Friday, May 8, 2009

C.P. Snow's "Two Cultures" at 50

Randall Stephens

Robert P. Crease reflects on the 50th anniversary of C.P. Snow's “The Two Cultures” lecture at Snow's subsequent "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution," Encounter, XII (June, 1959), famously turned readers' attention to the yawning chasm between the sciences and the humanities. Crease's comments are particularly relevant to a recent biology vs. history conversation on our blog. (See David Meskill's post, "What Can Historians Learn from Biologists." Snow's observations have also come up in Historically Speaking essays and forums on science and history.)

Crease acknowledges Snow's many faults, but writes that Snow helps "us to recognize the two-culture gap half a century later in a different world. . . ." Crease sees the "two-culture gap in the attitude of historians, novelists and philosophers who deride the idea that they need to incorporate science when thinking through humanity’s 'important questions'; a condition that I named — with less flair than Snow — 'anosognosia'."

He concludes: "The pertinence of the phrase 'two cultures' continues; the science kids and the humanities kids, as it were, still sit at different tables in the lunchroom."

For more on the relevance/irrelevance of Snow's thesis, see also, Robert Whelan, "Fifty years on, CP Snow's 'Two Cultures' are united in desperation," Telegraph, May 4, 2009; Peter Dizikes, "Our Two Cultures," New York Times, 19 March 2009; and "May 7, 1959: Can't We All Just Get Along?" Wired, 7 May 2009.

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