About

"Integrating Science and the Humanities" was an Exploratory Workshop from the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of British Columbia, awarded to Principal Investigators Edward Slingerland, Asian Studies, and Joseph Henrich, Psychology and Economics.

The sentiment behind this explanatory workshop was that, although intuitively appealing and probably even innate, the sort of mind-body dualism that informs the sharp divide between the “two cultures” of the natural sciences and the humanities is no longer plausible in light of recent discoveries about human cognition. This means that it is time to focus more attention on bridging the increasingly untenable gap between these cultures, recognizing that the more complex human structures typically studied by scholars in the humanities — such as religion, culture, meaning, ethics, literature, consciousness, emotions, and aesthetics — can now in theory be incorporated into a vertically integrated understanding of humanity.

To pursue this integration, humanists need to pay serious attention to both constraints and processes arising from scientific disciplines, especially those that most closely border on the humanities, such as psychology and animal behavior. On the flip side, as scientists come to increasingly shift the focus of their research agendas from simpler to more complex processes, they need to team with experts in the humanities to acquire, process, and fully understand what is known about complex human phenomena such as religion or culture; such collaboration is also necessary to comprehend the social and ethical implications of discoveries in the biological and cognitive sciences regarding human phenomena.

The goal of this workshop was to explore the potential of a truly integrated approach to human culture, one that is novel in that it respects the emergent nature of human-level reality without ontologically fetishizing it. The panel discussions and workshop presentations addressed this concern: how, practically and concretely, would adopting a vertically-integrated approach change the way humanists go about their work? More importantly, in what respects could adopting such an approach be seen as progress?