I would recommend the creation of a new institute—The National Institute for Humanism—that would fund research and programs that address pressing national problems in a radically new way, by ignoring traditional dividing lines and disciplines. The Institute would create a mechanism to bridge the worlds of the arts and sciences, worlds that have often acted unheeding of the other, or worse, mistrustful or hostile to one another and in competition for the intellectual center.
As John Brockman has written "Around the fifteenth century, the word 'humanism' was tied in with the idea of one intellectual whole. A Florentine nobleman knew that to read Dante but ignore science was ridiculous. Leonardo was a great artist, a great scientist, a great technologist."
Art and science both address the most profound issues of the day yet often face each other across a great divide. The new National Institute for Humanism would be a mechanism to formally foster and encourage collaborations across the arts, humanities, and sciences, create synergy and cross-fertilization of ideas, uniting thinkers from different viewpoints and disciplines in tackling important questions about who and what we are. Call it the intellectual equivalent of globalization.
Milan Kundera once wrote that every novel offers some answer to the question. "What is human existence and wherein does it poetry lie?" I would submit, so does every work of important science.
Nancy Etcoff PhD
Faculty, Harvard Medical School/Harvard Mind Brain Behavior Initiative
Clinical Associate in Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital
Author of Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, and the forthcoming, Hooked on a Feeling: The Limits and Worth of Happiness