Kevin Berger in Nautilus:
On a May evening in 1959, C.P. Snow, a popular novelist and former research scientist, gave a lecture before a gathering of dons and students at the University of Cambridge, his alma mater. He called his talk “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.” Snow declared that a gulf of mutual incomprehension divided literary intellectuals and scientists.
“The non-scientists have a rooted impression that the scientists are shallowly optimistic, unaware of man’s condition,” Snow said. “On the other hand, the scientists believe that the literary intellectuals are totally lacking in foresight, peculiarly unconcerned with their brother men, in a deep sense anti-intellectual, anxious to restrict both art and thought to the existential moment.”
Snow didn’t expect much of his talk. “I thought I might be listened to in some restricted circles,” he said. “Then the effect would soon die down.” It didn’t. Snow tapped a cultural fault line that continues to rumble to this day. In his 2018 book, Enlightenment Now, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker wrote that “Snow’s argument seems prescient.” The “disdain for reason, science, humanism and progress has a long pedigree in elite intellectual and artistic culture.”