A Tech Geek on Why We Need the Humanities

Computer Scientist and Researcher
John Seely Brown argues that foregrounding the Humanities is our only hope of sustaining innovation in the United States.
  • Transcript


John Seely Brown: What has done more to kind of change my understanding of what I do that was so far from my original training might just be simply reduced to the fact that kind of a pathetic conversation I had a long time ago with my mother when I was ten years old, 12 years old.  She was trying to get me to read.  I held this book and I said, you know, “Mom, . . .” and she came from the fine arts, etcetera. . . . I said, “You know, this 300-page book could be reduced to a half a dozen equations.  When you hand me a set of equations, I’ll read it.  I’m not going to spend the time to read this book.”

Well, about 15 years later I realized that fine literature, museums, paintings, etcetera, can have a nuance to them that I never understood.  They actually breathed life in a way I didn’t even know about that we didn’t really capture in physics and mathematics like I first was brought up.  And so I would say the joy of New York, there’s the amount of art in this city, the amount of literature, the number of reading clubs that I happen to kind of stumbled into where people take very seriously, you know, close reading of books, close reading of art, close reading of music.  That imbues a kind of nuance, a kind of texture, that often we get stripped away in kind of a very much of an instrumental engineering point of view.

I think if we really want to re-instate a true state of innovation in the United States, we have to find a new way to bring the humanities much more forward into our thinking.  And I think that humanities has some responsibility of actually figuring out how to help us imbue nuance into how we see the world.

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd