Two cultures, one humanity (1 of 2)

December 2, 2010

Patrick Curry will excuse me if, like many others in these pages, I take the accusation that I am "deluded" as something of a badge of honour in these dark days ("Mission impossible", Letters, 25 November).

Nonetheless, I am somewhat perplexed by Curry's stance. He argues that the thesis discussed in my article, "A grand unified theory of man" (18 November), would be undesirable because "it could never accommodate the natural and social sciences on equal terms". As a result, the integrity of the humanities and social sciences would be lost.

The intellectual defeatism implicit in this view implies that Curry is persuaded by precisely the "scientism" he seems to fear: to whit, the thesis that a unified understanding of humanity would necessarily be based on the natural sciences as opposed to the social sciences and humanities.

I for one am not persuaded by such polemics, a good proportion of which are logically weak, disturbingly self-adulatory and often based, as Curry himself points out, on metaphysical assertions that are far from scientific, even in their own terms. They also fail to theorise about the issue at hand - humanity's profound capacity to shift between distinct modes of knowledge, modes that in turn also organise academic life.

To say that one mode of knowledge (natural science) would beat another (social science/humanities) in such a theory is to miss the point, since both are parts of the puzzle at hand.

Indeed, if there were to be a casualty to a properly formulated unified theory of man, it might be "scientism" itself.

Martin Mills, Senior lecturer in the anthropology of religion, University of Aberdeen.

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