STEM fields vs. Humanites

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KestrelLowing
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STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby KestrelLowing » Fri Apr 23, 2010 2:37 pm UTC

So, this is a VERY controversial topic, and I must admit that I have a preset bias, but I want to be proven wrong.

Basically, what is more difficult - STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields or Humanities?

I don't want this to be a stupid banter back and forth, but I really want to see what other people thing, especially those who have differing opinions.

Here's my take:
STEM fields are much harder because they are more easily regulated. Taking tests is much less objective as the answer is either right or wrong. Grade inflation is not as rampant because a class needs to cover certain material, and you need to understand how to do that material in order to pass.

In humanities, the grading is much more subjective, and the material is not concrete. It purely depends on the prof. While there are some that will be horrible and mark everyone down, the majority of profs that I've had in humanities do not grade harshly.

I do come from Michigan Tech, which is 50% engineers, and the majority of the rest are in the sciences, so I probably have a very biased interpretation to someone who goes to a liberal arts college.

So, what are your thoughts? Which is harder? Does it matter?

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby LaserGuy » Fri Apr 23, 2010 4:22 pm UTC

A few things...

First, I don't agree that STEM tests give answers are purely right or wrong. Maybe on multiple choice questions, sure, but on long answer test questions, problem sets, and lab experiments, you get "part marks", don't you? Wouldn't you agree that the administration of part marks can often be just as subjective as the evaluation of an essay? In some cases, maybe more--if I'm trying to mark your problem set out of 100, the difference between an 85 and an 86 is pretty small--it could be argued that the evaluator really can't distinguish that fine of difference. If I'm marking your essay and only assign A, B, C, D, or F, I can pretty objectively assign each essay into one of those five bins, and be able to justify my evaluations pretty solidly.

For that matter, how does it make it harder if every problem has one objective answer? Especially if you know that a single answer must exist in advance? Is working through such a proof more challenging than weighing several well-argued, competing viewpoints? In the real world, I hasten to point out, there are very few situations in reality where there is only a single objective answer that works. If you're an engineer being asked to build a bridge, there may be several types of bridges that fit that particular location. There are numerous types of materials that will all work. You may have constraints of money, longevity of the bridge, environmental concerns, that you will need to review. It's not a problem with a single closed form solution. Science students typically look at the world using toy models that aren't representative of reality--not even the reality of their field.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanities

Postby modularblues » Fri Apr 23, 2010 5:26 pm UTC

It is hard to say which one is more difficult because they involve somewhat different subsets of intelligence. Or brain processes.

Tech fields -- emphasis on quantitative reasoning, manipulation of symbols (numerals, variables, operations, functions, etc.), abstract problem-solving, both deductive and inductive reasoning, classification of (forms of matter, forms of energy, how they behave, equations, etc.), conjecturing...

Humanities -- emphasis on qualitative reasoning, compare/contrast, more inductive reasoning, classification of (characterization, motives, socio-politico-religio-cultural-history, etc.), scenario-prediction...

In a sense, they both involve symbol manipulation, but on different scales. Both tech and humanities can get pretty abstract. Generally, tech fields tend to involve more spatial reasoning (how things are related in space) while humanities involve more temporal reasoning (how things are related in time, or sequentially) due to a heavier use of language... with the exception of computer scientists who often think like linguists.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby lu6cifer » Fri Apr 23, 2010 9:21 pm UTC

I think in trying to evaluate which is harder, you must determine which requires more intelligence.
And, going off of what modularblues was saying, I think therein lies the main problem in trying to evaluate this, because people involved in STEM fields think differently from people who are in humanities.

And when you say what's more difficult, do you mean academically, or real life? Because as far as I know, those are two radically different things. I mean, my FIRST robotics coach is an English teacher, so what does that say about the type of intelligence you need to do STEM-related things in real life (not bashing English teachers btw, just pointing out that English isn't exactly related to engineering).

Academically, STEM fields involve using intuition and logic and being able to 'see' the answer to a certain problem. Often, this comes with hard work, practice, and lots of familiarization with your field. Humanities, on the other hand, is a lot more fact based (well, history is), and in my history classes, we're required to write long, comprehensive essays analyzing some particular time period. Thus, there's far less intuition and reasoning required. It's more just know this thing really well, and be able to understand how it affected the social, political, and economic climate of that era, and be able to write about it.

