Friday, July 24, 2009

Never the Twain Shall Meet

I like to think of myself as fairly well-rounded: though I studied literature in school, I also enjoy playing music, I like astronomy, and find geology to be absolutely fascinating. Very few people, however, upon finding out I like literature will give me any kind of credit for being multi-dimensional. Instead, they will make jokes about the difficulty of math and science, apparently assuming that if I can "read good" I can't do anything else "good."

(For example, I once had someone who was taking a College Algebra class ask me in a patronizing voice if I knew how to solve for x in an fx equation. My answer? "Bitch, I got up to Calculus in high school and tested out of all college math courses. Don't get that tone out with me!" Luckily, we were good enough friends to get over that unfortunate incident with a minimum of fuss.)

My point is this: there is a kind of us v. them mindset in regards to science and the arts--the two subjects are viewed as being almost mutually exclusive, though this has not always been the case. Once upon a time, the sciences and the arts were both viewed as gateways to sublimity, creativity and discovery being closely linked in the minds of Romantic writers. In fact, at one time, "natural science" included both what we would term science (physics, astronomy, botany, etc) and philosophy, and literature was used to express the studies of these subjects.

In my studies, I've discovered that it was at the beginning of the Victorian Period (perhaps the 1820s and 1830s) that what we now term scientists moved away from prose and towards charts and graphs to express their findings, due in part to the fact that the rising middle class now had enough expendable income to pursue the natural sciences as hobbies. (Remember, no one got paid to be scientists in the 19th century.) Because these upper-middle class astronomers/botanists/what-have-you were traditionally businessmen and accountants, they appreciated the uses of tables and charts to track data, and the beginning of the Great Divide arose.

My point, which I'm obviously having problems coming around to, is this: this Great Divide does not have to exist, and in fact there are many pieces of literature (nonfiction, for the most part) which do in fact cross between fields. It is my intent to explore some of the themes of these works here on Not-So-Gentle Reader. (We'll see how this goes.)

5 comments:

Daniele said...

You might actually be surprised by the number of people people I met in my graduate program (which was about 87% biology and 13% philosophy) who had studied art or music or soft sciences in college and continue to have a passion for both art and biology. I know for sure we had 3 music majors including myself (composition, piano performance, and opera), one art major, and an american studies major. For Pete's sake, look at Patrick. He's got a full-time job as a mechanical engineer and he's still practicing trumpet many hours a week and photographing models (in a professional and non-creepy way) on the weekends. And Valerie is a professional ballerina nine months out of the year and taking classes towards a kinesiology major the other three. I don't think that people who love both arts and sciences are rare (although I do think it is rare to find a medical professional who writes well-a nagging pet peeve of mine), but I do think that is is a fairly common misconception that the two don't mix.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Just because that's the way it really IS doesn't mean that other people actually see it that way. I find that most people in our generation are fairly open-minded when it comes to thinking other people are interested in various topics, but a lot of the people I work with make certain assumptions about me because:

(a) I'm of the female subspecies.
(b) I'm young.
(c) I studied literature.

Then again, however, most people who assume this are of the male subspecies, in their sixties, and petroleum engineers, so.... who cares what they think?

Daniele said...

Well, you could always come back at them with the stereotype that all engineers are awkward, socially stunted, math fanatics who look for utility in everything and are unable to appreciate beauty in anything...or you could tell them a joke I heard from my friend's astronomy professor, "an extroverted physicist is one who looks at YOUR shoes when he talks to you." Feel free to substitute the profession to fit the situation.

Homero said...

Throw religion in the mix, in any way, shape or form...

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

That would definitely work if someone came out and said, "I'm assuming that you're an idiot." Instead, the assumption comes out when (for example) a co-worker gave me an amazed look and said, "Wow, you're like, smart. I mean, like really smart."

That wouldn't have been offensive if he hadn't sounded surprised.

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