The Two Cultures

From Academic Kids

The Two Cultures is the title of an influential 1959 lecture by British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow.

Its thesis is that the breakdown of communication between the "two cultures" of modern society - sciences and the humanities - was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems. As a trained scientist who was also a successful novelist, Snow was well placed to pose the question, though his ideas were derided by the literary establishment led by F. R. Leavis, in The Spectator who dismissed Snow as a "public relations man" for the scientific establishment. Published in book form, Snow's lecture was nonetheless widely read and discussed on both sides of the Atlantic, leading him to write a follow-up, The Two Cultures: A Second Look, five years later.

The term has entered the general lexicon as a shorthand for differences between what might be called the qualitative and quantitative outlooks on life."The phrase has lived on as a vague popular shorthand for the rift—a matter of incomprehension tinged with hostility—that has grown up between scientists and literary intellectuals in the modern world." (Kimball, see link)

Famous quotes

"I remember G. H. Hardy once remarking to me in mild puzzlement, some time in the 1930s, Have you noticed how the word "intellectual" is used nowadays? There seems to be a new definition which certainly doesn't include Rutherford or Eddington or Dirac or Adrian or me? It does seem rather odd, don't y'know."
"A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?
I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question -- such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read? -- not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had."

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