As for English, well, I unfortunately have not had enough rigorous English classes yet to really see the point behind them besides just learning how to write [essays], and I don't exactly know how to evaluate that, but I suppose it's similar to history in that you have to take a topic and be able to analyze it in essay form. Also, I don't really believe in literary analysis, so there goes half of the English curriculum. Actually, I think what one learns most in English (or should learn) is the ability to express oneself clearly. Hence, all the essays. I've also had numerous philosophical discussions in English, which were cool.

In both fields, I think you have to be able to 'see' the big picture. In math, for example, you can learn about derivatives and integrals and limits, but you have to be able to see how they all relate to each other. In history, obviously, you have to know how one event connects to the other, and what each event implies for society and politics.

Overall, I think STEM is harder because there's more reasoning, logic, and intuition required in those fields. Also, the concepts are much, much harder to grasp in STEM. Also, take into consideration that most people majoring in a STEM field could probably manage the workload and the concepts that come with Humanities subjects. However, the converse is mostly not true.
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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Vaniver » Sat Apr 24, 2010 2:00 am UTC

What do you mean by harder? The humanities fields tend to require more time expenditure, but the STEM fields tend to involve more difficult concepts. As well, the articulation or literacy necessary to succeed in the humanities do not come easily to everyone, just like the intuition or numeracy necessary to succeed in the STEM fields do not come easily to everyone. They're different skills, and the relative return to effort for each will be different for different people.
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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby lu6cifer » Sat Apr 24, 2010 4:13 am UTC

The way I see it, something conceptually more difficult is harder than something that just requires memorization and time to comprehend (not that people in STEM fields don't expend lots of time in learning their concepts, but it requires far less time, and memorization is far less rote).

With regards to the articulation and eloquence involved in being successful in humanities vs intuition and reasoning necessary in STEM, I concede that that's the gray area for me in terms of determining difficulty, because I know people who are eloquent, who understand and love history, but are horrible at math, and people who are the exact reverse.
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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Windmill » Mon Apr 26, 2010 4:59 am UTC

On a personal note, I'm a STEM major who finds humanities to be rather easy and straightforward. Read some books, write some papers, elaborate, voila. The only reason I'm a STEM major is I want to be employable. Not to say humanities aren't noble pursuits, on the contrary, I highly enjoy them and if I won the lottery, I'd probably become a history professor or something.

STEM is a challenge, but I feel like I have the capacity for both.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby KestrelLowing » Mon Apr 26, 2010 1:03 pm UTC

I think everyone has very valid points, but I think the biggest thing that contributes to me thinking that humanities is easier is the fact that I can do them, even though I'm a "math-science person".

I know this isn't always true (for example, some STEM field people are horrible at writing), but the trend seems to be that "STEM People" can do humanities, they just don't want to, or see that STEM fields are more profitable. (On an interesting side note: Did you know that when the economy goes down, more people enter STEM fields in college?)

"Humanities people" seem to not be able to actually do STEM fields. They especially seem to have difficulty with math, so that is where my main train of thought comes from. (Obviously this is all anecdotal, but I think many people have the same experiences) I know that not all humanities people are stupid, but I think the actual field is not as difficult, and that can be shown through the average caliber of students that graduate in the fields.

I also agree that humanities seems to be mostly about memorization, and not much else. (Yes, there is connecting concepts and such, but it's mostly memorization) Provided you have some decent memorization tricks, you should be all set. Understanding mathematical concepts, in my opinion, is related much more to intelligence.

Grades-wise, humanities are typically easier (http://cornellsun.com/section/news/content/2010/04/14/research-finds-stem-classes-have-lower-grades-higher-dropouts). Even when I took the ACT a few years ago, my English scores were 5 points higher than my math or science, even though I am better at math and science.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Mon Apr 26, 2010 11:53 pm UTC

I'm a STEM person myself (chemistry), and a large reason why I like the STEM classes over many humanities classes is because I am the lazy smart kid. I simply like going over a few examples and broad cases to ensure I know what is going on rather than lots of memorization and reading
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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby LaserGuy » Wed Apr 28, 2010 4:36 pm UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:I also agree that humanities seems to be mostly about memorization, and not much else. (Yes, there is connecting concepts and such, but it's mostly memorization) Provided you have some decent memorization tricks, you should be all set. Understanding mathematical concepts, in my opinion, is related much more to intelligence.


