The Two Cultures

The Daily Duck wants to know why the seemingly perpetual interest in inter-disciplinary scholarship, especially when comes to jamming fields as disparate as the arts and sciences together.

More to the point, what’s the problem? Is literature suffering from it’s distance from science? Is science suffering? No. There is no magical middle ground between science and art where some mystical synergy kicks in to enable fantastic realms of new possibilities. Like most border areas it is a dead zone, a no-man’s land of barbed wire and trenches. That’s what keeps Germans in Germany and what keeps scientists productive.

Apparently C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures is being cited as an inspiration for this. This I think is highly ironic as I agree with F. R. Levis’s critique, that Snow was neither especially proficient in the arts or the sciences, and in any case most of the Two Cultures was poorly thought through, the Two Cultures being itself an illustration of why simply ramming the arts and sciences together is unlikely to produce much of lasting value.

That said, the discussions that I have been having with atheists does suggest that the scientific view of the world, when taken to extremes, leads to a narrowing in outlook (see Subjective Truth). I suspect very much that an analogous narrowing comes with an excessive emphasis on a subjective/artistic way of looking at the world (e.g., some of the excesses of the post-modernists). But I don’t at all think that familiarity with one area can act as an antidote to the other, indeed I suspect it is possible that they could well reinforce each other being both consequences of the same carve-up encouraged by Kant with science getting (real) objective knowledge and art and religion left with faith-based, subjective consolation-games.

In my view it is this carve-up that is the problem yet the thinking in both areas reinforce the separation. While I agree that the attempts to jam arts and science together is unlikely to produce much of value, I do think there is an overall philosophical failure that has left our hearts separated from our heads. I have been trying to show how Jane Austen was pointing out this failure in her novels starting with Sense and Sensibility.

4 responses to “The Two Cultures

  1. I wonder whether scrambling the two cultures would produce another Yeats-like figure, where existing in a world bursting with the idolatry of newfangled sciences and an abundant training in the classicsresulted in an Arts & Sciences Spirituality embodied in a very scientific understanding of much-more-than-human cycles – like gyres.

  2. Hi Schooey, I am inclined to agree with Duck. I think a forced scrambling of art and science would produce much mediocre thinking and a fair amount of confusion. As he says scientists consume arts anyway and artists take an interest in science.

    I do think there is a problem though (otherwise it would be difficult to account for the massive attraction of Snow’s thesis decades later) but the problem is philosophical and not going to solved by mashing things together.

  3. I’m currently reading The Black Swan, which offers a fascinating perspective on tthe art/science divide from a psychological perspective. The author is trying to explain why the so called experts, in the sciences, in business and elsewhere, are so bad at properly accounting for the true probabilities of unexpected events, or “Black Swans”.

    Basically our minds organize information by using narratives. It seems we cannot even store simple facts and experiences in memories without creating narratives which explain them. This works well as long as our experiences stay within the story lines of our narratives. But the world is random, and every so often Black Swans enter the picture to upset our narratives. Even scientists, who supposedly only want the facts, cannot help themselves from creating narratives.

  4. Thanks Robert. The thesis makes total sense. I have seen other good reports of this book–I will try and get hold of a copy.

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