23 May 2013

The Two Cultures

In the spirit of moving along my reading list, finished The Two Cultures by C.P. Snow today.

Also discovered this book through Brain Pickings, which i really ought to spend more time on instead of beauty blogs. The content of the book is Snow's Rede lecturein 1959, which he summarizes:
We have lost even the pretence of a common culture. Persons educated with the greatest intensity we know can no longer communicate with each other on the plane of their major intellectual concern. This is serious for our creative, intellectual and above all, our normal life. It is leading us to interpret the past wrongly, to misjudge the present, and to deny our hopes of the future. It is making it difficult or impossible for us to take good action. [...] That neither the scientific system of mental development, nor the traditional, is adequate for our potentialities, for the work we have in front of us, for the world in which we ought to begin to live.
It made me recall a conversation that I had with David back when we just started university. I was telling him how the engineers and artscis are jokingly hostile to each other during f!rosh week, in which he replied that the two groups should work together to invent better things (or something along the lines of working together).

The divide between the science and literary is illustrated in the examples below:
I should admit was further down the scientific ladder than the people I've been talking about-who, when asked what books he read, replied firmly and confidently: "Books? I prefer to use my books as tools." It was very had not to let my mind wander - what sort of tool would a book make? Perhaps a hammer? A primitive digging instrument?"

As with the tone-deaf, they don't know what they miss.They give a pitying chuckle at the news of scientists who have never read a major work of English literature. They dismiss them as ignorant specialists. [...] 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?
later he expands that there's exists divisions within the science (and literature too I'm assuming). In this case the difference exemplified is between the pure and applied sciences:
We prided ourselves that the science we were doing could not, in any conceivable circumstances, have any practical use.  The more firmly one could make that claim, the more superior one felt. 
I find it amazing that this book, written ~50 years ago, is incredibly relevant today. The biggest issues that we face today, such as alleviating poverty and mitigating the effects of global warming, all require multidisciplinary approach. I rather regret taking all science courses in my upper years of highschool and "cheating" my hss electives by filling them with environmental minor courses.


On the topic of education, an immensely popular TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson now in RSA animated:

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