Adam Gopnik Speaks on Science & the Humanities

Sep 4, 2014

Adam Gopnik

It’s no secret that being a Tech ‘nerd’ is the hot thing now.  Schools like Virginia Tech have been at that for a long time.  But Tech has long been working to connect the study of science with the humanities and break down the barriers between the two disciplines.

The ensemble called “Junk DNA,” is made up of a couple of arts professors with a technical side and a sense of humor. They know how to take two seemingly disparate things and blend them together to make something interesting.

And There are certainly lots of schools out there talking about this but at Virginia Tech because of the strengths in sciences and technology and engineering,  we are uniquely positioned to be able to leverage that," said Kevin Concannon, Professor of Art History and Director of the School of Visual Arts at Virginia Tech.

"We’re about to launch, next year a brand new minor in the arts that will cross all of the arts disciplines and the leadership of this institution is “absolutely committed to the idea that while we are graduating, not only top flight scientists, we’re not doing then a favor if we don’t send them out into the world with a real understanding  and appreciation of the arts and humanities."

"The difficulty with people who are not well rounded is that their edges tend to cut and they tend to do damage," said Adam Gopnik, a staff writer for the New Yorker Magazine. He’s written books and articles about why the humanities matter in the age of technology.

"I’ve never known anybody on the tech side of things who was making a contribution who did not have a powerful love of at least some part of the humanities."

Gopnik wrote a biography of Darwin that focuses on his talents as a writer, which greatly informed his approach to science.  And about Alan Turing, who many consider the father of the modern computer – again from a perspective that went beyond the scientific to what drove him and how he saw beauty in the world.  Gopnik will speak on these topics this Saturday at Virginia Tech

"What I’m going to try and do in the talk is, outline some crucial lives in the history of the sciences and give examples of how great moments of technological breakthrough are always intimately linked to somebody’s peculiar vision of beauty.”

Gopnik has been a passionate spokesman for the re-integration of the arts and sciences. Because what jazzes people up is also what makes them better at whatever they do.

"We can’t but have conversations about the arts we love and those arts can be hip hop or jazz or David Foster Wallace, but we like, as people,--it’s built into our nature-- we like to argue about the art that turns us on and I am sure that over lunch or dinner at Virginia Tech as at MIT the engineers argue about the music they love as well as they argue about the machines they’re building.  That’s the real reason to have humanities instruction."

The Friday evening before Gopnik’s talk, Virginia Tech Faculty will demonstrate their virtuosity with the first annual School of Visual Arts Shindig. Bands include, “Smart Mouth,”  “Train Fare Home” and “Junk DNA.”

Adam Gopnik will share his thoughts on the necessity of studying arts and humanities in a society where the sciences are viewed as the primary sources of wisdom during a talk at Virginia Tech’s Moss Arts Center on Saturday, Sept. 6, at 2 p.m. The talk is free and open to the public.