about applications in trying to build instrumentation to carry out their basic science. The point is that the rules of verification and the rules of whether or not something works are the same. Therefore, in a certain sense, the actual scientific practice is not different. The major difference is that in basic science you are trying to understand things only for the sake of understanding: you have no idea whether your understanding will ever be applicable to anything. But you have a great view of history which says that knowledge has been power in the past, and that whatever we've learned has been to a large extent applied, and that it can be applied in a beneficial way. Some things are misapplied, also. But I think that there isn't that great a distinction between applied science and basic science.

Susan Haack: I think there is another set of issues that we are missing, a rather important set. It seems to me that one of the places in our society and in our culture where science plays an enormously important role that we haven't talked about at all is where it interfaces with the law. One of the things that we are seeing in recent Supreme Court cases is the great difficulty of a legal system in which the personnel is not generally scientifically literate, in terms of results or procedures, trying to grapple with the fact that a great deal of cases now turn on scientific evidence which the people asked to judge are not in a good position to do.

Jerome Friedman: Well, it goes further than that, because in a democratic society many decisions have to be made which have a tremendously important scientific component, and the lawmakers and the public ultimately have to make those decisions, and one of the great problems that we have . . .

Susan Haack: . . . is knowing enough to make them wisely . . .

Jerome Friedman: . . . make them wisely, and having the appropriate scientific literacy in the educational system to prevent these decisions from being made blindly. I think this is, in a certain sense, a great responsibility of the scientific community. Scientific societies across the nation have come to this realization in the last few decades, that they have to go out and take positions on public issues not so much to tell the society, the government, or the public what should be done, but to make clear what the alternatives are and what the consequences of the alternatives will be. And so you have put your finger on an extremely important issue.

Susan Haack: It seems to me there are two questions: one is about what ends we should be pursuing, which is properly a question of the people who are affected. And the other is about what means would achieve them, which is something that, very often, we need someone with more knowledge than ourselves to tell us.

Jerome Friedman: It really tells us that the idea of having a scientific culture completely out of the public culture is not acceptable and that . . .

Susan Haack: . . . it's not an option.

Jerome Friedman: It's not an option for the future.

Michael Roth (Getty Research Institute): I think my question follows on that point, but it's probably at a lower level, because I think I'm less a fan of one culture than the other participants. And I don't see any urgency for this dialogue in which humanists would learn from scientists except in one key area, and that is fundraising. [Laughter] Because, clearly, one of the things that drives both basic research and applied science is an enormous capacity for scientists to use the government for their own ends and to raise money for research. And I think one of the driving concerns should be to learn how scientists are able to convince otherwise rather sober legislatures to support their views of history and research. I also wonder if you could comment on the role of fundraising and popularization for basic pure research.

Jerome Friedman: First of all, I find it unfortunately surprising that you have no curiosity about how the world works. It seems to me that humanists should have the same curiosity as anyone in the human race about why certain things occur and to what extent we understand them—not that you could understand these things in the mathematical detail that the scientific discipline has, but many of the ideas are really conceptual. You can understand these things from a conceptual point of view, and it seems to me that that's part of our culture. To say that we should not really be interested . . .

Michael Roth: I didn't say we shouldn't be interested . . . I think to be a literate person, one wants to read as much as possible. But that's just asking people to be good. I'm asking a question about how science operates to ensure a continuation of its research paradigms through the development of machinery that is very expensive, and how that case gets made through the rhetoric of science.

Jerome Friedman: Okay. What one has to do is lobby. There's no question about it. [Laughter] And the scientific community lobbies continuously. They have to, because there is a very short memory in Washington about such things. And I think it's very important that the humanities community lobby, too, given the very paltry contributions made to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. I find it disgraceful how little is being spent each year for these two agencies. And I think one has to organize in a grassroots way, to get one's membership to go and see their representatives and their senators and tell them how important it is in education and in society to provide better support for the humanities and the arts. There is no substitute for that. That's what has to be done. It's not easy, and it invariably takes more time than you will ever imagine, and it's not always very successful. But you just have to keep doing it. That's the lesson as far as I can see.

Susan Haack: I'm curious, Jerry, whether you would agree with this thought. It seems to me that there was a time when a scientist could get important results with equipment about as sophisticated as, say, a candle or a piece of string.

Jerome Friedman: Yes.

Susan Haack: The problem is that having obtained those results, you now need ever more sophisticated equipment to make ever more recherché observations.

Jerome Friedman: That's correct.

Susan Haack: And the enterprise gets more expensive.

Jerome Friedman: That's correct.

Susan Haack: And it seems to me that what I do really isn't quite like that, because all that I require is time and peace of mind. Those are expensive commodities, but relative to what you require, they are relatively economical.

