A Harvard Medical School professor makes the case for the liberal arts and philosophy


It is often said that there is little connection between the liberal arts and STEM field. This is not the case. Dr. David Silbersweig, Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Co-Director of the Institute for the Neurosciences at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Stanley Cobb Professor of psychiatry and Academic Dean (Partners HealthCare) at Harvard Medical School, articulates how his studies in philosophy cultivated his skills and allowed him to prosper in the medical field.

Silbersweig suggests the following:

[Philosophy] has informed and provided a methodology for everything I have done since. If you can get through a one-sentence paragraph of Kant, holding all of its ideas and clauses in juxtaposition in your mind, you can think through most anything. If you can extract, and abstract, underlying assumptions or superordinate principles, or reason through to the implications of arguments, you can identify and address issues in a myriad of fields.

Silbersweig’s examinations of thought and his interest in Eastern philosophy – specifically the focus on the mind and well-being – led him to study neuroscience. His breadth of study allowed him to prosper where others did not.

As a post-doctoral research fellow in functional neuroimaging, I had the opportunity to train in England. There I experienced a different educational system and culture, and was able to work and think with people from many countries. I discovered that those without a liberal arts foundation, while often brilliant, generally had a narrower perspective. Their path to and through outstanding universities was more vocational.

Ultimately, Silbersweig think it is essential to integrate the liberal arts into STEM fields. These two fields should be seen as complimentary.

A higher education that unites liberal arts and STEM fields is what provides these crucial abilities and enables new career trajectories.

You can read Dr. Silbersweig’s commentary here at washingtonpost.com



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