Re: “Educating for the good life” (Jan. 11): At the outset, Matt Shaffer ’10 expressed his desire to avoid dividing or denigrating the accomplishments of science majors. In this goal, he failed. If Shaffer really felt that scientific pursuits were as worthy as those in the humanities, he would have encouraged those majoring in the humanities to take an interest in the sciences. In challenging students to reach beyond their majors, however, he succeeds.
My limited experience at Yale has taught me that it is not a class’s designation as a Hu credit or a Sc credit that determines its value. Instead it is its ability to engage students and lead them to find the true requirement for a good life: passion. According to Diderot, it’s the only thing that can “elevate the soul to great things.”
But passion is not limited to those who read Shakespeare’s verse or Kerouac’s prose. Da Vinci with his notebooks full of anatomically correct drawings had a passion for science. And no one could refute Thomas Edison’s passion for discovery.
Like Shaffer, I think it essential to try a subject outside of our presupposed majors. But it should be a two-way street: A premed student should study Milton, just as a humanities student should learn how a plane flies. And everyone should try a class outside of the standard curriculum, study the intricacies of Spike Lee’s films or Modern Brazilian poetry. We should take risks, find passions and follow them.
For the fierce pragmatists of Yale, those students already focused on their career and 401(k), for those who plan on studying economics and making millions with Goldman Sachs this challenge probably isn’t enough. But perhaps it should be. In a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, Apple and Pixar tycoon Steve Jobs spoke of a calligraphy class he took on a whim, while in college. The class, he claimed, led Apple to its signature style that elevated it above the artistically challenged Windows. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward,” Jobs told them, “you can only connect them looking backward.” His point was that we cannot predict what will be relevant to our lives, so it makes sense to study both what already fascinates us and that which might.
Shaffer highlights Aldous Huxley’s claim that “an intellectual is a person who’s found one thing that’s more interesting than sex.” If, contrary to Shaffer’s skepticism, you do find data sets more interesting than sex — Einstein certainly might have — then all the more power to you. For everyone else, it’s time you stopped having sex and started looking for your passion, wherever it lies.
The writer is a freshman in Ezra Stiles.