If you think the humanities are easy, I'd like to pose this as a challenge for you: write an outline for a short, let's say ~200 page, novel. Be sure to include details on the setting, major plot points, and character development. Try not to make it boring or clichéed. Write the first chapter of your story. Or, if you prefer, compose an original piece of music, say, 2-3 minutes long, that can be played by a 5 instrument brass band. And make it sound nice.

I'm a candidate for a Ph.D in physics, for what it's worth, and have tried both of those tasks on one occasion or other, without much success.

KestrelLowing wrote:Grades-wise, humanities are typically easier (http://cornellsun.com/section/news/content/2010/04/14/research-finds-stem-classes-have-lower-grades-higher-dropouts). Even when I took the ACT a few years ago, my English scores were 5 points higher than my math or science, even though I am better at math and science.


This could just mean that humanities students are smarter than science students.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby lu6cifer » Wed Apr 28, 2010 4:48 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:
KestrelLowing wrote:I also agree that humanities seems to be mostly about memorization, and not much else. (Yes, there is connecting concepts and such, but it's mostly memorization) Provided you have some decent memorization tricks, you should be all set. Understanding mathematical concepts, in my opinion, is related much more to intelligence.


If you think the humanities are easy, I'd like to pose this as a challenge for you: write an outline for a short, let's say ~200 page, novel. Be sure to include details on the setting, major plot points, and character development. Try not to make it boring or clichéed. Write the first chapter of your story. Or, if you prefer, compose an original piece of music, say, 2-3 minutes long, that can be played by a 5 instrument brass band. And make it sound nice.

I'm a candidate for a Ph.D in physics, for what it's worth, and have tried both of those tasks on one occasion or other, without much success.

KestrelLowing wrote:Grades-wise, humanities are typically easier (http://cornellsun.com/section/news/content/2010/04/14/research-finds-stem-classes-have-lower-grades-higher-dropouts). Even when I took the ACT a few years ago, my English scores were 5 points higher than my math or science, even though I am better at math and science.


This could just mean that humanities students are smarter than science students.



I don't think any of us here are saying that humanities is straight-up easy, by any means, it's just that in academia, humanities courses require more memorization and fewer tough, conceptual topics. Of course, writing a 'boring, non-cliched' book takes much more effort and ability than just memorization, but once you get into the real world, it's harder to compare something like writing a nobel-prize winning novel to making a major scientific discovery, and thus, it's harder to judge the difficulty of the two.

EDIT: Hmm, it seems that humanities does encompass music (according to wikipedia). I've always thought of humanities as Language + history
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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Vaniver » Wed Apr 28, 2010 5:03 pm UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:Grades-wise, humanities are typically easier (http://cornellsun.com/section/news/content/2010/04/14/research-finds-stem-classes-have-lower-grades-higher-dropouts). Even when I took the ACT a few years ago, my English scores were 5 points higher than my math or science, even though I am better at math and science.
That's been my experience. In non-STEM fields, if you put in effort, you can pass- in STEM fields, you can't pass unless you can hack the material. My Verbal SAT score was a perfect, despite missing several questions, while my quantitative was a 780 because I missed one (and I was lucky- generally, missing one drops you lower).

But, it's best to be clear that by "easier" you mean "failing is harder" than "less work" or "less difficult." Something can be monstrously tough to do well, but impossible to fail.

LaserGuy wrote:If you think the humanities are easy, I'd like to pose this as a challenge for you: write an outline for a short, let's say ~200 page, novel. Be sure to include details on the setting, major plot points, and character development. Try not to make it boring or clichéed. Write the first chapter of your story. Or, if you prefer, compose an original piece of music, say, 2-3 minutes long, that can be played by a 5 instrument brass band. And make it sound nice.
Wrong comparison. Those are "construct a novel, true theorem" problems, not "integrate these ten functions" problems. The analogue to math homework is "write an essay describing the literary techniques used by this author to convey a theme"- which is a lot easier to do. Now, some people are much more articulate than others, and so not everyone can do either- but I think dropout rates and major switches show that more people can't deal with the STEM fields than can't deal with the humanities.

