Lost in the Maelstrom: Revisisting the ‘Two Cultures’

GlaserSnow11 Elaine Glaser in New Humanist:

In the pre-modern era, there was no distinction between sciences and the arts. They were intertwined enterprises. In his famous 1959 Rede lecture at Cambridge University CP Snow lamented the fact that, as a result of increasing specialisation, they now occupied entirely different spheres.

This set off a debate that has been raging ever since. But in recent years it’s taken some odd twists. Science, even among the most literary and philosophical of public intellectuals, has taken ascendancy over the arts as the more dominant discipline. And Snow’s two cultures have been replaced by a new dichotomy – between science and religion. Meanwhile the humanities, floundering somewhere in between, are in danger of being lost in the maelstrom.

In that first, ground-breaking lecture, Snow condemned scientists for their “self impoverishment” which resulted from their dismissal of the literary and artistic culture, and then denounced members of the literati for being Luddite in their attitude to science. His argument was ostensibly a plea for intellectual unity and educational reform. At times, however, his complaint about the two-cultures-divide became particularly a complaint about the lack of public understanding of science.