Suzanne Fields

The humanities have clearly fallen from grace. Undergraduate students at UCLA, for example, no longer read Greek, Roman or European literature, but choose courses in Chicana Feminism, Queer Literature or Women and Gender in the Caribbean. English majors are no longer required to read Chaucer, Shakespeare or Milton, dead white guys all, but choose from penetrating studies in gender, sexuality, disability and ethnicity.

Shakespeare's birth, alas, was ill-timed, coinciding as it did with the expansion of the British Empire (bad). Milton's anti-royalist sympathies inspired Thomas Jefferson's republicanism, but most of the works of the Bard and Milton go unread today. We don't burn books, we bury them, preferring to dogpaddle deep in the shallows of ideological victimhood.

The 21st century, with its new modes of electronic communication, is frequently compared to the 15th century, when Gutenberg and his movable type and printing press democratized information for a new reading public. All those manuscripts, painstakingly copied by monks working in cold, dark and dank monasteries, could suddenly be swiftly multiplied. Ancient culture was revived and energized a Renaissance in writing, painting, sculpture and thinking. Man returned to the center of the universe in the town square and cathedral. He was far from perfect, but he could create unbounded aesthetic pleasures testifying to his importance in art, literature and life.

Renaissance Man eventually shrank as the universities got bigger. In 1987, Allan Bloom, in his "The Closing of the American Mind," observed that professors who taught the humanities no longer elevated young minds. Pseudo-philosophy and relativism supplanted thought and the relentless pursuit of truth.

Now David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale, extends the argument, and worries about "the closing of the scientific mind." He's concerned that certain contemporary scientists in the academy revel in the idea that machine intelligence will soon dominate human intelligence. These scientists take pleasure in the idea that science can soon insert chips in bodies and brains to fine-tune behavior and genetic resources.

"The mainstream view of mind nowadays among philosophers and many scientists," he writes in Commentary magazine, "is inspired by the idea that minds are to brains as software is to computers."

This is modern man reborn as robot, the logical conclusion of functionalist thinking, which belittles man to enthrone machines and science. His gloom coincides with knocking the humanities out of the classroom.

What fools these mortals be! (Who said that?)


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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