Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Tall and Thin, or Short and Fat?

I am not now, and never have been, a scientist by profession, although I do hold a degree in astrophysics and two post-graduate engineering qualifications. That is enough to make me pretty scary to some people, especially those who know I make my living out of writing historical fiction.

How can one individual be interested in both the sciences and the arts? I sometimes hear them cry.

But to me, this divide seems like an artificial one, and something that arises from the education system. Schools usually make teenagers choose either one direction or the other so as to stand the best chance of getting into university: the pre-college kid who has Maths-Physics-Chemistry is easier to place than one with Maths-Art-Chemistry.

Is this a Good Thing, or a Bad Thing?

We want all people to live lives that are personally fulfilling, but on the other hand highly complex societies such as those we humans tend to live in need customized individuals just as much as ant hills or termite mounds do. And, like it or not, society has to create people who can become soldiers and workers and nursemaids and queens and ten thousand other kinds of specialist.

I realize that Renaissance Man is frowned upon nowadays - what use is he? - but I just can't help thinking that the old idea of a "rounded education" had something going for it so far as making a fulfilled life is concerned. On the other hand, when it comes to stuff like surgery, give me the specialist over the Renaissance Man any day.

However, something like my novel The Sandboy could not have been written by a person of narrow and specific interests. I have tried to keep both the arts and the sciences equally nurtured within me and I'm very glad I did.

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