A Scientist Advocates the Humanities

Gregory A. Petsko, Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry at Brandeis University, published in Genome Biology on November 10, 2010, an open letter to the President of the State University of New York at Albany, on the occasion of that university’s decision in October 2010 to eliminate its departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts:

One of the things I’ve written about is the way genomics is changing the world we live in. Our ability to manipulate the human genome is going to pose some very difficult questions for humanity in the next few decades, including the question of just what it means to be human. That isn’t a question for science alone; it’s a question that must be answered with input from every sphere of human thought, including – especially including – the humanities and arts. Science unleavened by the human heart and the human spirit is sterile, cold, and self-absorbed. It’s also unimaginative: some of my best ideas as a scientist have come from thinking and reading about things that have, superficially, nothing to do with science. If I’m right that what it means to be human is going to be one of the central issues of our time, then universities that are best equipped to deal with it, in all its many facets, will be the most important institutions of higher learning in the future. (Read full letter.)

See also the discussion of SUNY Albany’s decision to decimate its humanities departments in The New York Time’s “Room for Debate” forum.

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