Unity over Discipline

I was honored this week to be a plenary speaker at the Innovations in Collaborative Modeling conference at Michigan State University. The title of my talk was “Unity over Discipline: Tales from the Borderlands of Two Cultures,” making the case that C.P. Snow’s infamous lecture “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution” is as relevant today as when first delivered in Cambridge in 1959.

Snow argued that the two competing cultures of the sciences and humanities, pervasive at universities and society at large, were hindering solutions to the world’s major problems.  Today the rift between humanistic theories of the emancipated self and scientific claims of a materially-based human animal continue to be at odds over central questions of ethics, law, and economics.  Economics, in particular, as currently taught and practiced throughout the world is un-tethered from scientific fact and standards of evidentiary proof.  In a word, economics is “dangerous”, threatening the habitability of our planet and stability of our societies.

Deliberative discourse, empirical fact checks, and collaborative modeling are helping to bridge the divide, where disciplinary assumptions must be vetted, tested, and defended.  In this lecture, I shared stories from “the borderlands” between economics and the sciences to help construct tentative footbridges that our students, scholars, and decision-makers may cross to reveal an emergent unity of knowledge to confront the most challenging problems of our species.

Published by Jon Erickson

Blittersdorf Professor of Sustainability Science & Policy University of Vermont

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