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Liberal Arts for Scientists, Science as a Liberal Art
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승인 2016.09.19  17:14:03
트위터 페이스북 미투데이 요즘 네이버 구글 msn

▲ Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci                                                       surrey.ac.uk

     When asked to write an article about liberal education, I found myself laughing inside. Wasn’t I the person who is most ignorant and indifferent about ‘culture’ just several years ago? However, I think it might be helpful for others to tell my story about how my viewpoint about science and liberal arts has changed.
     Science, especially physics, was my favorite subject since childhood. If anyone asked me “Why did you major in physics?” or “What does your research mean to you?”, my answer was always the same. “Because it's fun.” Learning physics and manipulating nature with my own ideas based on my knowledge were my great pleasures. I was like a little child playing with toys in the forest of nature. The pursuit of fun in scientific research made me apply for a university professor position. At universities, one could freely choose research topics without any intervention from others, unlike the situation in companies where the work plan is usually made by a boss. After I became a professor, I really enjoyed the freedom. I was busy building a laboratory, raising research funds, training students and implementing new ideas.
     However, after several years, different thoughts came into my mind. “Is it fine for a man in the position of professor to spend his whole life just working on what he likes?” “Is it correct to spend money funded by public taxes for my personal pleasure?” Something was wrong. I felt responsibility to my students and to the society I belong to. Students were worrying about their studies, careers, and uncertain futures. The world out there was full of pains and cries. Enjoying my own studies just for myself without any concerns for others was definitely wrong.

▲ Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci             surrey.ac.uk

     I wanted to understand the situation of the students, and help them find their paths and live a better life. But I was not ready for that. I was lacking an understanding of humans and life. That was my weakest point. While going through high school and colleges specializing in science, I did not have chance to study liberal arts. Until then, liberal studies seemed to me like ornaments to show up as an educated man. As I study and think about other’s lives, our history, politics, and cultures, I felt like my eyes were opened. My professional knowledge about physics turned out be too narrow. I did not know even about physics beyond my research field. My interest had to be extended to other fields in physics, and other subjects in science. The whole process of learning in this period was driven by a single motive – to find out how to live in this world.
     When conducted without understanding the human and social life, science and technology cannot find their meaning. They will just produce fragments of knowledge and will only serve the purpose of the rulers with powers. In many cases in history, it turned out to be useless to mankind, or at worst they brought disasters to mankind. The blind advance of science and technology often resulted in the deepening of the gap between rich and poor, environmental destruction, and the extermination of humanity. This is why liberal education is important for scientists and engineers.
     I started to teach physics in the liberal arts two years ago, and had to take a different stance unlike teaching physics as a major. The first question that came to mind was this: Why do they need to learn science and how does science help them? In our society, it is easy to understand why literature is necessary to the public, but to explain why they need to know science seems to be somewhat difficult.
     One of the reasons is to recognize science just as a means to develop techniques. When asking “Why is science important?”, you may hear this kind of answer. Science became one of the core competitiveness of modern society. Super companies that dominate the world are built based on state-of-the-art science. Science is a national power. In short, science makes us eat well and live well. It sounds like that scientific knowledge itself has neither role nor meaning. It affects human life only when it is converted to a technology. It's not true. First of all, what motivates humans to explore science is to understand the world they were born and grew up in. Science begins to know the principles working in our world and maintaining our daily lives. It is based on a very natural desire as a human being. As everyone desires to establish a relationship with another person, we also desire to understand nature.
     While exploring nature, man gets knowledge and wisdom. Nature holds a deep knowledge that is still not fully uncovered by more than a thousand years of study. The operation of nature is so efficient and sophisticated. Every element that seems to be trivial contributes to maintaining the global system and whole universe is supporting each other. Humans looking at nature’s systems with perfect harmony cannot help but to imitate such harmony and generosity. The process of exploring nature itself requires us to have a rational and logical way of thinking. Unlike humans whose response is unpredictable and random, nature always gives us consistent and unwavering answers. If trying to approach nature in the wrong way, we always fail. The truth of nature is relentless. In the same way, we are asked to be sincere and faithful to the truth.
     Despite the strict and nonnegotiable rules in nature, their consequences are not at all boring or simple. Nature impresses us with an amazing variety and unpredictability, and awakens the beauty and transcendental spirit inside us. This is how science functions as one of the liberal arts, and why men and women need scientific literacy regardless of their professions or majors.
     Let me summarize in this way: The liberal arts are needed for scientists for proper scientific inquiry, and science, as one of liberal arts, helps all of us grow as a true human being.

By Hwang In-kag, Associate Professor, Department of Physics

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