- No Aporias Allowed:Posthumanism and the Humanities
Scientists always stomp around meetings talking about “bridging the two-culture gap,” but when scores of people from outside the sciences begin to build just that bridge, they recoil in horror and want to impose the strangest of all gaps of free speech since Socrates: only scientists can speak about science!1—Latour (1999, 17)
No thinking man believes what contradicts his reason. Faith is a natural virtue by which we accept the truths which Elohim has revealed to us through conscience.—Lautréamont (1978, 273)
This is the argument: The discipline of the Humanities warrants reorientation in light of contemporary digital culture. The humanities, as developed from Renaissance Humanism, has always been focused on the study of (mostly western) human culture. [End Page 75]
The fact is that human culture has been changed irretrievably by the digital revolution; thus, we must consider that such a change impacts the manner in which we study, interpret, and analyze human artifacts, texts, and cultural products. The Humanities has been unable so far to readdress its educational project in light of the realities of the digital turn. The Humanities are thus becoming increasingly irrelevant compared to cognitive science, neuroscience, and computer science.
What I want to investigate in this essay is a possible way to address this argument outside of the usual parameters of the debate between science and the humanities (long referred as the “two cultures”2). What has been the main problematic of the debate as it has been approached so far, is the notion that science and the humanities are inherently different; that they are essentially, methodologically at odds. The informed reader might wonder why I am positing something that has already been discussed and concluded: science and the humanities are searching for the same answers; whether they might seem to be using different methods, they are both involved with knowledge, etc. They are compatible.
Formidable books have been written on the subject of the compatibility between science and the humanities.3 What we need is to open up a “dialogue” between the disciplines so that they may work together, etc. The fact of the matter is that there is no real dialogue between science and the humanities at the educational level. Yes, we have plenty of academic discourses enlightening us about the intersections between science and the humanities; about the aesthetic dimension of science and the historical import of science studies; about the “faith-based” rhetoric of both the scientific quest and the quasi-sacred quest of the humanities.4 But in the realm of education and its real concomitant shareholder, public policy, the gulf is wider than ever. In terms of political and economic realities, there is no longer debate. The answer is simply STEM.5 [End Page 76]
Of course, that is not an answer, but a surrender to the market reality that science and technology are economically more important than the humanities. Case closed. It is orthodoxy in terms of economics and thus public policy. STEM is now the new paradigm for education, something the humanities has at least tacitly, at times openly, accepted: Its intellectual retort is the quite silly notion of “STEAM,” that is “Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics.” Embarrassingly, the feeble STEAM movement calls for the appreciation of “creativity” and “imagination” that “art” supplies, to somehow compliment the “real sciences.”6 The STEAM position reduces “art” to some puerile self-expressive activity that plays right into the hands of those who conceive of the humanities (a synonym for “art”) as worthless and irrelevant time-wasting.
Within academic discourse, there is growing discussion about of a “third culture,”7 a new trajectory of inquiry where the historical realities of science and the evolving issues of information, communication, systems and technology are being analyzed and examined in deeply fruitful ways. But the reality is that these discussions are not part of the political and economic realities of American education. Thus, if we wish for something more than an insular debate we must find a conduit through which the humanities will not simply complement, but lead the inevitable study, examination, analysis...