Quora Question: Which humanities subject will be totally irrelevant and obsolete in the near future due to brighter career prospects of STEM?
Why should any humanities subjects become irrelevant? Let’s think about what the humanities teach:
An appreciation of beauty (art, literature)
An understanding of the past (history)
An understanding of how people communicate (languages)
How to examine big ideas and think about questions of meaning, purpose, knowledge, and reality (philosophy)
Now, imagine hiring someone for a STEM career. You have two candidates who are equal (or roughly so) in their STEM knowledge.
But, one also has a rich background in the humanities. Who would you rather hire?
It is often the case, that subjects that appear irrelevant turn out to be deeply connected. There are very close connections between all of the humanities and all of the STEM disciplines. They inform and enrich each other.
This relevance is often seen in the work world. But, even if it weren’t would that render the humanities irrelevant? Is work and career success all that matter to being human?
What about the love of beauty, the understanding of history, communication, big ideas? Aren’t these an important part of something beyond career and success? Like being human?
And, don’t we want authentic human beings at work in STEM fields?
There are several books that make these points very well and show the many connections between the humanities and STEM fields. Here are a few you might find insightful:
David Epstein Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
Daniel Pink A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future
Steven Johnson How We Got to Now
Steven Johnson Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World
Michael Gelb How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci
Quora Question: Can you improve well by just believing in yourself and writing, or should you read books on self-improvement and do both? What’s the best way to improve oneself?
There are several steps to take to improve yourself. But, as Tasha Eurich says in her book titled Insight: “In the absence of a committed effort to build self-awareness, the average person makes only meager gains as they grow older.”
The same goes for self-improvement. Merely believing in yourself will not get you very far. Of course, believing in yourself can help motivate you in your goal of self-improvement. But, you will also have to make a “committed effort.”
That will probably include the following:
Seek out people who will challenge you: Too often, people only associate with those who are just like them in their ideas, experiences, and beliefs. But to engage in self-improvement, you need to seek out people who will challenge you in some way. So, have discussions with people you disagree with. Not to persuade them that you are right, but to learn about how they think and to challenge your ideas. You will benefit from the engagement.
Seek out experiences that will allow you to grow: If you are nervous about speaking in public, take a class in public speaking and then seek out opportunities to use that new skill. Travel to someone new. This will also allow you to interact with people who will be different from you which relates to the point above.
Seek out knowledge: Reading books about self-improvement will be a very useful part of the process. I will post some recommendations below. But, as you read these books, don’t simply read a book and then move on. Take the actions advised in the book. Most good self-improvement books will contain tips on actions to take. So, it is critical to implement those steps.
Share your journey with others: You might also benefit from sharing your experiences with others through social media or writing a blog. This will also help you engage with people who will challenge you and provide you with encouragement and motivation to continue.
Here are some excellent self-improvement books:
Bill Burnett Designing Your Life
Adam Grant Think Again
Michael Syed Black Box Thinking
Tasha Eurich Insight
William Irvine The Stoic Challenge
Quora Question: Doesn’t an insult, whether directed at you or not, warrant an insult in return if it is about you? Isn’t an insult that is a claim with a basis more damaging to the receiver’s image and reputation than a claim with no basis can ever be?
There is a strong impulse to answer insults that are directed at us. We feel that our honor has been insulted or damaged and this must be rectified. Those feelings are understandable but also quite destructive if we act on them.
The danger to this mindset is that it puts in motion a potentially never-ending cycle of insults, responses, and more insults. Too often this cycle escalates from verbal insults to physical violence. No good can come from this.
Fortunately, there are alternative ways to think about this. A useful distinction that will help is the distinction between offense and harm. A good resource on this subject is Lou Marinoff’s book The Big Questions. In one chapter he asks the question “if you’re offended are you harmed? The answer turns out to be no. Consider this.
Suppose someone walks up to you and steps on your toe. You have no choice about whether that’s going to hurt. It is! So, here you are harmed. Being harmed is involuntary, you have no choice about whether to feel pain or not.
Now, offense is not like this. If someone walks up to you and says “wow, you have really big feet” you have a choice to make. The choice is how you will react to this comment. I’m sure you’ve heard the expressions “no offense intended” and “none taken.” These are very revealing.
Offense is something that can be offered and it’s also something that can be taken. But, importantly for us, offense is also something that can be refused. You have a choice in this and that’s what distinguishes offense from harm.