If there is something preventing someone from succeeding at the humanities, it is generally a combination of reading speed, reading comprehension, and writing speed- weekly reading and essays from four or five classes take a significant time investment, which some people simply will not have. If there is something preventing someone from succeeding at STEM fields, it is generally a combination of reading comprehension, mental acuity, and numeracy. If you understand and remember things quickly and calculate both quickly and correctly, the STEM fields will not seem all that difficult- just like if you can read, understand, and write quickly the humanities fields will not seem all that difficult.

It might be worthwhile to observe that the variation in reading and writing speed seems to be lower than the variation in time it takes to grasp some scientific concepts- and so it may be that the STEM fields seem harder because the difference between the worst and best person in the class is so far. For the humanities fields, though, this variation does show up in quality of creative output. It may be about as hard to make it in the creative arts as in the scientific pursuits, but easier to be an art critic than technician.
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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby LaserGuy » Wed Apr 28, 2010 7:51 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:Wrong comparison. Those are "construct a novel, true theorem" problems, not "integrate these ten functions" problems. The analogue to math homework is "write an essay describing the literary techniques used by this author to convey a theme"- which is a lot easier to do. Now, some people are much more articulate than others, and so not everyone can do either- but I think dropout rates and major switches show that more people can't deal with the STEM fields than can't deal with the humanities.


The music example I chose was a project assigned to 2nd year undergraduate music composition class at my university. The writing example is a hybrid of a couple of projects from a 3rd year creative writing class. Particularly in the fine arts, it is not at all unreasonable to expect people to exercise the creative side of their brains more than an average mathematician would--it is, after all, the reason why these people are going into that field. At the extreme end of things, you would hardly expect a student in a visual arts program not to create at least one, if not several, pieces of original art over the course of their studies. Simply because such things are not expected of students in STEM fields (with possibly the exception of computer science), doesn't mean that other students aren't expected to do them. Frankly, I think it is a bit of a travesty that you can get a degree in mathematics or science without having to do any original mathematics or science to speak of. You complain that the humanities are all memorization, but most of an undergraduate STEM program is simply reproducing work that others have done decades ago.

Now, I understand what you're trying to argue--that a program in, say, Gender Studies, may well be easier than, say Math. But Gender Studies isn't necessary representative of Humanities, and Math isn't necessarily representative of STEM. I could just have easily compared, say, Creative Writing and Biology. I think I can fairly contend that the average creative writing student would probably do better in a biology class than a biology student would do in a creative writing one. I would suspect that a biology student probably has to do more pure memorization than a humanities student in almost any field, honestly.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby KestrelLowing » Wed Apr 28, 2010 8:12 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:At the extreme end of things, you would hardly expect a student in a visual arts program not to create at least one, if not several, pieces of original art over the course of their studies. Simply because such things are not expected of students in STEM fields (with possibly the exception of computer science), doesn't mean that other students aren't expected to do them.


I disagree. At least in my engineering classes, we are expected to come up with original work in most of our higher classes, especially our senior design where we solve a real word problem in two semesters.

You might argue that we are taking bits and pieces from here and there, but isn't that exactly what a composer does? They take the foundation of music theory and put it together in a different way, just like engineering takes the foundation of mechanics and such and puts them together in a different way.

It is true that STEM majors typically do not have as much orginal work, but that might be an indication as well. It is that much harder to create new work in STEM fields than in the humanities.

Heck, I have composed music before, and except for some limited piano lessons and school band, I have had no training in music, but I can make a new piece. I'm no Mozart, but even without the training, I can make something new.

That is much more difficult in STEM fields, as I'm sure you're aware, as you're researching for your PhD.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Vaniver » Wed Apr 28, 2010 8:22 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:Frankly, I think it is a bit of a travesty that you can get a degree in mathematics or science without having to do any original mathematics or science to speak of.
You can't. That is, if you look at doctoral degrees. I think it's perfectly fine that undergraduates don't have to contribute anything novel- they can't. After four years of undergrad and several years of research experience I'm at the level where I'm starting to do original research, not where I could have completed a project. (I have, of course, completed research-related projects; this morning I just got my notch filter tuned properly, and tomorrow it goes in the plasma system. But it's mostly a duplication of a design someone else made and tested.)

There's a significant benefit in having undergraduate degrees, where people are set for technical, engineering, and education positions, master's degrees, which have open up somewhat more sophisticated positions along those lines, and then doctoral degrees, which mark someone as having contributed to their field of science (and thus are prepared to continue).

