Citation: “The Humanities and Tomorrow’s Discoveries.” 4Humanities, 25 July 2012. http://4humanities.org/2012/07/alan-liu-the-humanities-and-tomorrows-discoveries/
I think that the distinctive identity issue to address in Today, we use words like invention, innovation, and breakthrough to describe the most hopeful visions for the future of humanity. We pin our hopes on technological and other breakthroughs that might switch on whole new levels of economic, social, and personal well-being—or, just as important, help ward off threats to well-being. We even have a name for the greatest human challenges whose breakthrough solutions—not yet in sight—will require sustained innovation by large numbers of researchers across many fields. We call these “grand challenges.” As identified by the U.S. President’s Office, the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and other public and private agencies, the grand challenges for the 21st century will be global in scale and require collaborative, interdisciplinary solutions on multiple fronts: scientific, engineering, biomedical, agricultural, social, economic, cultural, ethical, and educational. World energy, world climate, world hunger and thirst, world disease, world security. These are some of the grand challenges of the 21st century.
Yet not one of the words invention, innovation, and breakthrough are as powerful as the word that encompasses them all and gives them their full human meaning. That word is discovery, for which a society’s preparedness in the humanities is as vital as in any other field. Discovery is what happens when an invention, innovation, or breakthrough occurs in a fully human horizon of understanding that radically multiplies its value, discovering connections to whole worlds of human meaning and possibility. . . .