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The Two Cultures: And a second Look af C. P.…

The Two Cultures: And a second Look (udgave 1965)

af C. P. Snow (Forfatter)

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6681426,826 (3.73)6
The notion that our society, its education system and its intellectual life, is characterised by a split between two cultures - the arts or humanities on one hand and the sciences on the other - has a long history. But it was C. P. Snow's Rede lecture of 1959 that brought it to prominence and began a public debate that is still raging in the media today. This fiftieth anniversary printing of The Two Cultures and its successor piece, A Second Look (in which Snow responded to the controversy four years later) features an introduction by Stefan Collini, charting the history and context of the debate, its implications and its afterlife. The importance of science and technology in policy run largely by non-scientists, the future for education and research, and the problem of fragmentation threatening hopes for a common culture are just some of the subjects discussed.… (mere)
Titel:The Two Cultures: And a second Look
Forfattere:C. P. Snow (Forfatter)
Info:Cambridge University Press (1965), Edition: First Thus
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek

Work Information

The Two Cultures and a Second Look: An Expanded Version of the Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution af C. P. Snow


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  Javierob | Jan 29, 2021 |
Back in the 1950's this book was all the rage. Now? I think it is still relevant,but in different way. In the United States science and the humanities are casted aside by certain sectors of the left and the right.
Witness the so-called American Tea Party. Or take for example the idea
in among lower socioeconomic groups of African-Americans that embracing intellectual knowledge of any type is akin to "acting white". This needs to be read along with "Anti-intellectualism in American Life" by Richard Hofstader.
( )
  Steve_Walker | Sep 13, 2020 |
As a maths and physics graduate, I observe that most compilers of the best books of all-time lists are, self-evidently, not from my side of the cultural divide. They should at the very least, it seems to me, be required to read C. P. Snow's "The Two Cultures" and "The Scientific Revolution", not to mention Arthur Koestler's "The Sleepwalkers" (a masterly history of how mankind has viewed, and developed ideas about, the universe) - and then put them on the lists, as they deserve to be there IMO. At least they do if you buy into the idea of a top 100 in the first place, which, in my view, would be like trying to rank great composers/mathematicians/physicists - inherently rather ridiculous. It might have been better though to have just two lists from either side of the cultural divide. It would not be difficult to come up with 100 tomes from the sciences after all. Of course, in the natural sciences, there is the problem of mathematics and the fact that not many 'ordinary' (*) people can cope with it in book form to grapple with. It seems to me that this is a real difficulty which I don't pretend to know how to solve. It is quite right to include Darwin on the list, as that is one of the natural sciences' two 'holy' books - indeed, it absolutely should be there IMO. But, since the other one is Newton's "Principia Mathematica", which is even more important, since in it, Newton takes us from the medieval world into the modern one. Unfortunately, he does it in Latin and by mathematical methods which were almost out of date in his own time. There is a modern 'translation' available in terms of calculus and differential equations, but this would probably leave most people none the wiser.

There is clearly a bias toward English in those lists though - if you're going to have philosophers like Mill, Locke and Hume, what about Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Descartes and Kant? "The Critique of Pure Reason" should be on there surely. And I say that as someone who is not a fan of Kant for various reasons. Nevertheless, there were greater philosophers than those three surely?

So, from the natural sciences side of the fence, our greatest thinkers are these (IMO):
In physics, we have the 'holy trinity' of Newton, Einstein and James Clerk Maxwell. Most people haven't heard of Maxwell - he gave us, via his writings, and among other things, the electrical modern world (along with Faraday).
In mathematics, we have a 'holy quartet' of Archimedes, Newton, Euler and Gauss. The bible equivalents in mathematics being Euler's Introduction to the Analysis of the Infinite (the original calculus textbook) and Gauss's Arithmetical Disquisitions. But nothing from any of them was worthy, in spite of the difficulties?
Finally, though I could say a lot more as above, it occurs to me that actually religious texts could be placed in a third category, as well as some speculative fiction. After all, when it comes to religious texts, until their claims can either be "proved" or "disproved", they are neither fiction nor non-fiction surely?

