“The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men’s farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title… The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.” — Emerson
The dichotomy between the arts and sciences has always been one that has baffled me. What has been portrayed as antagonistic forces in our society, I’ve always pictured in my mind’s eye as something of the same fabric, living tranquilly side-by-side as byproducts of human behavior, as manifestations of our own experiential limitations. They are both a testament to ignorance and the collective effort to push against that human stigma; we hold within us an equilibrium between humility and belief in human volition. (Richard Feynman has said, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”) Perhaps I am just asserting this to retain my own sanity, to justify the polarities in my own life and for those who have also chosen, some may say, juvenilely, two rather disparate majors. “Like oil and water!” they splutter. And I respond, in a sagely tone of course, “Ah… but they have much more in common than differences. For example, they are jointly considered under the category of ‘liquid’ at room temperature…”
My intent is not so much to provide justification for all those who have chosen both a pursuit in the humanities as well as the sciences. It’s not for convincing ourselves that switching gears from writing a paper arguing the social construction of (insert almost anything here) to applying probability theorems in genetic pedigrees is not difficult. (It depends on how much sleep you’ve had the previous night.) It’s not meant to be a practical explanation, but more compelling and important than that – a brief commentary on our collective acquisition of knowledge throughout the millennia. Essentially, we have ameliorated this unsettling feeling of not knowing by differing means. Feynman, would add, succinctly, at this point, the thesis of my life:
“Although we humans cut nature up in different ways, and we have different courses in different departments, such compartmentalization is really artificial…”
In inspecting the veins on a leaf, an inspired individual could attempt to reach beyond the surface and contribute to a fruitful discussion by, determining an elegant equation that describes the fractal pattern, or by composing a lyrical poem lamenting transience. The end result in both is that a conversation has occurred and that, more than anything else, is it. When Emerson speaks of no individual owning the landscape, no “discipline” owns nature. A common ancestor joins the two, three, hundreds of disciplines, each of which have split off from the main line at different points in human history because each manner of thinking was enormous and could not contain itself. None of this, my field is worthier than yours, left-brain, right-brain hogwash. It’s these complications, the paradoxes, coupled with the constant desire to know and debate and deliberate — those are what matter.