The Two Cultures

I just finished reading C.P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures,” a transcript of his 1959 Rede lecture, together with a “second look” written 4 years later. Snow bemoans the lacking communication between the humanities and the sciences, and argues that this is an obstacle to the solution (if not a cause) of many problems, most notably the poverty in the developing world. Well, I disagree with him on several points, but then 40 years later things might look different. In the second look he addresses some of the criticism that has been raised.

More interesting than Snow’s lecture I found actually the introduction to the Canto edition (it makes up half of the book) by Stefan Collini (who amazingly doesn’t seem to have neither a website nor a Wikipedia entry. Does the man actually exist?). He embeds the lecture in the historical content and also provides a more up to date view, especially with regard to the fact that there have in the last decades been many interdisciplinary efforts to bridge these gaps, and that Great Britain in particular might be an extreme case. I just wanted to dump here some quotations from this introduction that I found particularly interesting:

    “[M]ore important still will be the nurturing within the ethos of the various academic specialisms not only of some understanding of how their activities fit into a larger cultural whole, but also of a recognition that attending to these larger questions is not some kind of off-duty voluntary work, but is an integral and properly rewarded part of professional achievements in the given field.”

    “[T]he pressures of competitive research, especially in the natural sciences, tend to relegate engagement with larger cultural or ethical questions to the status of soft options, to be pursued only by those not able to maintain the pace at the cutting edge of research.”

    “It may be far more damaging to encourage, however inadvertently, the reduction of the processes of decision making to matters than can be counted or measured than it would be to appear complacent about an inadequate level of technological or statistical under understanding. At least as pressing as the need for a basic scientific literacy is the need to develop and diffuse a public language in which non-quantifiable considerations can be given their proper weight.”

“You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” ~ Albert Einstein

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