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Wed 19 Oct 2005

The Intersection of Technologies and the Humanities

Category : Commentary/humanities.txt

An interesting quote from Steve Jobs at Fortune, "Our goal is to stand at the intersection of technology and the humanities."

That's where I want to be.

Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to do both arts and science subjects in school. But we weren't so fortunate, or liberal, then. So I made a choice. I would do science and then engineering because these are "disciplines" and I could do with a push from having to pass exams. But nobody needed to force me to read books on art, history, or philosophy.

That worked quite well all the way till University. I wanted to be an architect but I opted for civil engineering school, because I wondered how architects could have the temerity to build those soaring monstrosities without a grasp of structures or why things don't just fall down.

But that was when it all broke down. I found later that I couldn't "cross-over", in spite of my observations that some of the greatest architects in history were actually engineers, when there were not that strict Newtonian-age demarcation of the disciplines. I would be more at home in the Renaissance, philosophically speaking, when people like Leonardo pursued whatever their interests took them.

So, I'm coming to my point. I'm observing that, through a round-about way, I'm actually living the life that I've wanted, doing not just arts and science, but also commerce, in whatever combination makes sense for the moment. It's a fluid existence, and it feels good to be alive and thinking, and savouring the days.

But how much of this is due to the technology? My father surely wouldn't have been able to do that in his day, had he wanted to. It's technologies like the Mac that have been breaking the boundaries between the disciplines - boundaries that shoudn't have been there in the first place - and returning us to the state that should have been, where knowledge is best experienced whole. "The intersection of technology and the humanities", says Steve Jobs.

That's the point the Microsoft-led IT industry has missed from too narrow a focus on the engineering - that technology and the humanities could intersect, and that the result would be dynamite. You know what they say about point of view being worth how many IQ points?

Arthur Koestler wrote a book, The Act of Creation, where he described the nature of creativity, that it always occurs at the point of intersection between two otherwise dissimilar planes of existence - like Archimedes in the bath tub. It's a great book, and exhilarating for the ideas. Highly recommended. (The other two books of Arthur Koestler that are classics in the history of ideas and technology are : The Ghost in the Machine and The Sleepwalkers.)

Posted at 3:42AM UTC | permalink


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