The Scientific Study of Man and the Humanities
C. Judson Herrick
When it was suggested that I, an anatomist, come before this group to discuss the relationships of the social sciences, the question naturally arose, Why should I? What do I know about it? The second question answers itself—nothing at all. The social sciences—why, sir, I do not even know their names.
These relationships of the social sciences, however, really do intrigue me—the rich relations, on one hand, and the poor relations, on the other. The geographical location of this new and beautifully appointed building has some interesting implications—the imposing façade, looking out upon the broad expanse of the Midway, flanked on one side by belles lettres and on the other by beauty incarnate, by the fine arts, and by the aspirations of religion.
These are our rich relations, and proud of them we have reason to be. Then there is Commerce and Administration, toying with vested wealth and the luxuries and satisfactions which it brings, and at the same time paying its respects to the grimy sweat of toil. Again, there is Social Service, reaching out a helping hand to other of our poor relations, misfortune, poverty, delinquency, and crime. To say nothing of Politics, which is too often at once rich in worldly goods and despicably poor in spiritual values.
But I cannot discuss these things. If I were to try to talk your language, I should only add to your dreary
( 113) sciences more dull and empty words. True, we do not need to go outside the University to observe that caliginous ignorance is no bar to a plethoric flow of words. There are ample precedents. But I prefer to talk about something that we are all familiar with.
I would like, for instance, to say something about Humpty-Dumpty and his Great Wall; but the dignitaries in charge of these ceremonies frowned upon this and a more banal title was announced. But, really, I do want to talk about the Great Wall, and I propose to do it. Let the dignitaries howl.
Knowing no sociology, I shall recount a fable for sociologists.
Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall;
Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall;
And all the king's horses and all the king's men
Could not put Humpty-Dumpty together again.
This is the story—brief, graphic. My researches have not penetrated far into the history of this legend. We know nothing regarding the personality and other achievements of Humpty-Dumpty previous to his great adventure. The archaeologists, so far as I know, have not uncovered even the foundation stones of his Great Wall. Yet the tradition lives and its influence abides with us, as does that of all the great of old
The dead but sceptered sovereigns
Who still rule our spirits from the tomb.
We need no archaeologist to locate the Great Wall in its modern form. We have it on our campus. It stretches, vast and impenetrable, from east to west across the main quadrangle. It is invisible, to be sure, but one has only to stand on Fifty-eighth Street and look across the quadrangle to see where it is. To the
( 114) south there are the homes of the humanities in imposing array, to the north the massive laboratories of the natural sciences, and between them a wide expanse of—nothing at all.
What means this gap? It is not empty space. It is, in fact, a mighty barrier, slowly and unwittingly fabricated from the founding of the University—the ill-concealed antipathy between the humanities and the sciences.
It is of no avail to deny its reality. Close our eyes to it though we may, it still is there—if not distrust, certainly a lack of sympathetic understanding and ability, with the best of intention, to effect unhampered co-operation.
Within our short history, the barrier has been passed by hardy adventurers on several occasions. Years ago the Department of Psychology emancipated itself from Philosophy and, flanking the wall, took its place on the north side among the natural sciences, claiming the right to study mind as a natural phenomenon and validating the claim by doing it successfully. More recently Anthropology has followed from your own midst and is now safely, though meagerly, housed in Hull Court. And only last summer another of your departments brazenly walked across the campus—house and all—from under the shadow of Art and Divinity to find asylum in a quiet nook behind the power-house. There has been, within our recollection, no similar migration in the opposite direction. And this, perhaps, is a pity.
These centrifugal movements, coming contemporaneously with the dedication of this new laboratory of the social sciences in the very heart of the citadel of the
( 115) humanities, inevitably raise the questions, Where do the social sciences belong in an academic organization? and, What is a social science anyway?
An ancient teacher once said, "If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand." This has a personal application: "No man can serve two masters." A more modern philosopher has remarked that it is impossible to live in two unrelated worlds at once.
To an ignorant outsider it looks a little as if the social sciences may be in some danger of attempting this impossible acrobatic feat. The Great Wall stands today on our campus as a barrier between the natural sciences, whose domain is the world of objects, and the humanities, whose domain is the world of spiritual values. Are the social sciences to remain dispersed on opposite sides of the Great Wall, or is the group as a whole to attempt to maintain a precarious balance astride the Wall, with one foot in the Elysian fields of the humanities and the other solidly resting on the firm ground of scientifically controlled factual data? The available precedents indicate that neither of these alternatives will give a stable organization. The thing is likely to fall to pieces, one way or another. And this is not a trivial matter; it strikes down to the very soil within which are the roots of our university development, the original sources of academic achievement.