Similarly, it makes sense for people to get degrees in English without having written anything new or creative, or degrees in History without having contributed to the field.

You *can* get a degree in art history without producing any new art. An art program is probably more like vocational training (along the lines of science grad school) than a traditional undergrad program.

LaserGuy wrote:You complain that the humanities are all memorization, but most of an undergraduate STEM program is simply reproducing work that others have done decades ago.
That's lu6cifer, KestrelLowing, and cjmcjmcjmcjm. I agree with you that there's more memorization in the sciences, particularly for bio and chem. Unless you're doing theatre, no one asks you to do much memorization besides names, characters, events, and other concepts.
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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Yreval » Thu Apr 29, 2010 3:18 am UTC

While I certainly agree with the sentiments that they tend to just be different skill sets and manners of thinking, I do think it's interesting to note that (at least in my experience) it's somewhat common to see other students who are highly skilled somewhat exclusively in the humanities, but rarely do I see students skilled exclusively in STEM fields. That is, I know a number of fellow students who are very adept in the humanities but struggle in STEM fields (not necessarily "below average" students, but their humanities skills eclipse their math and science skills) but almost all of the students I know who are skilled in STEM fields tend to also be very adept in the humanities.

Is this peculiar to me?

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Masily box » Fri Apr 30, 2010 9:40 pm UTC

Unfortunately, I think so. I've know lots and lots of STEM majors who couldn't write coherently, couldn't reason their way out of a box, and had no appreciation of or critical aptitude for the arts. So anecdotally I've seen people on both sides who would struggle if transplanted to the other. So I'm skeptical of the "almost all STEM-ers are adept in the humanities" proposition. I do, however, agree with the reasoning from earlier in the thread that individuals who are substantially talented on both sides are more likely to end up in STEM, since it's a better career decision.

I'm not exactly sure what we're talking about, though. Are we discussing the relative difficulty of getting similar grades as an undergrad? If that's the topic, then there's basically no discussion: grade inflation studies show that humanities courses assign a much higher number of A's and B's. (As a counterpoint to this observation, though, I'd point out that this means it's harder for a humanities student to distinguish herself by GPA alone: her 3.95 means a lot less than that of her physics counterpart's.)

Are we talking about the utility of the fields at large, when put into practice? It strikes me as much easier to be a workaday STEM-er with some confidence that your efforts will make others' lives better than it is to be a novelist, a historian, or a philosopher with similar expectations.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby MAb » Sat May 01, 2010 6:04 pm UTC

Why do all use degrees of hardness as a measure of worth? I did English Lit at A Level and am profoundly glad that I did, not because I found it hard, but because I enjoyed studying a book (Howards End) that made me appreciate who I was. I respect people like Sagan not necessarily because they are intelligent, but because they are able to speak with lyrical beauty about intelligent things. Focusing on perceived hardness or worth is somewhat missing the point, humanities teach us about what it is to be human in a way which is equally important to any biological definition of that phrase.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Vaniver » Sat May 01, 2010 11:45 pm UTC

Yreval wrote:That is, I know a number of fellow students who are very adept in the humanities but struggle in STEM fields (not necessarily "below average" students, but their humanities skills eclipse their math and science skills) but almost all of the students I know who are skilled in STEM fields tend to also be very adept in the humanities.

Is this peculiar to me?
My friends who are STEM majors are good at both. I wouldn't be surprised if their articulateness was a prerequisite of them being friends with me (I can think of at least one guy I know but am not friends with, and how is really inarticulate).
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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Yreval » Sun May 02, 2010 12:23 am UTC

I really wish I was more articulate. I would say I'm pretty competent at reading, comprehension, and analysis, but I'm just miserable at communicating. I'm especially prone to messy, convoluted sentences. Beyond that, I always sound pretentious when I try to sound formal, and generally incomprehensible when I try to sound casual. :oops:

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby makkel » Sun May 02, 2010 8:42 pm UTC

Surely the idea that "STEM" subjects have more difficult concepts is flawed. The theories may be complicated but the whole point is being able to reduce them to manageable mathematical chunks. That's why maths is such a fantastic tool. The nearest equivalent in "the humanities" is probably formal logic (speaking of philosophy as a humanity) and when it comes to expressing the same statements we use everyday in natural language it is sadly lacking. To say that humanities can be learned by rote is entirely missing the point; you may be able to remember when The Battle of X was and who won, but a much harder task is analysing the accounts with a historological eye rather than regurgitating facts.

