Going to Ireland is a sort of rite of passage, a pilgrimage, for anybody who takes an interest in Literature and Creative Writing. Ireland is a small place– it could probably fit into the state of Montana twice. Yet Ireland has spawned some of the most prolific figures in Literature: Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Seamus Heaney, and and W.B. Yeats, just to name a few. One begins to wonder, what is it about Ireland that makes people so prone to write and to write well? And so it seems a natural extension of the person interested in Literature and writing to travel to the country. Lucky for me, I was able to compliment this journey with a course exploring the scientific basis behind the mind. This meant not only did I study pieces of Literature from these important Irish authors, but I also studied the neuroscience behind what separates the mind from the brain and as such, how we can begin to decipher where creativity originates on a biological level.
People tend to think about sentience in two ways: 1) That we are just glorified monkeys 2) In a spiritual sense, where we have souls. Both of these are valid perspectives but, in recent years, we have begun to bridge this gap and some people now understand human consciousness as a balance between both of these. The course I took focused heavily on this perspective.
My professor for the course, Dean Comer, had a saying (which I am certain he gleaned from another man who “had a saying”) that the simplest problems go to Physicists and if they can’t solve it, then on to Chemists who pass it on to Biologists who then pass it on to writers. So if you really think about it, Science and the Humanities are not that far from each other. I often have thought about them as separate entities where you either are a “science” person or a “humanity” person, and neither of these people could mix. James Joyce is sometimes known as the father of stream of consciousness, where he attempted to write how somebody might think. His novel Ulysses, showed a single day in the mind of his characters. While many might view this as a venture in the humanities, maybe we need to see it as a venture in science. Doesn’t modern day Neuroscience try and explain how the mind works? And when Neuroscience can’t provide an indefinite explanation, writers take up their pens and to their typewriters to explain it in the best way they know how. What is being human? All these instruments and tools we use to do things are only so we can explain how we feel inside to somebody else. Science and Literature, they aren’t so different in that way.
As time goes on, people seem to invest more of themselves into a scientific perspective than into a humanitarian perspective. People put less value on the humanities and more value on the sciences. Sciences are STEM careers, lots of sciences directly feed into a nice and neat job after college. How many times have I been asked, with an incredulous look, “And what do you plan to do with that major?” I don’t know, I guess. Lots of us don’t know. But we ought to stop thinking about these specialties as such different schools of thought and start thinking of them as diverging on the same.