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Metallurgy meets metaphysics

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Fifty years ago, physicist-turnednovelist CP Snow delivered his path-breaking 'Two Cultures' lecture at the University of Cambridge. Tearing into the mutual incomprehension that existed between the natural scientists - engineers, biologists, chemists etc - and the literary intellectuals, he theorized that there was no place for this 'hostility and dislike' in the modern world.

Snow's lecture holds even greater relevance today with divide between the two streams becoming even starker. For a long time, every programme offered in Indian colleges was guarded by thick boundaries. Apart from a handful of colleges and technological schools, sciences and art are not remotely connected even now. "But teaching an engineer some amount of humanities is essential for him to realise the world and the culture around. Just as it is important for the arts student to realise the laws of science that work around him, " said CNR Rao, principal scientific advisor to the Prime Minister. "It makes them well rounded. " Rao feels that every undergraduate course - be it medicine, engineering, sciences, arts or finance must have some components of other streams.

Professor Vijay Singh of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research believes that the sciences and the humanities need to be brought closer to help a student make sense of the world instead of just "measuring" it. Darwin, for instance, established his entire theory on evolution based of his observations of natural history, and most of that information was not quantitative;it was qualitative. In fact, in his vision document for the Indian Institutes of Technology, Jawaharlal Nehru had said that science and technology graduates must not be illiterate about humanities.

The Indian Institutes of Technology, which run humanities courses for their engineering students, expect them to follow a few core courses. At IIT-Bombay, students have to take a course in introduction to economics, environmental studies and one of the following four: literature, philosophy, sociology and psychology.

"All the courses run in full capacity. Students relate to technology a lot better and the realisation and appreciation of studying humanities comes once they are a few years into their careers, " says head of the IIT-B humanities department K Narayanan.
Just as scientific understanding can be both beautiful and vital for culture, it is important to realize that almost all management that we apply in day-to-day workings are derived from subjects of humanities, says Himanshu Rai, faculty at IIM Lucknow. "The power of humanities should not be undervalued, " he says.

As a teacher of strategy, negotiation and leadership, Rai says that all of education is a template we need to apply as we go on in life. "But there is so much wisdom in the Indian scriptures I use in my teachings - I feel they can be translated to modern management practices. "

At St Xavier's College in Mumbai, students pursuing arts have to take up the mandatory credits in science and vice versa. Even when the curricula is drawn up, faculty from all the streams have to contribute their bit, thus making learning fuller. Says Father Frazer Mascarenhas, principal of the college: "There was a time when it was essential for a student to specialise in one subject. But today it is very crucial for every student to pursue interdisciplinary studies. For, all the major discoveries and advances are happening at the margins of various subjects. "

To make the arts more inclusive, the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi is now planning to develop trans-disciplinary clusters and it has sought financial support from the University Grants Commission. "The idea is to ensure that the mind is not compartmentalised, that it does not think in one direction. The plan is to keep the mind excited, " said vice chancellor S K Sopory.

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