Sciences can give you more opportunity to take things as read. You have to understand the relation of the abstract to the physical but beyond that, as far as I can tell, it is often the case that you apply a rule to a scenario, and you can often tell whether it was the right rule or whether you applied it correctly. On the whole, humanities do not have the same axiomatic quality. As most theories in the sciences are neccesarily based on a posteriori arguments (admittedly with a healthy slice of a logical reasoning) they are easier to verify, hence the objectivity. Science is like a fantastic photo-realistic painting, there is no mistaking what is being expressed. Humanities tend to express truly abstract concepts with nuances which are more difficult to formalise or quantify. The fact that somebody who "does" science can also "do" humanities i think misses the point of the latter by assuming that there is some end involved. Some people are good at passing exams, which are, after all, written to a formula (see Douglas Adams on the dangers of working out what exam questions are going to be!).

Philosophy has the same aesthetic as maths. Beautiful, elegantly crafted arguments coupled with total belief that what you are doing represents reality as faultlessly as possible.
But aye, maths? Well hard.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby nash1429 » Mon May 03, 2010 7:12 am UTC

I would argue that while humanitites can be understood on some level by most anybody, STEM fields require years of training just to know what someone is generally talking about. A STEM professor could easily give an analysis of a book or art piece, but an English prof. wouldn't have a clue about even some relatively simple to math/science people like trig. Essentially my point is that skill in humanitites is measured based on the appearance of a well thought out argument, STEM fields are harder because they require technical knowledge. Anybody can write a novel, but it takes a highly specialized expert to publish significant original research in a STEM field.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby spork » Mon May 03, 2010 12:12 pm UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:So, what are your thoughts? Which is harder? Does it matter?


I think that the perceived difficulty depends entirely on the person in the program.

Disclaimer: I am pursuing baccalaureate degrees in both Electronic/Computer Engineering and Computer Science. I have a natural affinity for math and technology in general but I still have to work extremely hard to stay on top of everything. I have no idea what a weekend is except time to spend on homework and projects. I am not unique or remarkably slow, this is the norm for over half of the people taking a normal credit load in my program.

I have done well enough in the lower-level liberal arts classes I've had to take as part of my degrees (English, communications, etc.) however I have no natural affinity or even interest in these areas. I find liberal arts classes to be "harder" than my core Engineering classes simply as a function of not being able to relate to or care about the material. I also have difficulties coping with how subjective a lot of these courses seem to be. English has a syntax which I can understand and will (try to) obey accordingly, however what makes a good essay varies widely depending on who is grading it. There is no analytical metric and as an extremely concrete person this disturbs me to no end. With math or design problems I have either come up with a satisfactory solution or not, it is a binary evaluation. With a humanities paper I could get (and have gotten) good grades for complete and utter BS and the converse for (what I thought were) well thought-out and valid views. I don't think this makes the humanities any less valuable, it just makes me choose to avoid them at all costs.


At the end of the day I just got back from lab where I spent my entire weekend working on my Sr. Design project. Just like I have spent the last two terms of weekends, and in a more general sense most of college. Of the liberal arts majors I know and associate with (Psychology, English, and Graphic Design) the only one that occasionally comes close to clocking as many school hours as I do is the Graphic Design major, and that is maybe two or so times in a term.

My sample may be a bit biased (I do have incredibly smart/talented friends) but the common stereotype is that STEM majors work longer hours and study "harder" than their counterparts in the humanities and I'm inclined to agree. Your mileage may vary.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Yreval » Mon May 03, 2010 7:40 pm UTC

nash1429 wrote:A STEM professor could easily give an analysis of a book or art piece, but an English prof. wouldn't have a clue about even some relatively simple to math/science people like trig. ... Anybody can write a novel, but it takes a highly specialized expert to publish significant original research in a STEM field.

