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C. P. Snow
The Two Cultures

C. P. Snow - Rede Lecture, 1959
The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution

Picture of C. P. Snow On 7th May 1959, the physicist and author C. P. Snow ( Charles Percy Snow 1905-1980 ), then fifty-three years old and a former research chemist and more recently a top civil servant and best-selling novelist, delivered the annual Rede Lecture in the Senate House of the University of Cambridge.
Its title _ "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution" - referred to a gulf of mutual incomprehension and a mutual lack of sympathy and appreciation that Snow identified as having grown up between "literary intellectuals" on the one hand and "natural scientists" on the other.

Snow's lecture, which set out to show that this gulf between two cultures was not merely an obstacle to scientific progress but even represented a threat to the survival of western civilisation, elaborated themes he had already mentioned in the influential political magazine, New Statesman, three years earlier.
Snow suggested that western societies typically had ruling classes composed principally of humanities graduates who were effectively ill-equipped to appreciate what science had to offer. Snow identified three key menaces arising from the existence of nuclear weapons, over-population, and the gap between rich and poor nations as pressing instances of where "literary intellectuals" who in Snow's view were "natural luddites" failed to see that solutions might come from "natural scientists" who, again in Snow's view, held "the future in their bones".

In his - The Two Cultures - Snow observed that:-
"If scientists have the future in their bones, then the traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist".

Snow suggested there was an urgent need for the spreading of scientific innovation to poorer countries. Snow tried to make the case that the once powerful Venetian Republic, for all its accomplishment, wealth and influence nevertheless dwindled into relative obscurity dues to failures to adapt.

He compared Britain with Venice in its decadence:
"Like us, [the Venetians] had once been fabulously lucky. They had become rich, as we did, by accident… They knew, just as clearly as we know, that the current of history had begun to flow against them. Many of them gave their minds to working out ways to keep going. It would have meant breaking the pattern into which they had crystallised. They were fond of the pattern, just as we are fond of ours. They never found the will to break it."

"For the sake of the intellectual life, for the sake of this country's special danger, for the sake of the western society living precariously rich among the poor, for the sake of the poor who needn't be poor if there is intelligence in the world, it is obligatory for us and the Americans and the whole West to look at our education with fresh eyes."

C. P. Snow subsequently published an expanded version of his Rede Lecture The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.

"The intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups...literary intellectuals at one pole - at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of incomprehension."

"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? "

In his lecture Snow said:
"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 ... As though the scientific edifice of the physical world was not, in its intellectual depth, complexity and articulation, the most beautiful and wonderful collective work of the mind of man.

Yet most non-scientists have no conception of that edifice at all. Even if they want to, they can't. It is rather as though, over an immense range of intellectual experience, a whole group was tone deaf. Except that this tone-deafness doesn't come by nature, but by training, or rather the absence of training."

Initial reactions to the lecture were overwhelmingly favourable. But the real storm came three years later, in 1962, when the literary critic F. R. Leavis, a reader of English at Cambridge, ferociously attacked Snow's thesis in another high profile Cambridge lecture, the Richmond lecture, taking as his theme Two Cultures? The Significance of C. P. Snow.
Leavis described Snow as "intellectually as undistinguished as it is possible to be", adding that his lecture "exhibits an utter lack of intellectual distinction and an embarrassing vulgarity of style".

The Rede lecture, complained Leavis, showed no evidence of any scientific training or rigorous scientific habits. Nor, moreover, did Snow know anything about history. Leavis's lecture provoked an outcry.

In 1963 Snow revisited the controversy in The Two Cultures: A Second Look. Here he restated his position. Advanced western society, he said, has lost even the pretence of a common culture. Education is the means to salvation:
"Education, mainly in primary and secondary schools, but also in colleges and universities. There is no excuse for letting another generation be as vastly ignorant, or as devoid of understanding and sympathy, as we are ourselves."

Two - possible - recent examples
of C. P. Snow's ~ Two cultures

We each exist for but a short time, and in that time explore but a small part of the whole universe. But humans are a curious species. We wonder, we seek answers. Living in this vast world that is by turns kind and cruel, and gazing at the immense heavens above, people have always asked a multitude of questions: How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? Most of us do not spend most of our time worrying about these questions, but almost all of us worry about them some of the time.

Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. The purpose of this book is to give the answers that are suggested by recent discoveries and theoretical advances. They lead us to a new picture of the universe and our place in it that is very different from the traditional one, and different even from the picture we might have painted just a decade or two ago. …

From Stephen Hawking's - "The Grand Design" (2011)
Charles Darwin is my greatest scientific hero. Philosophers are fond of saying that all philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. I sincerely hope that is not the case, because it doesn't say much for philosophy. A far better case could be made that all of modern biology is a series of footnotes to Darwin. And that would be a genuine compliment to the science of biology. Every biologist treads in Darwin's footsteps and, in all humility, none of us could do better than to follow his example.

From Richard Dawkins' - "An Appetite for Wonder" (2013)



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An earlier Richard Dawkins quote has some considerable relevance in relation to Snow's view of The Two Cultures:-
It has become almost a cliché to remark that nobody boasts of ignorance of literature, but it is socially acceptable to boast ignorance of science and proudly claim incompetence in mathematics.

From Richard Dawkins' - The Richard Dimbleby Lecture: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1996)

Human Being seems
to be rather "Tripartite"

It is widely known that Plato, pupil of and close friend to Socrates, accepted that Human Beings have a " Tripartite Soul " where the individual Human Psyche is noticeably composed of three aspects - Wisdom-Rationality, Spirited-Will and Appetite-Desire.

What is less widely appreciated is that such major World Faiths as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism see "Spirituality" as being relative to "Desire" and to "Wrath".

could such tendencies as these tend to be aspects of that 'knot of roots' which Emerson tells us man is

 

Could such Materialistic?, Spiritual? and Social-group? related tendencies as those "Tripartite" ones just mentioned all tend to be aspects of that 'Knot of Roots' which Emerson suggests that ~ "Man Is"

Explore Human Nature on our insightful
Human Nature - Tripartite Soul page


Human Societies often seem
to be rather "Tripartite"

Diagram suggesting that Human Societies often demonstrate capacities for Spiritual, Materialistic and Tribal / Ethnic 'Tripartism'

 

Although there have been, and are, "Doctrinaire" forms of society organised "According to an Ideology" (e.g. Marxism), in other cases we can probably state that Human Beings are "Social Beings" and it seems actually possible that individual Human-innate "bundles of relations and knots of roots" tend to give "spontaneous" direction to the development, and continuance, of "Humanly Natural?" Societies!!!