When it comes to the question of what humanity should do next, triggered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, most of the discussion lies within the scientific community. Even if we narrow the scope and say the Fourth Industrial Revolution concerns only technology (engineering), experts largely agree that the humanities and social sciences are lagging behind the natural science and technology fields in generating conversation.
This is a remarkable phenomenon considering that it was previously the humanities and social sciences that asked and provided the questions and answers on people and society. Science first gained prominence in human civilization during the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries—does that make this the second Enlightenment? It is significant that the term Fourth Industrial Revolution appeared in 2016 and a year later Joseph Heath’s Enlightenment 2.0 was translated and published in Korea (published by Yima, translated by Kim Seung-jin). Should the humanities and social sciences then see their decline in social influence as a given, in line with the past declines of religion (and philosophy)?
What does the decrease in social influence actually mean? It refers to the fact that people no longer pay attention to the remarks of the humanities and social science community and that there is not enough money in the humanities and social sciences.
On August 31, National Assembly Member Oh Se-jeong (Bareunmirae Party), the Humanities Association of Korea, and the National Research Foundation’s Humanities Strategy Research Team held a discussion under the theme of “The Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution—Prospects for the Humanities”.
Prior to the discussion, Park Chang-won, co-president of the Humanities Association of Korea, argued, “There are many laws that support science and technology (Article 127, Constitution) but not the humanities and social sciences,” and “We need to establish a systematic foundation for the promotion of the humanities.” National Assembly Member Oh Se-jeong responded, “At the onset of the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, balanced development of academic fields needs to be strengthened to guarantee the future of the country.”
Here are two further remarks from the forum.
Kim Ki-bong, professor of history at Kyonggi University:
One of the key points of this symposium is to establish a national agency for the promotion of humanities. Therefore we must first think about the nature and purpose of this national agency. I’d like to propose the following two points to the government, the National Assembly, and humanities scholars.
First, we should not create another agency that carries out humanities promotion projects, in which humanities scholars become policy targets. HK, CK, and other humanities promotion projects turned universities into a jungle ruled by survival of the fittest and humanities scholars into business people. Now, we need supportive policies that revive the humanities, not promotional projects that end up killing of humanities. It shouldn’t be an agency that turns scholars into business persons and manages them. The national agency should be a think tank that can transform Korea into a people-centered country, just as the current administration aims to do with its key policies.
Second, for humanities scholars to become not policy targets but agents, we need to “enlighten” ourselves so that we can become responsible. To this end, as I’ve mentioned earlier, we need to turn around the discourse on the humanities crisis from “the state and society should do something for the humanities” to “what should the humanities do for the state and society?” If the future of universities is uncertain in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, then where is the place for humanities scholars in the future? Thinking about the future sustainability of the humanities, I hope that this discussion at the National Assembly would be the starting point for the birth of a national academic institution that designs the future of human life and the vision of the state in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Nam Ki-sim, former president of the National Institute of Korean Language:
These days, natural sciences seem to have taken over the humanities. This is because sciences are continuously putting out theories that are undeniably convincing, to topics that had been traditionally discussed in the humanities, such as “What is human?” and “What is the nature of humans?” And these theories are resonating widely with the public and spreading fast.
As we can see from books, including The Selfish Gene, How the Mind Works, The Future of the Mind, and The Origin of Happiness, science or other areas closely related to science, such as DNA, genomics, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and comparative behavioral science, are changing the way people think of life and the world. Don’t you think that we should look back on ourselves and see whether it’s the humanities that are lagging behind, unable to catch up? Don’t you feel that science is delving so deep into the issues related to the human consciousness that it has incapacitated the humanities and taken the lead?
I believe that we no longer think about natural sciences and the humanities in binary terms. But I wonder if people think that social sciences should have a knowledge of science. The root of the humanities is in the past, when people suffered helplessly from famines, diseases, and poverty. So don’t you think we need to get away from this frame of thinking? Particularly so because the Big Bang Theory and other research in astronomy and achievements of physics, such as the quantum theory, are greatly influencing the thinking and ideological systems in our society. I’d like to ask if you don’t think the reason the humanities don’t sell is that the gap between them and the sciences remains so huge that people have just lost interest.