Ends and meanings (1 of 2)

September 20, 2012

The trouble with Martin Willis' admirable feature "Curiosity knows no bounds" (13 September) is that there is a flaw at the heart of his argument. Yes, the sciences and humanities share a motivation - curiosity - and methods - observation, imagination - but they are directed towards incompatible ends.

The big picture for science is that it is trying to move towards a so-called "theory of everything". The premise is that science uncovers the causes of things, as Isaac Newton found the cause of the rainbow. Scientists then deduce that everything has a cause and their ideal is, of course, to find it.

But this has heavy implications. If everything has a cause, we have a cause and all our actions have causes. This contradicts the message of the humanities, which begin with the premise that we are human beings and the most important thing to understand is our humanity, especially our free will, creativity and so on.

If everything is predetermined by causes, we do not have genuine free will or creativity, only the illusion of these things. And if these things are illusions, the humanities are an illusion.

It is the takeover of education by business management that has favoured science above the humanities (obviously enough, because science is the goose that lays the golden eggs). By any other human yardstick, the humanities come first. Today, new developments in philosophy are pointing towards a Kantian-type view of the Universe where the laws of science are explained as necessary preconditions for our humanity.

Chris Ormell, Editor, Prospero

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