All your Humanities professors were able to tackle Algebra, Trigonometry, Geometry, and Precalculus back in their high school days (hence, they graduated...) but they can't instruct it because they've been so far removed from it for so many years that they've lost memory of it all. And I know for damn sure that most of my STEM instructors would be pretty hopeless at giving real analysis to Hamlet or Heart of Darkness, and would we disastrous at leading a class on such pieces of literature—mostly for the same reasons. Moreover, writing a novel is a gargantuan undertaking, and it's absolutely not something that just anyone can do. The common man can write a novel in the same sense that the common man can conduct scientific "research," plinking around as a hobby or personal curiosity, but getting a novel published is every bit as difficult as getting scientific research published, and getting anything you write to be recognized as "significant" to the field of literature is probably less achievable than recognition in STEM fields.

Advanced concepts in the humanities are every bit as esoteric as they are in STEM fields; most people don't have even a layman's grasp of Quantum Mechanics or Geodesics, but nor do they have any grasp of German Expressionism or Cubism. Having a trained eye helps one make sense of a Jackson Pollock painting in the same way that it helps one decipher the notation for mathematics—without education, both can seem to be meaningless lines scrawled or splattered across the canvas.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby nash1429 » Tue May 04, 2010 5:37 am UTC


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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Twelfthroot » Tue May 04, 2010 5:33 pm UTC

I'm pretty sure the difference between these two categories is at best fuzzy, and possibly totally arbitrary. An educated person, I believe, would be very well advised to consider themself a perpetual student of both fields. When I write music about a feeling, am I not creating an isomorphism? I am providing a proof, my music, that my idea is expressed by the combination of data I selected, organizing it by familiar (or very novel) means and statements. If I wanted to write music that makes you feel like you're standing in the snow, and you feel like you're standing in the snow, my proof was reasoned with stunning accuracy. If you feel it sounds like dying, there were unexpected corollaries. If you felt like you were on fire, maybe I didn't really understand a technique I was using. Or perhaps I created something more interesting and worth thinking about than I could have intended or handled.

I suppose one could say that the difference between the fields is the use of logic, which introduces a sort of binary right or wrong. However, binary right-or-wrong exists in any situation - and (I posit) exclusively in a situation - where you are employing abstraction. A physical model is an abstraction. A circle is an abstraction. A diminished chord is an abstraction. Fire as a symbol of virility is an abstraction. Writing a good essay is to make a proof by manipulated abstractions that something could be the case. That is, yes, maybe the rose doesn't actually 'represent' immortality (or whatever) in any meaningful sense, but if the data are there, I can write an essay with sound logic that demonstrates the viability of the interpretation and then say "So what does that mean for me, for the author, and for humanity?" And the same sort of question should be asked after one discovers that, say, absolute time does not exist in a model consistent with observed reality. How did Einstein discover it, what does it mean about my life, and how will it affect human relations and progress?

I think I'm failing to articulate my point. What I mean is that you can apply techniques from any of these fields to any others, and you are starving yourself if you shut them out. There are well- and poorly-written songs, and beautiful and ugly proofs. Perhaps, if somebody could argue as to why there is a difference between STEM and humanities, I could better articulate what it is with which I'm disagreeing.

I will grant that at the high school and possibly undergrad level, it's fair to draw a distinction because there is a vast difference between teaching approaches. That is, in high school math, yes, either your answer is right or it isn't. Maybe your history teacher couldn't help you with your calculus homework. And perhaps there were students who claimed to turn in "absolute bullshit" and get an A on their English essay. This probably meant one of two things - the English teacher didn't know how to analyze and evaluate a good essay (which is just as possible as a math teacher who can't formulate or appreciate a good proof), or the student actually identified strategies (consciously or subconsciously) for good essay writing and employed them formulaically to respond to an easy and more or less pre-explained essay prompt without having to strain their minds over it. If you have a good writing teacher and they give you a bad grade for what you thought was a good essay, you can go to them and explain exactly why what you wrote was good - and they'll either concede to missing your point or explain in a well-reasoned argument why it actually sucked. I feel like part of the "science/math is harder" inclination comes from the humanities students failing at STEM and saying "This is too difficult and I could never understand it" versus STEM students failing at humanities and saying "This is arbitrary and subjective and anybody could do it."

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Vaniver » Thu May 06, 2010 12:09 am UTC

Twelfthroot wrote:I suppose one could say that the difference between the fields is the use of logic, which introduces a sort of binary right or wrong.
Logic? No. Logic classes exist in both math and philosophy, and thus bleed into everything else. If there is a significant difference, it is in the use of mathematics.

