The value of studying science at university is blindingly obvious. Graduates can heal people, discover the universe, and tell us exactly how our world works. How can mere bachelors of the arts hope to match this?
With the rise of tuition fees, arts students will pay more for fewer contact hours compared to science students, indicating the government’s perception of the arts. And yet, the majority of graduate entry jobs simply require a degree – so surely there must be something valuable about an arts degree?
Looking at the bigger picture, science alone is not enough. Yes, research is crucial for solutions to problems such as climate change, but humans are not rational robots; we are creatures of emotion. And it is in articles, books, art, music and films that the fruits of these emotions lie.
How can we appreciate progress if we don’t know what’s come before? And more to the point, why do we even want progress? Arts satisfy the human urge to understand our own experiences. In an age of globalisation and multiculturalism, this is crucial; it is only through empathy that we can be responsible citizens.
This self-reflection also acts as a balance to scientific developments. With cognitive scientists asserting that the mind is simply a computing device, a counterbalancing interpretation is desperately needed to remind us of who we are. During the Cold War, it was only knowledge of the essence of human nature that saved the world from destruction at the hands of ‘scientific progress’, in the form of nuclear weapons.
Grand progress aside, arts offer a unique kind of pleasure; there is not much room for original thinking in science degrees, where all assessments have ‘right answers’. Arts students are taught to think differently, seeing truth in different phenomena. Neither view is superior, but both are necessary.
Those studying arts degrees are paying for far more than merely the “privilege of reading textbooks”. If we cannot ponder as well as empirically prove, we commit ourselves to a close-minded, one-sided, and incomplete study of the world; hardly something conducive to the healthy progression of humankind.
Do you like the Internet? Have you ever watched TV? I thought so. The world around us is dominated by technology. Walk down any high street and the wonders of the modern age will tease and tempt you with their ‘faster processors’ and ‘Higher Definition’. We are living in an age of gadgets, the smartphone and Facebook; we take for granted things that one hundred years ago people accepted as impossible. And who invented it all? That’s right; it was the scientists.
What was science fiction only a few decades ago is now available with a range of covers and accessories. This is possible because of new generations of scientists that have studied long and hard, probed and examined, pushing the limits of what is possible. Yet this debate goes beyond what you study at university. Here, we are talking about society’s general view of the worlds of science and art.
Art tries to recreate some truth, some meaning of the world around us. But our masterpieces, our greatest novels and sonatas will always be constrained by human limitations. Literature, no matter how exquisitely written, can never escape semantics. Science, on the other hand, lets us understand what creates the beauty in the first place. The English writer Alan Moore once said, “Artists use lies to tell the truth” – in turn, scientists simply find the truth.
The idea that art has some particular elegance that science lacks is wrong; Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2has had a greater effect on the world with only three letters than most authors have had with a thousand pages. Its simplicity produces an elegance that cannot be matched by art.
Don’t get me wrong. Art for art’s sake is one of the greatest accomplishments of the human race; it is one of the hallmarks of a civilised, creative society, but the scope of science quite literally knows no bounds. Scientists will always have something to strive for: a purpose. And that is the most valuable thing there is.
‘Yes’ by Chloe Wenman & ‘No’ by Ben Mcgeorge-Henderson
Images by Justin B. Sailor & Sergei Golyshev