- It is about three years since I made a sketch in print of a problem which had been on my mind for some time.1 It was a problem I could not avoid just because of the circumstances of my life. The only credentials I had to ruminate on the subject at all came through those circumstances, through nothing more than a set of chances. Anyone with similar experience would have seen much the same things and I think made very much the same comments about them. It just happened to be an unusual experience. By training I was a scientist: by vocation I was a writer. That was all. It was a piece of luck, if you like, that arose through coming from a poor home.
- But my personal history isn't the point now. All that I need say is that I came to Cambridge and did a bit of research here at a time of major scientific activity. I was privileged to have a ringside view of one of the most wonderful creative periods in all physics. And it happened through the flukes of war — including meeting W. L. Bragg in the buffet on Kettering station on a very cold morning in 1939, which had a determining influence on my practical life — that I was able, and indeed morally forced, to keep that ringside view ever since. So for thirty years I have had to be in touch with scientists not only out of curiosity, but as part of a working existence. During the same thirty years I was trying to shape the books I wanted to write, which in due course took me among writers.
- There have been plenty of days when I have spent the working hours with scientists and then gone off at night with some literary colleagues. I mean that literally. I have had, of course, intimate friends among both scientists and writers. It was through living among these groups and much more, I think, through moving regularly from one to the other and back again that I got occupied with the problem of what, long before I put it on paper, I christened to myself as the 'two cultures'. For constantly I felt I was moving among two groups — comparable in intelligence1, identical in race2, not grossly different in social origin, earning about the same incomes, who had almost ceased to communicate at all, who in intellectual, moral and psychological climate had so little in common that instead of going from Burlington House or South Kensington to Chelsea, one might have crossed an ocean.
- This is an important paper, much cited, but doubtless seldom read – so I decided to read it.
- The citation that encouraged me to read it was Martin Rees’s paper “The Good Scientist3” in Aeon.
- There are four sections, with only the first one usually taken to be of interest, but it sets the ground for the others, all of which have contemporary relevance.
- The Two Cultures
- Intellectuals As Natural Luddites
- The Scientific Revolution
- The Rich And The Poor
- Clearly, the paper is delivered at a point in time, and things have moved on both in the UK and globally.
- The massive expansion of university education in the UK hasn’t – I don’t think – solved the problem of “two cultures”, since most degrees seem to fall between the two, and are “no culture” rather than science or arts as understood by Snow.
- At least two Western leaders have been research scientists – Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel (both chemists).
- The Russian state has pretty much collapsed since the end of Communism, and they are no longer the scientific and engineering force they once were.
- China, however, has taken their place as the “number 2” superpower; soon to be “number 1”, no doubt.
- The suggestion that if the West didn’t help Africa out, the East eventually would seems to be coming to pass, with the interest shown by the Chinese, though obviously for selfish reasons.
- Much more could be written …
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)