How social sciences and humanities make me appreciate STEM

The Stammering Dunce
3 min readDec 11, 2023

Also published on Wordpress.

For some time, I grew up loving STEM. I loved reading encyclopedias and I loved watching the documentaries. It felt like they were expanding my horizon, my imagination.

Then, I started hating STEM classes when I was about ten or eleven. I was put off by the rigid pedagogy. They were all about rote learning, memorising facts and formulas; they didn’t expand my imagination and certainly not my horizon.

They didn’t entirely put me off any STEM interests, as I still watched science documentaries, albeit with less passion. But, they did make me despise formal STEM education and changed my focus towards social sciences.

I enjoyed my sociology classes in high school because not only they didn’t have rigid pedagogy (relatively speaking), they also compelled me to read between the lines. I did major in sociology briefly in University of Indonesia before dropping out, because I hated the social environment.

Then, I chose to major in media and communication at Deakins University in Melbourne…. and my mind was blown.

The curriculum was quite all over the place; I learned not only the social aspects of the topics, but also the cultural, ethical and even metaphysical ones. It mixed both social sciences and humanities.

Unlike social sciences, which study observable human behaviours, humanities focus on the the abstract and non-biological things that underlie those behaviours. Because humanities are dependent on interpretations, they are very subjective.

But, just because they are subjective, that does not mean we can say anything we want. We still have to provide evidences.

If you believe a novelist is a bigot, you have to point out parts of their novels which depict women and/or minorities in dehumanising manners. Your feelings are not evidences. If the depictions are much more complicated than you previously thought, then you have to acknowledge the complexity as well.

I actually argue that because of the subjectivity, humanities are very challenging to learn. Unlike social sciences where quantitative evidences are an option, humanities have to rely entirely on qualitative ones. You have to convince people the intangible and immeasurable things you talk about actually exist and affect their lives.

Now, about the title…

Even back when I loved STEM education, I used to believe the disciplines were full of clear-cut knowledge. I notice many people also felt the same. Such belief was perpetuated even further by media headlines about the latest scientific discoveries.

Then, one day, those people and I started reading the research papers.

They found out the results were either inconclusive, impossible to dumb down, contradictory to each other or eventually deemed incorrect. Feeling like they had been duped for years, they started railing against “mainstream” STEM for its impotence in finding the truth… or worse, for being a tool of the elite to keep the masses “misinformed”.

On the other hand, I ended up appreciating STEM even more.

Despite being entirely driven by quantitative data (which many people believe to be clear cut), they are able to grasp the intricate greyness of life; they remind us that even our physically tangible universe is too complicated to be put in dumbed down explanations.

Most importantly, they always add corrections and more nuances to the existing knowledge, if the latest peer-reviewed data demand them to; changelessness is not an option.

And I have no issues comprehending that because of what social sciences and humanities taught me: the way to understand life is to not see it as a collection of black-and-white and static boxes, but to acknowledge and appreciate its grey, arbitrary and abstract nature.

I can easily transfer such mindset to STEM… minus the abstract part.

I don’t know how many people out there share this experience of mine.

Maybe they are more common than I am aware of. Maybe they are so rare, they barely exist.

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