Ambiguity, Creativity, and the Humanities

Dear Y’all,

It might be time for me to come out from the rock under which I have been living since Y2K and comment on some of the prevailing attitudes in higher education regarding the humanities.

Being old now, I go way back. As my fellow classmate Aristotle once shared with me:

[I]t is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician [painter, musician, philosopher, historian, poet] scientific proofs.

In these clear and concise times, nobody much listens to Aristotle anymore. As a result, there has been a great purge against ambiguity since like Houdini it always escapes from rubrics.

Yet it is this ambiguity that inspires the human spirit to its most creative endeavors. This applies to the artists who create and the people who interpret their creations. Ambiguity pulls creativity out of people. The humanities are famous for providing venue after venue of ambiguity that pulls out wave after wave of creativity. Were we to eliminate this ambiguity, we would simply eradicate creativity. Without creativity, human experience would be much the poorer and we would never ask the core question: What does it mean to be human? In asking that question, the humanities make us reflect on the whole person, about the whole spectrum of what it means to be who we are.

Life, I found out, is usually ambiguous and you must find your own creative ways of appreciating and coping with it. Luckily, I have the life-long learning I gained from the humanities to help me with that. I have become a proactive learner, seeking out learnable moments. I am sure glad that I wasn’t just trained to do one thing, or else I would miss out on so much out—like irony, parody, and bathos. Literally, nothing is literal and ambiguity is read to burst from the seams of the text.

My fellow philosophes tell me my time is nearly up and that the rock is clamoring for me to return to my proper place in the chain of being. Before I depart, I could either quote from King Lear, a light-hearted Shakespearean tragedy, or share my definition of the humanities:

In its pursuit to educate the whole person, the humanities cultivate an appreciation of the rich diversity of human experience, revolving around the question: What does it mean to be human? The humanities harness creativity to assess the foundations of knowledge; preserve the heritage of wisdom; deepen fidelity with the ideas of the good, just, and beautiful; balance justice with empathy; and promote association through an immersion in diversity. The humanities develop proactive learning, which prompts students to find learnable moments in their educational ventures both in and out of the classroom.


The Man under the Rock

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