As human beings, we are emotional beings. But, we are not slaves to our emotions. We can reason and think and this can aid us in our emotional reactions. This was a very important insight of the ancient Stoic philosophers. The basic idea behind stoicism is that we have no control over external circumstances. What we do have control over is our attitude towards them.
As Epictetus once said, “it is not things which disturb us, but our attitude towards them.” This perfectly sums up the stoic idea as well as how to handle offense. Similarly, the Roman emperor and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius said “if you are pained by any external thing, it is not the thing that disturbs you, but your judgment about it. And, it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.”
An insult is an offense. Your initial emotional reaction will be to feel bad when you are insulted. But, remember that you have a choice about how to react. And, you can train yourself to recognize the insult for what it is and let it pass unanswered. The accuracy of the insult is irrelevant.
Doing so will not only allow you to maintain a calm attitude but can also lead to a positive cycle where insults become reduced to insignificance. Once others see that you are not impacted by insults you will find that you will become less of a target for insults.
After all, the point of insulting someone is to get a reaction. Offer no reaction and you’ve taken away the motivation for the insult and you’ve taken away the power of others to negatively impact you.
A2A on Quora:
There are several things you can do to encourage a long-term mindset.
Learn history: Learning about history can broaden your perspective and encourage long-term thinking. In history, you can see how events unfold in different timeframes and recognize that sometimes the impacts of our actions have long-term consequences.
Study the history of social movements: Most social movements you study, such as the women’s suffrage movement, will illustrate that results often take longer than expected. The women who worked tirelessly for the right to vote passed away before that right was finally achieved. They took a long-term view of their efforts realizing that they would not be the beneficiaries of their actions.
Learn About the Long Now: The Long Now Foundation specifically encourages long-term thinking. As they state on their website: “Our work encourages imagination at the timescale of civilization — the next and last 10,000 years --
a timespan we call the long now.”
Read The Good Ancestor: For very specific tips on how to foster long-term thinking read Roman Krznaric’s book The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short Term World.
The essence of creative thinking, or as Michael Michalko calls it "Creative Thinkering," is to make connections between things that seem unconnected. It takes practice and a willingness to step outside of your arena of expertise and learn things that seem irrelevant.
That's one of the benefits of required courses in subjects other than the one you're majoring in. When you are sitting in one of these classes wondering "What does this have to do with me?" or "How is this relevant to my major?" don't stop there. Take those questions seriously. Then make one small change and act.
The small change. Start with this statement: This subject does have something to do with me. This subject is relevant.
The action: Find out how.
Don't wait for someone to show you how things are connected. Make connections. You'll be flexing your creative thinking muscle and coming up with new ideas. You never know what that might lead to.
"It never occurs to anybody that what the world now needs, confused as it is by much knowing, is a Socrates. But that is perfectly natural, for if anybody had this notion, not to say if many were to have it, there would be less need of a Socrates. What a delusion most needs is the very thing it least thinks of–naturally, for otherwise it would not be a delusion."
Most people exercise for both specific and general benefits. Often they don't specifically consider the benefits but usually know in some vague way what those benefits are and how exercising can achieve them.
I think education should be viewed in a similar fashion and the benefits we get from it are very similar, if not identical, to those we get from regular exercise. Let's consider some of them using the exercise analogy.
1. Exercise is best done at regular intervals. There are very few benefits to exercising if you only do it once every few months. Likewise, the benefits of studying are best realized when done at regular intervals. Not necessarily every single day but often enough to build on previous sessions and maintain a steady pace of learning.
2. Variety in exercise is beneficial. Most exercise programs consist of various activities to keep interest up and work various muscle groups at the same time. Likewise, when learning something it is good to vary what you're learning and how you're learning it. Reading is a good educational activity but so too is watching a video (such as a good TED talk) or practicing an activity. Different learning activities also exercise various parts of your thinking muscle (i.e. the brain) just as different exercises work for different muscle groups.
3. Exercises contain some form of resistance. I find that when I begin to question what students say in class they become frustrated. They are not used to having their ideas and opinions challenged and they don't like it. But, from an exercise theory point of view, this is a necessary part of education. Just as most exercises derive their benefit from exposing the body to resistance (weight training is a good example) so too education requires resistance. Asking students to justify their claims, back up their opinions with evidence, or explain their answers in a paper or exam are forms of resistance that further and deepen learning.
