P.S. - I will be hosting October's Scientae carnival here on DP.
Scientists and authors absorb the cultural milieu of their time, whether unconsciously or consciously. I believe we are in a new paradigm where the approach to linking science and literature is beyond the term interdisciplinary, and now encompasses a unique, emerging, and multidimensional discipline of its own.
When I talk about the need to break down boundaries in technology and related fields, it generally involves issues of gender and occasionally race. But there is another barrier that I think deserves a good smashing just as much as the others, and that's the barrier we set up between art and science.
I've spoken before about how me being a naturally bookish and artsy chick in technology has often worked in my favor (although not without its attendant pains), but this is an issue that also works in the other direction - I feel certain that if scientists and tech people can benefit from a little right-brain thinking, artists and creative folk can learn from logic, rationality and scientific discipline. We tend to look at those two fields as worlds apart, each one unfathomable to those who don't "belong" to it. But how much sense does this actually make?
Some of my favorite pieces of art are those that can bridge the two worlds, from the brilliant twists of logic in the otherwise anarchic Alice in Wonderland to the clean lines and organization of minimalist painters like Mondrian. And not only do I appreciate more those bits of technology that incorporate good visual design (Apple products, or a particularly lovely bit of code) I adore the work of scientists like Carl Sagan, who were gifted writers and who expressed all the imagination and emotion they used in pursuing their work.
So I of course jumped on this article from a biology teacher describing how he teaches using dual examples of Albert Einstein and Salvador Dali. He wraps up with a much better summary of what I just rambled on about for three long paragraphs:
Our world might be a better and more enlightened place if all of us dropped the whole supposed left-brain/right-brain dichotomy and opened our whole minds to the full realm of human imagination as he did. The art world, the humanities world, the science world — ultimately we all live in one world, and it’s worth trying to understand each of the perspectives in it.
Although it's over a year old now, I just ran across (thanks to Reddit) this article about women in science from Philip Greenspun - the hypothesis of which is that there aren't more women in science because science as a profession sucks and more women are smart enough to be able to realize that. Men, apparently, are just stubbornly stupid adolescents who stick with things even if they aren't economically or emotionally successful.
So, what's wrong with this picture? Simple - it's still making stereotypical assumptions and gross generalizations of what men and women are like. It has the same problem that fired Harvard president Larry Summers, whom the article quotes, did - it assumes that women are naturally a certain way and men are naturally a different way, and that these classifications are absolute, fixed, and past our own improvement.
To which I cordially respond: bullshit.
However valid this article's points may be about the scientific profession, the author is missing some other, vitally important points when it comes to women, careers, and education. First off, I'd like to know, if this hypothesis is correct, why the technology industry experiences the same lack of women. Last time I checked, computing careers aren't exactly stupid career choices to make. Even if we're not still in a tech boom, technology is still a very sustainable and lucrative career path to follow. Yet, at the same time, it's still very much dominated by men.
Is it possible the that "too smart" hypothesis is true for science and there's an entirely different answer to the problem of women in tech? It's possible, but I think extremely unlikely. I have a hard time believing that fields so closely related in the educational sector, with such similar histories of excluding women, have resulted in professional problems that have absolutely no connection to each other whatsoever. It makes much more logical sense that these widespread problems have a common source.
Basically, this is the same kind of thinking that claims women aren't in tech (or science, or engineering) because the stringent time demands and the intensity of the work interferes with their family lives. If I were to suggest that we ought to make those demands and intensity flexible enough to accommodate other needs, I would likely bring about the outraged cries of, "Why should we have to change the rules just for you?" Well, because the rules right now are skewed in your favor, and you're too damn scared and/or lazy to let go of them, that's why.
On a bit of a side note: why do women automatically bear the bigger responsibility for maintaining family life, anyway? Are none of you men in technology or science fathers? Why do you get away with it when mothers don't? Also, why is it assumed that women even want families? Some, I'm sure, are perfectly happy childless.
My point is that these are all profound concerns that the notion of "women being too smart" does not adequately address, regardless of the differences in particular fields in which it is discussed. There is something bigger and deeper than that. Diversity in fields where it currently does not exist will not ever come to exist until we stop trying to rationalize why it's not there and start letting go of the old, biased power structures that keep it out.
Although maybe there is something in the "stubborn adolescent" theory after all - because for all the "intellectualism" of discussions like these, the argument still ends up sounding like a bunch of whiny boys afraid of growing up.
A couple of physicists totally take all the fun out of ghoulish Halloween myths by detailing the science behind them.
Honestly, though, it's pretty interesting to see how these legends might have evolved and how our own beliefs sustain them - despite all evidence to the contrary.
Last week, a great article by Anna Gosline about what it feels like to die in various ways made the rounds. Now, on Inky Circus, she's posted a few tidbits that didn't make it into the original article. Such as:
Hangmen were seriously proud people, even verging on cocky. They were professionals and prided themselves on doing their jobs well. They were also kind of famous, especially the English hangmen from the 17 and 1800s. Fun times. I think it might have been cognitive dissonance over how horrid their job actually was - if you could perfect the skill, make the death as clean and painless as possible, it wasn’t really that bad, right? Also, if you drop a man too far (give him too much rope) his head will rip off. Which was just totally embarrassing. For the hangman.