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More than Just Science at KAIST
[ Issue 148 Page 11 ] Thursday, November 24, 2016, 00:00:01 Sang-Wook Ha Staff Reporter ha.sangwook@kaist.ac.kr

Returning students at KAIST would all have experienced the same feeling when they accessed the school website to scavenge for humanities courses: shocked at the lack of empty spots to register for. The reason for this sudden disappearance of possible classes to take was due to a reduction of Korean-taught humanities classes by the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Perhaps this issue would not have gained huge schoolwide attention if humanities courses were not mandatory. However, KAIST requires students to take at least a minimum of 21 credits in “Humanities and Social Science”. The question of whether sports classes at KAIST, another graduation requirement, should be mandatory had been discussed in a previous issue of the Herald. This time, the writers of the society division would like to kick-start the semester by addressing the so-called “Gyeoyangdaeran”, which translate into “humanities crisis.”

Mandatory credits in humanities courses are policies employed by most colleges throughout the world. In fact, it is also used as a tool to differentiate colleges. For instance, the University of Chicago is widely recognized as a reputable institution due to its “Core” program, which stresses foundational learning over multiple academic disciplines. This emphasis can be attributed to many reasons but one of the major reasons is that humanities courses spur creativity. Especially at schools that focus their academic interests heavily into engineering and science, it can be easy to miss out on the human aspects of scientific discovery. As academic subjects become more and more sophisticated, the boundaries between them vanish and skills learned in one discipline become useful in other disciplines. As Henri Poincare has stressed, the humanities help elucidate acts of creativity such as the scientific discovery.

Another reason why the humanities cannot be excluded from one’s education is the increasing importance of interdisciplinary research. The MIT Media Lab is an example of interdisciplinary research with huge benefits for society. Additionally, the renewed boom in artificial intelligence (AI) showed that the focus of current day research is to benefit society at large. AI is already influencing human activities such as education, health, and entertainment. Literary texts are being analyzed with graph theory and the understanding of the history of music is being deepened through pattern recognition software. With the turn of the 21st century, there has been an increased hybridization of academic subjects and to send out engineers and scientists without at least a basic knowledge of different fields in the social sciences would be disastrous.

Last but not least, for the students of KAIST, it must be stressed that science is a subject that is not done in human isolation. Cooperation between members, the impact of research on society and the presentation of scientific discoveries are all aspects which benefit through humanities and social sciences courses. To give Oppenheimer his fair credit, it was his persistent and adamant effort which led to the creation of the Acheson- Lilienthal Report and paved the way for an international system to maintain atomic energy. As a large percentage of KAIST students will participate in research at some point in their career, a knowledge in the humanities can only benefit their futures. Also, the mandatory policies give a chance for students to learn something completely new.

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