No science would get anywhere without math; most humanities do pretty well with only the simplest math.
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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby nash1429 » Thu May 06, 2010 6:24 am UTC

Logic as in organized and well-though-out reasoning or logic as in the construction of a statement whose only weakness lies in a few fundamental postulates? One is applicable to the real world, one is pure and noble. I would say generally that the sciences seek to understand the world (establishing facts) while the humanities seek to appreciate it (establishing opinions). It simply cannot be argued that we learn more about ourselves through thought experiments and literature (a glorified thought experiment) than we do using impirical psychology, etc.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby MAb » Sun May 09, 2010 9:14 pm UTC

nash1429 wrote:It simply cannot be argued that we learn more about ourselves through thought experiments and literature (a glorified thought experiment) than we do using impirical psychology, etc.


That is simply not true. I know what you're trying to say, that books and stuff don't describe the physical state of our brains, and this is true. However, whilst I know that all that I am is a result of the chemical state of my brain, good stories tell us things true to all men, or provide experience by proxy. Example being, band of brothers and shakespeare - there is something profoundly important inherent in words that can make old soldiers who fought in modern war cry, when those words were written by someone dead for ~400 years with no idea what the modern day would be like. That suggests something enduring, doesn't it? The reason that we still read chaucer today is because the dude wrote about things that still matter - life and sex and death. People who think these things don't matter cut off parts of themselves.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby nash1429 » Tue May 11, 2010 4:03 am UTC

I was talking not about evoking emotion or appreciation but about understanding. For example, if I want to learn about innate goodness/badness in people I would do a psych experiment (like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment), not go read Lord of the Flies.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Jahoclave » Tue May 11, 2010 7:16 am UTC

You do realize we can, in fact, actually measure how big our penises--and boob size (or whatever it is that women compare--of the respective majors are and thus settle this pissing contest once and for all? And we all know which side gets laid more. So perhaps we should have a huge pissing match about that as well.

Here's just an interesting thing to note: Critical theory is kind of like the humanities' calculus. Unless, you know, you figure you can just up an open a book by Frederic Jameson and understand everything he says.

And Nash, what if you wanted to know about cultural perceptions about what is or is not good? To what experiment are you going to be running? It's a matter of what question you're asking, and your self-justifying need to consider yourself intellectually superior. And as much as you'd love to believe 451 to be true, it isn't.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby nash1429 » Tue May 11, 2010 11:02 pm UTC

Actually experiemts have been done to demonstrate various cultural reactions and perceptions, although unfortunately I don't have time to find them at the moment. They have compared people from the North vs. the South and shown different reactions to the same stimuli (like a partner cheating). And I am not arguing necessarily that humanities are stupid or don't take thought, but simply that they lack the purity of empiricism (specifically they are not falsifiable).

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Velict » Wed May 12, 2010 12:27 am UTC

Literature is not science. A novel is a work of art. It expresses the aims and beliefs of the artist, not some objective truth about reality.

Similarly, while psychology can tell us about the human mind and sociology tries to find human social activity, neither of them can really elaborate much on the human condition. What does it mean to be human? What ought we to do? And so on and so forth.

nash1429 wrote:And I am not arguing necessarily that humanities are stupid or don't take thought, but simply that they lack the purity of empiricism (specifically they are not falsifiable).


How can you empirically answer those questions raised by the humanities? If they can't be described and proven through empirical means, does that make those questions unimportant or meaningless?

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby nash1429 » Wed May 12, 2010 9:19 pm UTC

Go ahead and think about them all you want, but don't say that you can establish certainty.

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby Velict » Thu May 13, 2010 1:25 am UTC

nash1429 wrote:Go ahead and think about them all you want, but don't say that you can establish certainty.

Does certainty require empirical support? Do we need certainty?

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Re: STEM fields vs. Humanites

Postby nash1429 » Thu May 13, 2010 4:59 am UTC

By "certainty" I don't mean being 100% sure that something will happen or is true, but that a conclusion is logically sound (I am certain that the pythagorean theoem is correct in a different way than I would be certain of something like the transcendency of love). Even if I do not need certainty, I certainly want it. It is my prerogative, just as it is yours to accept or reject the quest for certainty for its own sake.


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