Many humanities majors cannot withstand the temptation to validate the existence of their own major. It seems every third lecture in my English class references why studying English or comparative literature is so important. Even my classmates often bemoan the fact that computer science, engineering and economics students find no such need to incessantly validate their own field of study.
Many of these humanities students accuse STEM students of “selling their soul,” deeming themselves the sole soul-inheritors of truth, beauty, passion and even purpose in life. It is popular for certain departments to assume that those who deal with numbers instead of letters, and bank notes instead of notebooks, are somehow spiritually inferior, and have no aesthetic taste. Even the new Princeton-based movie “The Observer Effect” makes such jabs when the main character finds himself trudging towards a banking career he finds neither enjoyable nor fulfilling.
But the opposite is also true. Many STEM majors have a passion for their areas of study, a passion that certainly rivals even the more-invested students in English or philosophy. It is not often that you’ll find an English major writing literary criticism late into the night, just for pure personal enjoyment, but Hack Princeton is essentially a 36-hour, not-for-credit coding gatheringfor computer aficionados.For every droopy-eyed marathon-reading of Milton, there are 20 students applying to be part of “Hyperloop.” While there are bored or uninterested – and thus often times uninteresting – students on both sides of the aisle, there are plenty of STEM students who genuinely love the material they are learning. While many humanities majors may be quick to condemn every finance-track economics major who appears to be in it only for the money, we conveniently forget about those who study English or sociology, not because they care about letters or social movements but because they think it is a sure route to an easy-A and a high GPA.
Passion and personal interest aside, there is also the perennial question that arises with respect to every field of study, “What is it for?” The arts students don’t know what the banking or the money is for, “because money doesn’t make you happy,” while the finance students are equally justified in wondering exactly the point of studying the sentence structure of 500-year-old fairy tales. After all, “it’s just words on a page,” they might say.
When we try to justify our jobs or studies, we are immediately treading upon shaky ground. If a certain area of study were holistically more worthy, dignified or useful, then everyone would study it. There are benefits and drawbacks to every field of study. A major doesn’t define you, and a certain job doesn’t justify your existence. Some of the most passionate and caring people I know are economics or ORFE majors. They are headed for long hours in New York-based banks next year, but they most certainly have not sold their soul. I have found some HUM students incredibly boring and dry, and some B.S.E computer science majors to be incredibly insightful and passionate about a wide range of topics. And it is particularly telling that Lewis Carroll, the author of “Alice in Wonderland,” the fantastical and heartfelt tale so beloved by years of STEM and English majors alike, was a professor of mathematics.
At this point I must confess that I have a stake in this discussion. I’m an English major. What can I say – I’m a cop-out. I wanted to make sure I will have a job right after I graduate from Princeton. On a less serious note, I also happen to believe professor Jeff Nunokawa in his English class "Reading Literature: The Essay"when he said that the “words we read and write and say out loud or silently to ourselves dwell at the heart of our greatest fears and our greatest glories and everything else in between.”
While my area of study may not be one which employers flock to, come June 2018, I’ve found one that, at least in some small degree, as Nietzsche said, "has uplifted... [and]dominated and delighted” my soul. I find the work enjoyable, challenging and also fulfilling. But I constantly remind myself that there is nothing particular about English that makes it so fulfilling. I am no better nor worse because I find letters more compelling – and also more decipherable – than numbers. All I know is that before I declare a major in the spring, like most others, I have to do the math.
Luke Gamble is a sophomore from Eagle, Idaho. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.