4. Exercises have specific as well as general benefits. Most exercises have very specific benefits such as strengthening specific muscles, toning specific body parts, or increasing stamina. Exercise also has more general benefits such as increasing overall health and well-being. Education can be seen in the same light. There are specific benefits to learning such as the specific skill or content being learned. But, there are also more general benefits that are just as important. Such benefits include being more well-rounded, gaining an appreciation and deeper understanding of the world at large, and improving one's social skills.
Like exercise, education can be hard and feel exhausting at times. We don't always feel like getting up early to work out or do whatever exercise we have chosen. But, we usually do so because we recognize the benefits that come from exercise. And, most people who exercise regularly also do so because they enjoy it. If only we as parents and educators could encourage the same attitude towards education!
In Seth Godin’s book What to do when it’s your turn (and it’s always your turn) he has a section titled “The Secret of Teaching (and the secret of learning) where he makes a useful point:
“I’ve taught all my life. And I’ve discovered that there’s only one thing that separates successful students from unsuccessful ones.
The good ones show up and say, “teach me.”
They look at failure and confusion as temporary conditions and say, “that didn’t work, show me another way.”
They are thirsty.
The other students have their arms crossed. They want to know if it’s on the test. They are restless. They need to be sold before they can be taught.
And that’s most of what happens in organized education. If you can’t sell it, people don’t learn it. When frustration (the twin sister of learning) shows up, most people stop trying.
Not thirsty enough."
Students need to hear messages like this from time to time. I know it sounds harsh but the days are long gone when just showing up to school and work led to success. That's not enough. Learning is an activity and it needs this thirst to drive it. I'm often amazed by how my students allow me to confuse them without stopping me. Of course, I don't mean to confuse them but it's clear they are confused. And, they aren't thirsty enough to say "that didn't work, show me another way."
What will happen when they graduate from school and are put in situations where they are confused about what to do? Will they remain just as silent and passive?
I think that often students look around and don't see any other students thirsty enough to learn and so conclude that they are just fine doing nothing. But, someone, somewhere is thirsty and acting on that. Someone somewhere is doing what I call thinking like a philosopher: asking more questions, demanding better answers, learning more than they think they need to know.
In other words, they are thirsty enough. Are you?
When I was in college I asked the same questions most of my students are asking: What does this have to do with me? Relevance is a tricky thing since it often doesn't become apparent until after the fact. You can't always know what's relevant until you've learned about it and used it.
I majored in telecommunications. This was before the internet, the cell phone, the laptop, the iPad. You get the idea. I was interested in doing audio and video production. On the side, I took irrelevant courses like everyone else: history, philosophy, science.
Now, I teach philosophy. Online. So, how irrelevant was my college experience? Not irrelevant at all. Very relevant now, if not quite as obvious then.
Virtually every course I took in college has been useful in some way for me.
Audio production: I record my music using computer recording software. But, the principles of editing and mixing were learned in that course.
Video production: I make videos and post them to YouTube. Different technology, same principles.
Philosophy courses: At the time, irrelevant electives taken because I enjoyed them. Today, it's what I do.
History courses: Philosophy is the history of ideas. Everything has a history and understanding that allows us to understand much of what will happen in the future. Took a while to learn that lesson but the foundation laid in college was important.
Science courses: Philosophy and science continue to converge, each informing the other. No understanding of how the world works and how to think about it is possible without an understanding of scientific principles.
So, what are you taking now that is irrelevant? Are you sure about that? Will it be irrelevant in 20 years? 40? 60? Are you still sure?
The physicist and educator Richard Feynman once said "I don't know what's the matter with people. They don't learn by understanding. They learn some other way- by rote or something. Their knowledge is so fragile!"
Well, these days they don't learn by understanding because their educators are being told that understanding cannot be a learning outcome. Why? Because it can't be measured. I'd like to know how many educrats are proud of the effects of this view.
Knowledge continues to be fragile.
Students continue to struggle with real-world applications.
Students continue to struggle with critical thinking and creativity.
One contributing factor is the fact that we virtually ignore understanding as a goal of education.
You can't apply what you don't understand and you can't think critically or creatively about what you don't understand.
Until we stop obsessing on measuring and start focusing on learning, things will not improve.
If you don't understand that, thank an educrat.
KEVIN J. BROWNE
Philosopher / Educator
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