(*) This is not meant as an insult by the way. A quote from Darwin himself may help actually:
'I have deeply regretted that I did not proceed far enough at least to understand something of the great leading principles of mathematics; for those thus endowed seem to have an extra sense.'

Well, Snow was a successful novelist as well as being an eminent scientist, so he was better placed than most to be critical it seems to me. Actually, he had an addendum to Darwin's quote:
'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 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.'

Do my esteemed readers also consider that to be overly harsh? Because I don't. If I, with a degree in Computer Science Engineering can be expected to read Shakespeare (I have done that), then I don't think it's unreasonable for me to expect the 'other side' to know what Newton's Laws of Motion are. Or the Laws of Thermodynamics for that matter. After all, they tell us profound things about the way the world works, and, in the particular case of the Second Law, they delineate the limits of the possible from a technical perspective. I do NOT mean knowing them in excruciating detail in the way a physicist would, incidentally, but nevertheless, an outline appreciation seems a perfectly reasonable expectation to me. Or do you not think that a humanities graduate is intelligent enough to do this?

But Snow was an eminent scientist, and so it was natural for him to seek examples from his side of the divide, as it were. Indeed, there is a very pressing reason why people schooled in the humanities could do with a modest dose of physics - global warming/ climate change (****). The level of (often proudly displayed) ignorance about this, surely THE most important issue of our time is quite horrifying and deeply depressing to someone like myself. Quite often it is displayed on our Sunday Newspapers, which is why I will keep saying until I am blue in the face that, unless you know the basic (**) physics of how the climate system works, then anything you say is 'full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.' So, if I, a natural sciences person to my fingertips, know my Shakespeare, I think that I can reasonably expect the arts mob to make a bit of an effort too - or at least to admit their ignorance, shut up and listen to people who know how stuff works. And then, guided by those people, make policy decisions that might just save us all.

(**) You may say it isn't basic, but actually, some of it is. I am not suggesting that humanities graduates be expected to understand and solve the equations of radioactive transfer and the Navier-Stokes equations of fluid dynamics. They are quite difficult enough for highly-trained physicists. But, it is reasonable to expect people to have some notion of what a greenhouse gas is, and why some gases in the atmosphere are while others are not greenhouse gases. It is reasonable to expect people to have some notion of the different timescales in which warming effects will take place (some will take a few decades whereas others will take centuries). It is reasonable to expect people to understand the difference between sea level rise due to thermal expansion of water (about 15cm per degree Celsius), and that caused by melting icecaps (about 200 metres if the Greenland, West Antarctic and East Antarctic ice sheets all melt - this would take 500-1000 years) and the attendant devastation(***) caused around the world as a result. With all this and more in mind, I am quite happy for the policymakers to enjoy Shakespeare et al, as long as it doesn't get in the way of understanding actually important things!

(***) I must admit, I'm very glad that I will be long gone by the time things (probably) get really bad.

(****) (*someone waving frantically in the back of the room*) "There are people who know physics and mathematics and don't think that global warming is right. I had a neighbour who was a teacher for both subjects and didn't believe in GW and I know a physics (from an Anglo-Saxon country) who has a PhD in Physics and some years ago talked about it sceptically. So, knowing physics isn't a guarantee that you understand very much about global warming. On the other hand many people who don't understand many scientific details about the theme had absolutely no doubt about GW."

My answer to the PhD guy in Physics (****): "I have seen quite a few variants on the 'knowing physics isn't a guarantee that you understand very much about global warming' argument/defense on the Sunday Newspapers in the last few years, and my succinct reply is, as always: 'learn a bit then, it's not that difficult.' That person that says having a PhD in Physics should maybe learn some stuff on planetary atmospheres, putting him ahead of someone who specialised in, for example, solid state physics; your PhD friend should certainly have the necessary skill set to get to grips with the basics in pretty short order should they wish to do so."

NB: I'm a strong believer in Global Warming (GW). ( )
1 stem antao | Sep 29, 2018 |
3-4/14 B&C review entitled The Two Cultures, Then and Now by Alan Jacobs of C. P. Snow's The TWO CULTURES and TWO CULTURES? THE SIGNIFICANCE OF C.P. SNOW--(my sum)--do the sciences or the humanities provide better handles (doors) to grasping reality? Snow’s point was not to discount the humanities, but to say that science will help ameliorate hurtful (starving) world conditions.

