Literature has been a major part of human culture throughout human existence. It has always been used as a way of defining how humans interact with each other. Literature is defined as the writings of a period, language, or country’. If ancient times are also to be considered, then myths, legends, and theatre, which passed down literary ideas, and social critiques before the time of the written word, should also be included in this definition.
The plays of William Shakespeare are a perfect example of pieces of literature that are not only entertaining, literature for literature’s sake, but also provide great insight into human nature. In one form or another, literature is entrenched as an expression of the ways of humanity, and so by absorbing it, one can gain a greater understanding of human behaviour.
The human sciences offer a different angle to the understanding of human behaviour as literature does. Literature gives us insight into what is going on inside people’s minds. How someone from a culture that one might not understand, thinks. Many of Shakespeare’s plays are centered around the downfall of a particular character. This downfall arises from within the character, it is the result of a tragic flaw. The human sciences on the other hand, provide information on how humans interact with each other.
They often involve social studies in which experiments involving the interactions of humans are observed and recorded. If for example some human scientists performed a particular experiment with enough people, and got a similar result each time, they can conclude that a human being is likely to act in a certain way, given the situation which was in the experiment. In this way human scientists can draw conclusions as to what is a normal reaction for a person to have in a situation, and can describe traits which are almost universal to humans.
These human sciences give us a knowledge of the external aspects of human behaviour, which is extremely valuable to have. If for example, a police force wanted to know whether or not a new method they had developed for deterring graffiti artists worked efficiently or not, they might perform a human science experiment, where they secretly test their method on a sample of would-be graffitists. The results could tell them if it would be productive for them to put resources into developing and employing this method, or whether it was inefficient and would be a waste of resources.
Literature will often delve deep into the human mind, to seek the unknown. Some literature may attempt to describe perceptions of the world from the mind of a serial killer. If written well, and researched thoroughly, this literature would be enthralling, and probably disturbing, because it is teaching us about the human behaviour of someone who is very different from ourselves. (hopefully) It would show to the reader an aspect of human behaviour that is not common among all people, but is infact rare.
From this we would learn about an aspect which we did not have an understanding of, and would therefore increase our knowledge of human behaviour. Other literature may reveal something about people that relates to a great many people. People will engage with this literature because they will have some understanding of it, and so the book would increase their knowledge of their own human behaviour, and would also show them that this human behaviour is common to many people.
From this we can see that a study of literature can give someone a deeper understanding of what goes on in the human mind, and a study of the human sciences can allow someone to have a greater knowledge of the way that humans interact with each other, and certain situations they may be faced with.
There are of course some problems with both of these ways of attaining knowledge of human behaviour. Although experiments can be done in the human sciences, they can never give a result which is 100% accurate. They may provide a conclusion which will probably be correct in most cases, but it’s never certain. This is because of the fact that these experiments deal with people. People are not like objects in the experiments of natural sciences.
They are prone to performing differently each time the experiment is carried out. For example, if sodium bi-carbonate is put in vinegar, it will cause an almost violent chemical reaction every time, but if icing sugar is put in, it will not. However, if a person suffering from a headache is given a painkiller, they might feel an easing of the pain, but if they are given a placebo pill, they might still think they are feeling an easing of the pain, but it would be purely psychological.
This shows that what people expect to happen can alter the results of the experiment, and this gives the observer inconclusive answers. Basically, when looking at results achieved through the human sciences, we can not be totally sure that we are learning anything about human behaviour, because we can never be certain that the results are completely accurate.
There are also problems that can occur when trying to gain a greater understanding of human behaviour through the study of literature. I don’t feel that all literature is valid for this purpose. If a piece of literature has not been well researched, and not well written, then it’s content may give a misrepresentation of the real world. A book written by an english pioneer on the subject of the lifestyle of the Aboriginal race may provide a bias and incorrect view. This would lead the reader to gain a perception of the human behaviour of that particular culture and people that does not coincide with the truth.
If this is the case then it is clear that in order for somewhere to gain a greater understanding of human behaviour in reference to a particular culture, then a wide range of literature need to be considered. However, the pieces of literature that give a bias or incorrect view needn’t be totally disregarded. These pieces of literature, while they may not provide a truthful description of a culture or civilisation, they can often reflect on the culture that the author of the literature belongs too.
They can give an idea of what kind of perceptions were held by that culture, on the other culture. This can add to our understanding of human behaviour because when several of these types of articles are read, patterns can emerge as to how a culture that is seemingly more civilised than other, views that less civilised culture.
A wide study of literature, and an appreciation of the human sciences can greatly add to our understanding of human behaviour. Though often biases, and discrepancies in results have to be taken into account, they provide insight into what goes on inside the minds of people, and in what ways they react to other people and situations.
When this sort of knowledge has been attained, one can have a greater understanding of the human behaviour related to different cultures, different ages, different sexes, and it can also give them a greater understanding of themselves.
The World Book Dictionary, Doubelay & Company, Inc. 1982