For some reason, we think that poetry is this thing you do on the side, once you get your math done or your science done. Same thing with writing or any of the things we call “the arts” – there’s this idea that they’re just an elective, they’re just decoration, and they have nothing to do with our survival … or why we can stand to be here.

That’s the reason I’ve made it to 53 – because of finding these things that poetry or painting or place contain. That’s the stuff of mental health, and we ignore it at our peril.


Lynda Barry, brilliant as ever, in an interview about poetry. Pair with other luminaries on how the humanities make us human and E.O. Wilson on why science and the arts need one another.

Perhaps Wordsworth was right when he wrote that “poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge.”

What good, if any, is the study of the liberal arts, particularly subjects like philosophy? Why, in short, should plumbers study Plato?

My answer is that we should strive to be a society of free people, not simply one of well-compensated managers and employees. Henry David Thoreau is as relevant as ever when he writes, “We seem to have forgotten that the expression ‘a liberal education’ originally meant among the Romans one worthy of free men; while the learning of trades and professions by which to get your livelihood merely, was considered worthy of slaves only.”

—  Scott Samuelson on why he teaches Plato to plumbers – fantastic meditation on the importance of the humanities beyond the “elite.” Pair with cultural icons on how the humanities make us human.
1) never apologize for your own breath
2) your life has no more value than that of a dandelion
3) be forever grateful
4) free your soul
5) know your power
6) feed yourself nothing other than yummy food, warmth and love
7) believe that you are the most beautiful flower to ever grow
8) laugh honestly
9) live soft
10) love hard
—  my decalogue
We all need an integrated education. The two sides have a lot to learn from each other. For those of us in the humanities faction, there is so much now that is exciting and challenging about the biological sciences particularly, and much that could reinvigorate our understanding of human nature, which is integral to the study of the creative arts. We liberal-arts-know-nothings need a good workout with maths and physics to discover what true intellectual difficulty is like. For their part, scientists need to draw on the fabulous and beautiful heritage of the arts—what has been imagined about our condition over the centuries is a vital resource. Also, science needs to cultivate and honour its own scientific literary tradition; from Leonardo and Francis Bacon to E. O. Wilson and Steven Weinberg, scientists have written exquisitely about the world we share. Also, young scientists need to learn how to communicate clearly, and studying an essay-based subject like history or English would be a vital training in ordering and articulating ideas.

In an interview with the Harry Ransom Center, which has just acquired his literary archive, Ian McEwan reminds us why science and the humanities need each other – something Dorion Sagan, Carl’s son, has also articulated beautifully

Also see E.O. Wilson himself on reconciling science and the humanities

The Real Reason the Humanities Are ‘in Crisis’

Multiple articles over the last few months have proclaimed that “humanities fall from favor,” “interest fades in the humanities,” or that the humanities are “under strain around the globe.” Commentators tend to attribute the decline to two major developments: significant funding cuts to history, literature, and arts programs at public universities and political criticism of the humanities. Republican governors have proposed cuts to humanities departments at state universities to rebalance funding towards more obviously “practical” subjects. North Carolina’s governor Patrick McCrory stated in January 2013 that he planned to change the state’s legislation on higher education funding so that “it’s not based on butts in seats but on how many of those butts can get jobs.” Like other critics, McCrory did not want taxpayers to subsidize subjects that did not seem to lead directly to students securing a job.

In the United States, the debate continues about massive budget cuts to the National Endowment for the Humanities for 2014, while some state universities in Pennsylvania even plan to close music and language departments. The problem extends beyond American borders. Since 2009, funding for arts and humanities has decreased around the world.

Read more. [Image: Columbia Pictures]

  • "The minute you enter grad school, you’re a professional. Grad school is not college, or at least not college as I experienced it, i.e., a special personal journey of exploration and wonder and alcohol. You’re at grad school to be professionalized into academia, and your behavior is expected to reflect that.
  • Your fellow grad students are your colleagues, not (necessarily) your friends. You’ll make good friends, of course you will, but relationships with most other grad students will be more like coworkers than buddies. So if they don’t come to your party, say, or don’t want to hang out after class, don’t be offended. That’s just not what it’s about for a lot of people.
  • You are supposed to go to all the departmental lectures, screenings, colloquia, etc. This stuff is not a fun extracurricular activity that you can hit or miss depending on your interests. Your attendance is expected and your absence is noticed. It’s part of being a good colleague.
  • Pick your classes according to the following criteria, in descending order of importance: 1) The professor is someone you want to know and might want to work with; 2) your seminar paper might come in handy for your oral exams or dissertation research; 3) you’re interested in the topic.”

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