The Importance of Literature versus Science :
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 it. 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 firsthand 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 person’s 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 people’s 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 multi-alloy 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 people’s 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. Humans 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 anymore.
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