Traditionally, our social sciences are aligned with the humanities. And they must maintain this alliance with the realm of spiritual values and experiences if they are to be humanitarian in any proper sense. Traditionally, also, the natural and exact sciences, whose tools the social sciences are employing with increasing efficiency, are uncontaminated by spiritual values, by human
( 116) emotion, sentiment, or any subjective coloring. We are face to face with a rather appalling dilemma.
A few years ago, Mr. Merriam will remember, I sat for a week at one of the Hanover conferences with the Committee on Methodology in the Social Sciences. I was, fortunately, not a member of the Committee, but merely an uninvited guest, an interested spectator. My only part was to be seen, not heard. The Committee, I presume, has by this time disbanded, and now I may speak and confide to you that their deliberations left me—and I suspect some of them—in a mood of deep dejection.
Here were representative leaders of research in fields that embrace the sources of human welfare and human happiness more directly than any others—except perhaps medicine and hygiene—who were unable to agree upon any formulation of problems or any program of research which struck down to the roots of the motivation of human behavior with technique that by any stretch of current usage can be called scientific.
It was agreed that certain tools of scientific research--mathematical formulas, statistics, and so on—can be applied to the study of the objective results of human behavior and that these data can be treated scientifically. But many of them seemed to feel that the motivating causes of this behavior—people's desires, aversions, loves, and hates—belong in a spiritual realm on the other side of the great barrier and are forever inaccessible to scientific study.
The methodology of the social sciences, accordingly, resolves itself into a program of improvement in the techniques of recording and analyzing what people do in their social relations. It can have no bearing on
( 117) changing the course of human events except in so far as human conduct can be guided or restrained by external agents, as children may be compelled to go to school and as their parents may be put in jail if they don't. Any attempt to control the fundamental motivating forces of the child himself—to get him to want to go to school —lies beyond the scope of social or any other science.
On this view of the situation, human social activities can be treated scientifically in no other way than can poetic composition. The divine fire of poetic inspiration comes, we know not how; we have no scientific formula for it. When the poet comes to record his passion, he may use a fountain pen or a typewriter—a scientifically constructed mechanism. Shall we say, then, that the methodology of the science of poesy consists in the improvement of typewriters? No, we frankly admit that writing poetry is not (as yet) a scientific enterprise.
Are the social sciences, as sciences, any better off to-day? This is a searching question and a practical one.
The newborn social sciences—are they live disciplines or dead ones? Their tools, questionnaires, statistics, and so on are as dead as the anatomist's scalpel and microscope. They must study the results of social activity, production and transportation, organization of social units, legal enactments, and the like, just as the anatomist studies a cadaver, which is a result of living. Do they rest there, with their statistics, codes, and laws, or do they go on to the study of social forces in process as part of human living? The answer to this question will decide whether the social sciences are to die aborning.
I do not mean to imply that we should not collect
( 118) statistics and analyze costs, any more than I would imply that anatomists should cease to dissect dead bodies. Whether these are appropriate things to do in a university depends on what we do them for.
Anatomy is the oldest of the biological sciences. Not long ago it was thought to have reached the age of senile decay, and preparations were made for suitable interment. Then suddenly within our own memory a miracle happened, the old science was rejuvenated, and today it is as lively as any of them. The breath of life that was breathed into this valley of dry bones was the simple realization that our interest in dead bodies is only for the light which they shed upon live ones, what they do and how they do it. Today there are more live experimental animals in the anatomical laboratory than dead bodies. It is the vital process in which we are interested.
You have a journal named Social Forces. What are these forces? External influence of climate and geography and pressure of populations? Yes, these are factors in human conduct. Internal drives and intuitive impulses, shaped by heredity and innate organization? Yes, again, these also influence conduct.
When these are learned and reduced to rule, is the program complete? Are social movements irrevocably determined by these forces of heredity and environment? Have we left out anything? I say, yes, we have left out the key to our fundamental problem—the control of social movements and of human destiny. Is this key to human motivation locked up out of reach of scientific inquiry in some mystic realm of spiritual essence on the other side of the great barrier between the physical life and the spiritual life?
If the great underlying social forces, the mainsprings
( 119) of human motivation, are outside the realm of natural law and therefore inaccessible with the technique of natural science, then I affirm that the social sciences are misnamed. They are pseudosciences, and the whole movement is a stupendous bluff.
If this is the way things really are, I have some practical suggestions. Let us dismantle this new building, move the adding machines and files across campus, and rededicate this house as a Temple of Social Graces. Or else let us put the whole building on skids and move it bodily to some other convenient niche behind the power-house. Two horses and a windlass will do the trick, as was proved to us last summer.
