Yesterday in The Battle between the Sciences and the Humanities I blogged about Natalie Angier’s NYT’s article on the interdisciplinary New Humanities Initiative being created by David Sloan Wilson and Leslie Heywood at Binghamton University. I contacted both of them about the article and the post, and also offered to put up their proposal here as the Initative does not yet have its own website. Sloan Wilson assured me that a website will be up soon as part of the EvoS site at Binghamton. But he also sent me the proposal and letter of support for our readers to look at.
So here is the proposal itself: new-humanities-proposal
And the letters of support for their NEH grant: new-humanities-letters
It is heartening to read in their opening:
It is important to emphasize that integrating the humanities and the sciences is not a matter of making the humanities more “scientific.” It is genuinely a two-way street, in which intellectual perspectives and subject areas currently associated with the humanities occupy center stage as part of the study of what it means to be human from a scientific perspective, and where the humanities are instrumental in articulating the transformative power of the imagination, a perspective that, for the first time in a very long time, is again taken seriously by science.
Still, as I wrote yesterday, I do think there need to be concrete projects and people in the middle to work the synthesis. I am all in favor of building an evolutionary approach that can reach across the table, as I’ve done that sort of work myself. Similarly, imagination and meaning can also reach out to science, as my research with drug abuse has shown me.
But the reaching out approach still leaves the synthesis on the table, and here is where I think endeavors like neuroanthropology can step in. Evolution and imagination meet in the everyday behaviors and sociocultural and neurological processes that shape how we live and what we experience.
So, in the end, I believe we need all three things. Two cultures that work better together, that have a more open orientation and theoretical stance to what creative people are doing “on the other side.” And then the specific work that Leslie Heywood discussed yesterday about wolves—a synthesis on a specific subject, with wolves and people and a real relationship with an actual wolf (well, seven eighths of one) there in the middle.
In any case, I wanted to get these documents out to people for their own perusal. I look forward to hearing what people think.
Also, by happy coincidence, today’s weekly round up fits perfectly with this initiative, with sections on neuroanthropological work, literary trends, language, and evolution. So please check it out!