The Two Cultures, Then and Now
The sciences, the humanities, and their common enemy.

When, in May of 1959 at Cambridge University, C. P. Snow delivered a lecture called "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution," it did not generate a great deal of controversy. Soon thereafter it was published in Encounter with a series of largely positive responses: the respondents generally agreed that Snow had identified a genuine problem, though no one had a clear sense of what, if anything, could be done about it.

What most readers took from Snow's lecture was this simple point: that academic and (more generally) intellectual specialization had in the 20th century proceeded to the point that the sciences and humanities had become mutually incomprehensible—and, perhaps more worryingly, each side had come to accept and even take some pleasure in the irrelevance to its own work of the other side. Scientists, Snow noted, knew little of books, "and of the books which to most literary persons are bread and butter, novels, history, poetry, plays, almost nothing at all …. It isn't that they lack the interests. It is much more that the whole literature of the traditional culture doesn't seem to them relevant to those interests. They are, of course, dead wrong. As a result, their imaginative understanding is less than it could be. They are self-impoverished." But literary types are self-impoverished too, "perhaps more seriously, because they are vainer about it. They still like to pretend that the traditional culture is the whole of 'culture', as though the natural order didn't exist."

In what would become the most famous passage from the lecture, Snow continued:

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 at the illiteracy 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 about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?

So this is the picture that has come down through the decades about Snow's lecture: that the sciences and the humanities have, regrettably but probably inevitably, come to take very different paths. But this was not really Snow's point; indeed, the chief purpose of his lecture has never, even to this day, been generally recognized. However, within a few years of the lecture's delivery, readers gradually came to realize at least this: Snow had no intention of distributing blame for the divorce even-handedly.

Both the lecture itself and the controversy it spawned are complex phenomena, and in his editions of Snow's lecture and of the most famous response to it, by the literary critic F. R. Leavis, Stefan Collini has carefully and skillfully disentangled the many strands. The tale he tells is instructive in many respects—and perhaps more important now than it was when Leavis gave his response, fifty years ago.

I have said that the real purpose of his lecture has never been widely recognized, and that is in part due to its generally being known simply as "The Two Cultures": even the full title, "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution," only hints at his prime concern. A summary might then be useful:

The English people are justly proud of their leading role in the Industrial Revolution, but are insufficiently aware of the subsequent Scientific Revolution: the dramatic increase of knowledge about the natural world that accelerated throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, often led by Britons (Humphrey Davy, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, Arthur Eddington). This second revolution has affected all the sciences, but its particular importance has been in biochemistry and in the practical sciences (especially agricultural) that develop from biochemistry. And that is because for the first time in history it is now possible to feed and heal the whole of humanity. The Southern Hemisphere especially is filled with people who are hungry or starving, who are sick and even dying from treatable diseases. We in the West possess the knowledge and the resources to put an end to all this suffering; yet we do not. Why not?

Responsibility for this shameful state of affairs must be assigned to our political leaders; and responsibility for their failure to see clearly and act decisively must be assigned to their education, to the "traditional culture" of the humanities in which most of them, as graduates of Eton and Harrow and Rugby and then Oxford and Cambridge, were brought up. They are scientifically illiterate and therefore do not understand what science can do. Moreover, they have learned from great literature, especially modern literature, that the fate of every human being is necessarily tragic, which may be true; but they fail to see that that need not keep us from improving the general material condition of humanity when we can. In short, the traditional humanistic education that most British political leaders have received equips them not at all for meeting their responsibilities to a suffering world. Scientists "have the future in their bones"; but to this "the traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist. It is the traditional culture, to an extent remarkably little diminished by the emergence of the scientific one, which manages the western world." And this is why our world is a mess.

He was pleading for a more adequately educated ruling class so that the suffering of the poor might be ameliorated. But little if any of this has been noticed, despite the fame of the "two cultures" idea.

