If we lived in a world without literature, learning only the sciences,
would we be the same people? Does the human race need literature at all, does
it have any worth whatsoever except as entertainment? Do people actually learn
from literature? These are all questions that divide the human race into two
separate sections, those who believe in the power of literature, and those who
see it as impoverished compared to the social sciences in its ability to teach
us about ourselves. However we need not be so divided on this issue.
Literature is as rich a teacher as science, but merely differs in technique.
Literature offers knowledge to those that seek it, gives experience to those who
understand it, and pleasure to those that love it. Science on the other hand
imparts knowledge, leads to experience, and gives pleasure to the few who love
Literature is just as varied and expansive as Science is. There are
hundreds of styles, millions of authors, and thousands of languages which make
up literature. Instead of different fields, as in science, there are different
genres. Literature is often backed up by research or first hand information,
but can also be fanciful flights of the imagination. They are similar to the
research, observation, and hypothesis found in science. Experiments can be
performed in both. A scientist could ask what if, and logically and
scientifically follow his what if through. A writer could ask the same and use
his imagination, knowledge, and perhaps a little research, to guide his
imagination. Literature and Science are similar.
However they differ in some important respects. Science is an exact
realm of numbers and averages and measurements. The last time you read a
romance novel, were there charts showing the Freudian prediction of the average
persons love life? Literature does not have the same kind of exactitude that is
offered by Science. But it does offer precision in another way. Literature
often is the description of one or a few peoples lives in detail. It is from
these detailed case studies as a scientist would call them, that we can learn.
It is the argument of science that people are similar and thus scientific
averages do have some relevance to humans. Yes people often do share similar
characteristics, and behave similarly if coming from the same society. And thus,
a detailed insight into one persons’ life could give you an insight on the lives
of others. In a way Literature allows you to live thousands of lives in a short
time, and gain a little experience from each of them. Science on the other hand,
offers you charts and tables to which you must apply the situations of daily
life. It is in this fundamental way that literature and science are different.
Literature offers you insight which you apply to life, in science, you apply
life to your theories. It’s just a matter of whether life is the cookie cutter
or the dough.
Imagine a world without literature. All your Literature courses in
school are replaced with social sciences: philosophy, psychology, etc. Would
people be the same? No doubt life would be a great deal less interesting, as
our minds would not be as stimulated. The world would also be a more closed
place, and news, and history would seem less related and more distant. Why?
Because sciences do not show you what something is like, the describe it. For
example, if science wanted to describe a hit and run it would say Yesterday,
7/15/96, one 5’4 Caucasian of birth date 3/16/70, was contacted by a rapidly
moving multialloy compound in the form of a red colored Peugeot 504 on
Libertador 2000-2100, Buenos Aires. The Peugeot 504 maintained its velocity
without regard to the sudden impact of the Caucasian. The human being
controlling the Peugeot 504 was not identified, and neither was the license
plate. However if literature wanted to describe one it would say Yesterday
morning a man was struck by a red Peugeot 504, killing him on impact. The
driver of the car, as of yet unidentified, did not bother to stop the car. This
is a sad reflection of some peoples’ inability to face their own mistakes.
Literature could make that last sentence because it does not need to back up
every little thing with two thousand pieces of measurable accurate evidence. It
can think in leaps and bounds with very little touch with hard facts. Science
can describe an incident, but it can’t make you feel anything about it.
Literature on the other hand, gives you insight and feelings into other peoples
minds. For example, it is much more beneficial to read a book about Egypt, than
to read a scientific report on it. Through the characters in the book you can
get a feel for the culture that the scientific report would not have.
A world without literature would also leave science wanting. Many
scientists would agree that without literature, science would not be the same.
It would be colder, and less human. Human’s are not creatures of precision and
logic, or we would have rulers for hands, and calculators for hearts. Most
people would prefer to sit down and pick up a science fiction novel than a book
on astrophysics. Also, writers do not have to be very skilled to be able to
teach. Scientists who teach have had to train and learn for many years before
they can do so. However, Joe Blow could sit down and write a book on life in
the streets of Amsterdam, and we would learn something. Literature can almost
always teach you something, proficiency in it merely accelerates and improves
the teaching process.
This is not to say that science is useless however. Social sciences and
literature complement each other well in understanding humans and their behavior.
Science teaches us the how, while literature teaches us the why.
Literature takes us into peoples’ minds, science takes their minds and
categorizes them. This is why literature will always be perceived as being more
human, because it relates to emotions rather than to logic, and humans are
creatures of emotion. Science cannot describe certain things. How does science
describe love? It can give all the physical ramifications of it, psychology can
give us the probable actions done by a person in love, but it can’t make us
understand what it is to be in love. Literature can give you some experience,
although it be a limited, third person sort of experience. And of course, the
only way to know an emotion is to experience it.
In conclusion I say that we should not pick one or the other, but
continue to let them complement each other. There is a time for hard facts and
evidence, and there is a time for poems and soliloquies. There is a time for
Einstein and Pasteur as there is a time for Shakespeare and Tolkien. Human
beings are a composite of their primal emotions, and their need for structure
and organization. Thus, without one or the other, we would not be humans