Jerome Friedman: You are very fortunate in that respect, Susan. [Laughter] What I mean is that in a certain sense, the scientific enterprise is a victim of its own success, because as you learn more the problems become deeper and more difficult to investigate, and they become invariably more expensive. For example, there's a principal in quantum mechanics which says that if you want to measure something which is smaller, you have to obtain more energy. It's built into quantum mechanics; you can't escape it. So if you want to probe nature at the smallest dimensions you can, you must produce more energy. And for every factor of ten by which you want to decrease or increase your magnification, you pay a factor of ten in energy. That can be very expensive. And that's the thing. What happens is that at some point, there will be a real breakthrough or someone will find a new way of producing high energies at a lower cost. But until that occurs, you're on a certain curve that becomes increasingly difficult. For example, when the scientific community wanted to build a super collider, the project was killed because it was deemed to be too expensive for the national program. (That was part of the reason.) And the reason that that big machine was needed was not because physicists like to play with bigger and bigger toys: it's because they wanted to explore at smaller and smaller dimensions. They wanted to see, for example, whether there was something in quarks—whether quarks were the last building blocks of nature. So, yes, there are many issues like that, and they require money, and they are expensive.

Peter Galison: I think that if you look at some of these questions historically, some of it is messy and difficult. Looking at why English exists as a subject matter, you know there's a gender/historical aspect to that, to the function of teaching literature to women in an area where classical languages are considered to be a male dominion. If you want to know why physics—the political economy of physics—changes after the involvement of physics in the Second World War but not so much in the First World War, you need to look at the details of how that evolved. I don't think that one can make facile remarks about physicists simply "getting what they want": in fact, physics and the university and the other disciplines—including the humanities—are implicated. It's a long, difficult discussion that has an historical and political-economic side to it. So it's not necessarily the case that even if one had the rhetorical skills of the high energy physicists between 1947 and 1989 that one would get the same sort of funding for other disciplines. Physics was situated differently in a different historical epoch, with a different political economy.

Jerome Friedman: That's correct. There are historical reasons why, for example, physics obtained funding very easily after the Second World War. But those historical difference have disappeared, and right now the physics community is obliged to go out and seek funding for its projects.

Peter Galison: One of the things you can see that the humanities and sciences have in common is that both have been singularly unsuccessful at explaining what they do to an educated public-unpersuasive. I think that it's not enough to point to Shakespeare or point to a finished piece of technology—to somebody's Walkman— and say, "Therefore you should do X." It requires something different.

Now, some disciplines have been more successful in getting their demands met than either physics or the humanities: astronomy, say. Astronomers are quite skilled at explaining why it's interesting to do that—better than either humanists or scholars in the physical sciences.

Jerome Friedman: Well, I think everyone who has gazed at the sky understands why it's easier.

Peter Galison: But they've done a good job at it . . .

Jerome Friedman: . . . they've done a good job, and they are also getting some fabulous new results, which have helped them enormously. Still, for example, I think it's a shame that whenever any school district needs to cut its budget it eliminates the arts program first. And I think that's something the humanities and arts communities have to address locally—to make sure that arts programs are maintained in local school systems. There is just no way of escaping that kind of activity, and if you don't have arts programs in the public schools, you lose a generation of people who understand little about the arts and will have much less appreciation later in life. Therefore, it's a self-generating area: it generates a public that will be less receptive to funding for the humanities and the arts.

Billy E. Frye: Colleagues, I hate to cut in, but I must. We are obviously just getting the discussion started and many of you, like me, would like it to go on. However, time constraints force me to invite [ACLS President] John D'Arms to the podium to pronounce some form of benediction over us. [Laughter]

John H. D'Arms (American Council of Learned Societies): No benedictions, only loud hosannas. On behalf of the ACLS, I want to express warmest thanks to Jerry, Peter, and Susan; and also to Billy Frye and Jim Gustafson: all of you have helped to clarify points of connections between the sciences and the humanities, offering us better ways to understand the fundamental differences and similarities between and among them, and to move forward. It's been a remarkably well-focused discussion, and I also compliment those in the audience who asked such good questions.

On the last issue we've been discussing, increased federal funding for the humanities and the arts, I agree with Peter Galison that these communities need to be more persuasive in communicating what we do to an educated public. We're certainly trying: the Chairmen of the two National Endowments (for the Humanities and the Arts) are working hard; John Hammer and his colleagues at the National Humanities Alliance are making admirable efforts; and through virtually all of the constituent societies of ACLS, organized initiatives at "outreach" are either long-established or getting underway. The challenge here is not so very different from the one that all first-rate translators confront: seeking to do justice to their originals (in this case, works of scholarship) while also rendering these more generally accessible.

On the other hand, we can't forget that the human adventure has always been as full of darkness as of light, and that much of the strongest humanistic scholarship has always been uncomfortably contrarian, as ready to be critical of social and cultural arrangements as to be celebratory. The US Congress has been expressing anxiety about this dilemma ever since their acrimonious debate in 1814 over whether to acquire Thomas Jefferson's magnificent library for the federal government. Successful public outreach, in short, is never going to be easily accomplished. But then, what really worthy project ever is?


* The discussion is presented as transcribed and edited by ACLS for publication. Participants are identified by affiliations at the time (May 1999). [Back to text.]
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