Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

I Have Two Heads: Fuzzy Wuzzy Wasn’t Fuzzy, Was He?

At one point or another during my time at Stanford, I attended one of those assemblies in which the speaker attempted to break the ice by having students self-identify with a number of questions. Are you from the U.S. or overseas? Did you go to a public or a private high school? Are you a techie or a fuzzy? I’m sure that his only purpose was to exhibit the diversity of Stanford students, but this last one made me recoil.

Now, if you’re sensing that I have a problem with the overuse of the terms “techie” and “fuzzy,” you’re right. That problem does not stem from a personal crisis — during this particular moment, I didn’t suffer from indecision but instead raised my hand resolutely as “fuzzy.” In general terms, this is absolutely the word to describe me, just as I have friends who are doubtlessly techies and whose areas of proficiency bewilder my English-major vocabulary. In general terms, I do believe that the words “techie” and “fuzzy” are applicable categorizations of how different types of people gravitate toward different academic fields. My problem, however, is that using those words can in itself be self-limiting, implicitly holding us back from the multidisciplinary interests that, if nothing else, make life more interesting.

The so-called techie-fuzzy divide is so well integrated into the Stanford campus culture that I wonder how many of us question the binary assumptions behind those terms. You see (as horrifying as it might be for a fuzzy to admit), I like science. I don’t grasp its complexities as easily as some techies do, but in one portion of my brain, less dominant but still thriving, I do understand and get very excited about it. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have several techie friends who dive into fuzzy things in their spare time. As a freshman, I felt startled when I discovered that one of my hard-core biology major friends loved poetry and had read almost as many classic novels as I had, but since then, I’ve encountered many physics, engineering and computer science majors in my writing classes and find their perspective refreshing.

This multifaceted outlook is one of the most invigorating aspects of being at Stanford. It’s no secret that the University wants us to learn in a multidisciplinary way, with GERs and academic departments like Human Biology that integrate scholarly work from diverse fields. The world is becoming a more collaborative place as well, requiring minds that can understand multiple perspectives. However, there are instances, even at Stanford, where this wonderful merging of the divide does not happen. These instances sometimes extend to comments that Stanford students themselves make.

As many friends as I have who alternate between using different sides of their brains, as it were, I also know people who, once labeling themselves as either techie or fuzzy, cling to such terms for dear life. “Don’t talk to me about that. It’s over my head,” my humanities friends say when science enters the conversation. Why? Because they’re “too fuzzy.” On the other hand, some science majors I know use their very status as science majors to justify why they dislike, say, writing or philosophy. “I’m a techie. My brain doesn’t work that way.” While I’m not denying that certain academic subjects come easier to some people than others, it despairs me to see some of the most intellectually talented people I know dismiss alternative spheres of knowledge rather than broaden their horizons. The danger to the so-called techie-fuzzy divide is that, in prompting us to define ourselves as one thing and not the other, it can inadvertently stunt our curiosity.

What is more, the more knowledge we gain, the more we realize about the nature of knowledge itself: among others, it does not obey artificial divides such as the insubstantial terms “techie” and “fuzzy.” Insight into one field can lend new energy to another. Even the language that human beings use to divide the abstract entity of knowledge changes over time: to cite one example, all of the areas of science that we study today used to be clumped together under the name of natural philosophy, back when the divide between philosophizing and true scientific inquiry was less clear. In more recent history, all of us at Stanford used to take classes in many diverse areas — math, Spanish and art — and I have to hope that the mental flexibility we had during those middle and high school days will not go to waste with the increased specialization that begins during our undergraduate years.

Yet are the terms “techie” and “fuzzy” just another facet of our quirky Stanford outlook? My parents raise their eyebrows when I start referring to myself as a fuzzy, and other people from outside Stanford only assume that I walk through life with a vast pot of knowledge at my fingertips. Which, in truth, I do. Maybe it’s better for us to stop quibbling, stop drawing lines in the sand, and learn.

 

Rachel is planning to wreak havoc in some sandboxes this week. If you want to join her, email her at rkolb@stanford.edu.