I am not jesting; never was more serious in my life. If the social sciences attempt to straddle the Great Wall which until now has separated the humanities and the natural sciences, they will fall. That is not a practicable enterprise.
But perhaps the prognosis is not so bad after all. Let us look at this Great Wall again.
When I was a child one of my duties was to bring in the cow from the pasture at milking time. One evening toward sunset she ran up to the,barn door, whiffed the steaming bran mash in her manger, but refused to enter. Peering past her, I saw a beam of the setting sun streaming through a crack just inside the door. The dancing motes made a visible barrier which bossie was afraid to cross. After a little persuasion from my switch, she backed away, got a good running start, and by supreme effort cleared the hurdle with a flying jump.
Perhaps the Great Wall that stretches across our quadrangles is naught but motes illumined by the setting sun of bygone traditions. Perhaps we have been
( 120) shying at shadows cast, not by the "irreducible and stubborn facts" of experience, but by ghosts and phantasmagoria of mythology. Is this spiritual life of ours, which we rightly cherish as the highest efflorescence of our humanity, really so detached from the rest of our life that we must keep it corked up in a vacuum bottle? Or is all life natural life—the best of it as well as the worst of it—and so a legitimate object of scientific study?
If we think with our brains and if we love and hate with these and with our hearts and ductless glands—and the evidence is perfectly clear that we do just this —then brains and hearts and glands can be studied, and they can be studied in action while we think and love and hate. Without following this up into details, this common sense and also strictly scientific approach to human life and experience will inevitably demolish completely the mythical impenetrable barrier between the objective and the subjective worlds of experience. It is one world in which we live and have our being and of which we are parts, and all of it and all of us can be investigated scientifically as fast as we learn how.
The economist studies values, and he is the first to proclaim that the commodities, coins, and securities with which he deals are only the symbols or indicators of the real values. The true value is an intimate personal and subjective experience what I want and work for. Without these motivating desires and satisfactions, goods and dollars and mortgages are trash.
An essential condition of control of social movements lies in our ability to control people's motivating desires, their wants, fears, hopes, and aspirations. Is this a scientific problem? It is, if these spiritual experiences
( 121) are real natural events in a real natural world. There is a natural apparatus of aesthetic appreciation as truly as there is a natural mechanism that creates a glorious sunset or a so-called artificial machine that prints a picture of it.
Economics will not be less scientific when we supplement our statistics by the recognition of the actual causal efficiency in social movements of personal passions—loves and hates and ideals. And economy will not be more painful when we reinforce our desires and aversions with scientific knowledge of the technique and motivation of them.
Human conduct does not float free in a vacuum. It works with machinery, some of which is familiar to everybody—tools of manufacture and transportation, mediums of exchange,,social organizations, boards of trade, clearing houses, and the like. The spiritual life, too, has its tools—books, libraries, musical instruments, works of art, literary guilds, churches, charities.
And the life of the spirit has other tools that are in-side of us. Some day we shall know enough about these to get them under better control. It is true that an individual personal passion cannot be an object of scientific research as an isolated subjective event. But every subjective experience is related with other things —the mental and physical causes of the experience and its mental and physical consequences—and these relationships can be studied with our present scientific technique. The study of relationships is the essence of scientific method.
Our plea for a scientific study of values, appreciations, and spiritual experiences in general does not carry with it the implication that such studies are to replace
( 122) our traditional humanistic treatment of these noblest human attributes. Quite the contrary, we naturalists and human biologists hope to reinforce, to clarify, and to refine these spiritual values and give to our colleagues in the humanities better tools with which to work in their own fields and in their own ways. For after all our aims are the same. It is the same humanity whose life we strive to enrich and to ennoble.
This, then, is our outlook for the social sciences as sciences of man—a unified attack upon the whole field of human achievement and human experience by such scientific methods as are available and the invention of new methods as new needs arise.
It is granted that we have made but slow progress so far in the scientific study of spiritual values. But have we really tried? Has not our attack on the crucial questions been inhibited or deflected by an ancient dogma that natural science is impotent here, just where we need it most—in the field of human motivation?
True, we do not yet know just how to go about it. But that is no reason why we should not find out. That is what a university is for—to find out things. And we shall never find out so long as we are ruled by the dogma that physical and spiritual belong to two unrelated worlds separated by a metaphysical barrier. This Great Wall, I verily believe, is now the most formidable obstacle to progress in the social sciences and in all other fields devoted to the scientific study of man.
Like Carthage, the Great Wall must be totally destroyed. Halfway measures will not do. The barrier between man's spiritual life, which comes to highest expression in his social reactions, and the rest of his life is an artifact, nay, a monstrosity, conceived in ignorance, born of superstition, nourished by intolerance.