National Thought Leaders Discuss Why Science In The Liberal Arts University Matters To Us All: At Boston College
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (November 3, 2011) – A major public symposium was held at Boston College Oct. 29 that brought together four nationally-noted thought leaders for an examination of the vital contributions of the physical and social sciences to a contemporary liberal arts education and to society.
The featured speakers at "Science in the Liberal Arts University – Why It Matters to Us All" were physicist Brian Greene of Columbia University, author of The Elegant Universe; journalist Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker, author of an award-winning series on global warming titled “The Climate of Man”; experimental psychologist Steven Pinker of Harvard University, and University of Virginia School of Law’s Siva Vaidhyanathan, who is at the forefront of the contemporary debate on copyright and intellectual property.
"Too often, we think of liberal arts education as synonymous with the humanities," said Boston College Rattigan Professor of English Mary Crane, director of BC's Institute for the Liberal Arts, which sponsored the event. "The social sciences and sciences have crucial roles in liberal arts education today. The speakers showed how a basic understanding of scientific issues and methods is necessary if we are to understand our environment, our behavioral history, our access to information, and our place in the universe."
“Like never before, full participation in the global conversation requires fluency in the languages of science and technology and an appreciation for the scientific way of thought. But more than that, science is a dramatic and ongoing story of adventure and discovery that has engaged some of the greatest minds our species has produced,” said Greene, who has been called “the single best explainer of abstruse concepts in the world today," by the Washington Post.
“For the past 20 years, the United States has been experiencing a significant cultural, social, and political shift of which we are only now taking account. The very presence of powerful personal computers, loaded with easy-to-use editing and production software, connected to millions of others at high speed at all times of the day has changed the cultural and political environment radically and irreversibly. Clearly, Americans have experienced a radical change in expectations when it comes to culture and information. I call this change the rise of technocultural imagination. We are on the cusp of a truly democratic cultural moment,” said Vaidhyanathan, author of the book The Googlization of Everything.
“But all is not open and free. Nor should we celebrate this technologically enabled, radical cultural democracy for its own sake. It's messy and troublesome. It's risky and disruptive. But it's also exciting and fascinating,” he added. “The oddest phenomenon of this age is the fact that while Americans exhibit stronger faith in the transformative power of technology, they exhibit less and less trust in empirical and scientific work. Those of us in the humanities and social sciences have failed to serve the needs of the republic and the world by divorcing ourselves from the practices and materiality of science and technology.”
The Institute for the Liberal Arts at Boston College hosts conversations and supports programs that examine and advance liberal arts education.The ILA funds projects conceived by interdisciplinary teams of faculty and dedicated to thinking imaginatively about the liberal arts and the contemporary university. The Institute also organizes seminars and symposia that bring faculty from different disciplines together around shared topics of interest.