The Liberal Arts study of how human beings make sense of themselves and their environment. It involves the study of what matters most to a particular group or individual at a particular time and in a particular place. It helps us bridge the divisions of history, language, and nation. When we study the Liberal Arts, we study multiple perspectives on a single issue and learn that not all differences can be reconciled, nor is it necessary or desirable to reconcile all differences. We study not only what people think, but also why they think the way they do, the logical, emotional, and ethical processes that inform people’s positions.
The tradition of studying the Liberal Arts helps broaden the perspective of the individual and make him more likely to be able to maneuver in any social situation. This tradition emphasizes a flexibility of thought, a process of intellectual and self-discovery, and an investment in becoming a better person. As a person develops, he is more likely to explore multiple kinds of artistic expression, to recognize art in the most unusual places. Being a better person includes knowledge of science and technology and how such research improves the quality of life for all life forms on the planet. And, becoming a better person means personal engagement in the most pressing social issues of our time, cultivating a civic awareness and realizing the power of civic bodies to change the way governments fulfill their functions.
My education has helped me understand certain components of the Liberal Arts and has sparked an interest in learning more about other areas. Courses in Anthropology/Sociology have helped me understand how difficult it can be to communicate across cultures. The same non-verbal gesture can have completely different meanings depending on the culture. In the U.S., depending on the context, thumbs up can be a positive response to a question or an attempt to hitchhike. In a European context, a thumb up can mean . This kind of information would be fairly important to know if I were to backpack across Europe. Courses in Psychology have made me wonder about the connections between psychology and biology, specifically the brain. Questions about neuropsychology are about improving the quality of individual people’s lives and the combined questioning of the disciplines creates space for collaboration between formerly distinct ways of thinking. The publicity this week about the discovery of two extra-solar stars, Fomalhaut and HR 8799, with their own planetary systems provides concrete evidence from the fields of Astronomy and Astrophysics about the probable formation of the planet Earth (Overbye, 2008, p. 1). It will be interesting to see how further research transforms the way human beings understand our place in the universe. Advances in science seem to inevitably usher in renewed debates between science and religion.
I now understand Science as a way to take things a part, examine how they work, and to see if you can put them back together again. When considering questions of Value/Meaning, the question is why things work the way they do whereas with questions of Science/Description, the issue is how they work the way they do. I have a good idea of how Art/Expression provides a space for History or Psychology to come alive. It also forces us to transform our perspectives on what we think we already know. We can discuss Erik Erickson’s theories of human development but such theories become more concrete and meaningful when applied to case studies or autobiographies. This is another example of two distinct disciplines working together to produce new knowledge. And, Civic/Social Awareness is an implicit call to apply what we know to solving problems in the real world. I understand the power of Social/Civic Awareness in a democracy at the same time that such awareness makes me conscious of the problems with voting punch cards, scan sheets, and computers across the country. I am more interested in non-profit organizations that work for the public good than I used to be. I am more aware of how important they are in a civil society.
Overbye, D. (13 November 2008). Now in sight: Far-off planets. New York Times. 16
November 2008. < http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/science/space/14planet.html>.