Among those early readers, none perceived Snow's attitude more clearly than did F. R. Leavis; and none was angrier about it. In 1962 he gave a lecture of his own, also at Cambridge, to make his anger known. This event proved to be something of a bombshell, and ever since people have spoken of the "Snow-Leavis controversy" or the "Leavis-Snow debate." This, I think, is unfortunate.

In the best-known commentary on the whole dispute, Lionel Trilling—writing from New York in a tone of Olympian detachment—made the shrewd comment that culturally and socially Snow and Leavis had a great deal in common. Each man came from a solidly middle-class background—interestingly, Snow's father was a church organist while Leavis' owned a small musical-instrument shop—and had nothing like the public-school education that Snow sees as intrinsic to British rulership. But while Snow's route of escape from his social limitations was scientific, Leavis followed the path of English literature, or, rather, of that subset that he came to call the "Great Tradition."

But though Jardine has rightly noted the immediate context, Collini and Ortolano are right to point out that the roots of the controversy go deeper: the sciences-humanities debate as we know it today emerged in the 1880s in an exchange of essays by Matthew Arnold, poet and critic, and Thomas Henry Huxley, advocate for science and especially for Darwin's theory of evolution.

In 1880, Huxley took up Arnold's famous claim that an ideal education should be devoted to "the best that has been thought and said," and should seek to achieve a "criticism of life," and offered this retort:

But we may agree to all this, and yet strongly dissent from the assumption that literature alone is competent to supply this knowledge. After having learnt all that Greek, Roman, and Eastern antiquity have thought and said, and all that modern literatures have to tell us, it is not self evident that we have laid a sufficiently broad and deep foundation for the criticism of life which constitutes culture.
Indeed, to any one acquainted with the scope of physical science, it is not at all evident. Considering progress only in the "intellectual and spiritual sphere," I find myself wholly unable to admit that either nations or individuals will really advance, if their common outfit draws nothing from the stores of physical science. I should say that an army, without weapons of precision, and with no particular base of operations, might more hopefully enter upon a campaign on the Rhine, than a man, devoid of a knowledge of what physical science has done in the last century, upon a criticism of life.

When Arnold responded to Huxley, two years later, in the Rede Lecture at Cambridge—Snow's "The Two Cultures" was the 1959 installment of that same lecture series—he immediately recognized that this was not a general or abstract question about the knowledge most worth having but rather an intensely practical question about how young people are to be educated.

His answer was basically twofold. First, he pointed out that he advocated the "scientific" rather than the merely impressionistic study of literature and the arts; and second, he argued that while study of the sciences could fill the mind with facts, the humanities could move the human spirit and empower it—could build up in young people "the power of conduct, the power of intellect and knowledge, the power of beauty, and the power of social life and manners … . Human nature is built up by these powers; we have the need for them all." And we feel the need for them, which is why, Arnold believes, people offered the chance to study either the sciences or the humanities will frequently opt for the latter.

Rather, the sciences and the humanities share a common enemy: an educational system that, despite its ceaseless rote invocations of the value of "critical thinking"—overwhelmingly evades the "severities" that might equip people to deal seriously with the world and its manifold challenges.
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2 stem | keithhamblen | May 5, 2014 |
Fascinating essay about the book by Peter Dizikes: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/books/review/Dizikes-t.html who discusses whether a "third culture" (evolutionary biologists, psychologists and neurscientists) is "superseding literary artists in their ability to 'shape the thoughts of their generation.' "
1 stem ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
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The 1993 Cambridge/Canto edition of The Two Cultures (ISBN 0521457300, 0521065208) also includes A Second Look.
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The notion that our society, its education system and its intellectual life, is characterised by a split between two cultures - the arts or humanities on one hand and the sciences on the other - has a long history. But it was C. P. Snow's Rede lecture of 1959 that brought it to prominence and began a public debate that is still raging in the media today. This fiftieth anniversary printing of The Two Cultures and its successor piece, A Second Look (in which Snow responded to the controversy four years later) features an introduction by Stefan Collini, charting the history and context of the debate, its implications and its afterlife. The importance of science and technology in policy run largely by non-scientists, the future for education and research, and the problem of fragmentation threatening hopes for a common culture are just some of the subjects discussed.

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