David Bueno, Josep Casanovas and Marina Garcés
Professor of Genetics at Universitat de Barcelona and former researcher at Oxford University
Professor of Philosophy at Universidad de Zaragoza
Coordinator of the Severo Ochoa Research Excellence Program in the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS)
Reflections on the future of the humanities and the relation between science, technology and humanities in the 21st Century.
Interview to the Editorial Team and Local Advisory Board of the new edition of the Higher Education in the World Report 7, to be presented on the 10th December 2019 in Barcelona.
David Bueno: In general, and despite not always being aware of it, science, technology and humanities constantly converge in every aspect of our lives, since we are biological-cultural beings. In a simplified way, any scientific discovery or every technological application can entail personal, cultural or social repercussions that must - or should - also be addressed by the humanities. Every humanist view of the individual, the society and the relationships of mutual interdependence arises in a specific cultural, scientific and technological context and depends upon it. A different question, however, is what is the result of this confluence: is it a relation that allows each of them, from their own positions, to enrich the other and therefore, allows for contributions to personal and collective (social) growth? or are we faced with a situation where one or more of the disciplines are in a position of predominance over the others?
I think that the answer to that question is not clear, since it is very possible, at least in my view, that the answer might change depending on both the specific situation and on each cultural and human group. In a certain context and culture, a branch of knowledge may be predominant over the others, and the rest may be undervalued for the benefit of the rest. I would say, therefore, that there is an asymmetric confluence depending on each circumstance. This asymmetric confluence is dynamic and constantly changing, and therefore also unstable.
Josep Casanovas: Science, technology and humanities come together in most of the activities performed by human beings, and this has been so since long time ago. The models, techniques and instruments used in each of these non-disjointed universes have grown in complexity and abundance - an abundance that very often also implies a growing degree of difficulty in their understanding and assimilation. One clear example of this interaction is the massive irruption of information technologies and the ease of access and use of multimodal devices (computers, tablets, mobiles, sensors...). The latter integrate, in a very efficient way, the communication capacity with all kinds of services; they have created a specific ecosystem where these three major areas of knowledge are retrieved interactively and continuously and, in a way, in a transparent and considerably easy and affordable way for their users.
Many myths have been broken in terms of generational, social, cultural and economic barriers. The extension and resilience of new forms of relationship between humans, based on the combination of the processes of creation and transmission of knowledge with the different media or the universe of applications, have rapidly and irreversibly transformed Humanity, in a surprisingly short period of time. These environments constitute a "spontaneous" and sophisticated mechanism of confluence between science, technology and humanities, with a scope and potential for new, extraordinary transformations.
Marina Garcés: The crossroads of science, technology and humanities is our current state of affairs. These are the three activities that define the contours of the world in which we live, its limits and its potential. Therefore, we cannot deal with them as three separate and isolated areas within the academic world. They are interrelated practices that intermingle with the main problems of our societies. Nowadays, this implies that we must take very seriously the question of how educational institutions and research centers can establish bridges between each other and with other institutions and citizens so that we can be elaborate and evaluate, in a collective way, the sense and the consequences of the main transformations of our present.
David Bueno: One of the several deep transformations that have shaped today’s society has been the evolution from the industrial society to the information society (a leap comparable to what it meant to move from the agricultural society in the Neolithic to the industrial society). The amount of information that is generated only every three days exceeds the total amount of information accumulated since the invention of writing until the twentieth century. Information, however, only involves storing data; infinite data, which are related to the environmental, cultural, social, scientific and technological impacts caused by the industrial revolution, nowadays also globalized. In this context, in my view, the role of the humanities in higher education must be that of contributing, in a consciously manner, to move from the information society to the knowledge society. If information is data -which can be segmented, grouped, classified, crossed, inferred and used-, knowledge must allow us to be aware of the implications of this data and of the processes that are derived -or can be derived- from it in order to build opinions and act responsibly – that is, with equality, co-responsibility and freedom – so to be able to discern more carefully the possible alternatives that science, technology, and of course, also the very same humanities can provide us in the construction of the future. This future, in my opinion, must contribute to freedom and human dignity in a favorable natural, cultural and social environment. Given that the information society is at the dawn of its journey, the role of humanities in higher education to base the knowledge society must be constant and transversal, so to maintain the open flow between information and knowledge.
Josep Casanovas: One of the ways of implementing the enormous potential derived from the confluence between the information revolution and human activities and needs must necessarily be the design of new forms of expression of the abilities derived from the creation of knowledge and training, within the scope of what I understand to be a broad concept of what humanities are and represent. The humanities and the social sciences must transform their models of relationship with society, currently too circumscribed to the reproduction and transmission of knowledge in terribly traditional formats. These formats are often too orthogonal with the emerging environments of the information society: they do not take advantage of the factors of proximity, sensitivity, local knowledge and detail, and their contact with a large variety and quantity of data which is available to be processed and which tallow them to acquire more knowledge and facilitate decision-making.
A second view of the current situation is the progressive emphasis on the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary nature of research and innovation teams that are trying to address the issues facing society in all areas of knowledge. This implies deeply transforming the way in which science, technology and humanities should be integrated into training the professionals and citizens of the future. The aim is that these people, from different disciplinary origins, and who necessarily must work as a team, have the necessary capabilities to collaborate, in a rigorous, creative and efficient way, based on ways of conceptualizing knowledge which can be easily shared by all. Therefore, I believe that all paradigms and processes related to higher education must be transformed as a whole, in a way that the complexity and strategic value of each and every one of the branches of knowledge is recognized and projected on society. In this way we will achieve the real social recognition of many areas of knowledge that now have a great difficulty in achieving the conceptual and material support for their proper evolution. And, finally, we will transform business models associated with many disciplines and generate new forms of employment and a much more solid socio-economic fabric, based on creativity and innovation able to respond to the labour and leisure market - expressed in singular, as a whole – which will be extremely different from the current one.
Marina Garcés: For me, humanities are the very diverse set of activities with which we develop the sense of human experience, from the point of view of dignity and freedom. Therefore, they are not only important from a cultural and personal point of view, but they are decisive in the training of any professional. During a very long period, the humanities were understood as a set of disciplines (Art, Literature…), which had inherited the nineteenth-century demarcation of the "sciences of the spirit." Thus, they had been separated from the rest of teachings and professions, protected in their "uselessness". Currently, in view of the challenges posed by the redefining of humanity and our relationship with the planet, we must vindicate their essentiality in higher education and their inseparable relationship with the rest of teaching and research. There cannot be non-humanistic science or non-humanistic technology.