Do you want to harness hi-tech to human values? Read more Tolstoy
Very useful article from The Harvard Business Review - it covers a spate of recent books that push back against the idea that arts, culture and the humanities have little to teach the tech industry. The immortal quote comes from the US venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla: “Little of the material taught in Liberal Arts programs today is relevant to the future.”
The human context is also the focus of Cents and Sensibility, by Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, professors of the humanities and economics, respectively, at Northwestern University. They argue that when economic models fall short, they do so for want of human understanding. Economics tends to ignore three things: culture’s effect on decision making, the usefulness of stories in explaining people’s actions, and ethical considerations. People don’t exist in a vacuum, and treating them as if they do is both reductive and potentially harmful.
Morson and Schapiro’s solution is literature. They suggest that economists could gain wisdom from reading great novelists, who have a deeper insight into people than social scientists do. Whereas economists tend to treat people as abstractions, novelists dig into the specifics. To illustrate the point, Morson and Schapiro ask, When has a scientist’s model or case study drawn a person as vividly as Tolstoy drew Anna Karenina?
Novels can also help us develop empathy. Stories, after all, steep us in characters’ lives, forcing us to see the world as other people do. (Morson and Schapiro add that although many fields of study tell their practitioners to empathize, only literature offers practice in doing it.)