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Category: 06. 3/14 The Two Cultures (Page 1 of 2)

Science: the second culture not to be underestimated

While anyone you ask on the street is highly unlikely to know the second law of thermodynamics off the top of their head, there is certainly a greater chance that they will have read a work of Shakespeare. Why is it that in general, people are less knowledgable in the sciences compared to the humanities? This is the question that CP Snow addresses in his lecture on the “Two Cultures”, where he outlines the divide between the “literary intellectuals” and the scientists.

CP Snow is right to suggest that the people in different schools of thought have a difficult time understanding each other, although it may be more than simply two different opinions. However, the important message of CP Snow’s lecture which is most relevant today is the lack of understanding of the field of science. This problem is very evident in our world today, and contributes to many social and political issues in our country.

When CP Snow compares knowing the second law of thermodynamics to having read a work of Shakespeare, he points out the societal expectation that exists to understand literary works, but not the laws of science. In all practicality, it may not be necessary to have read Shakespeare or to know what the second law of thermodynamics is in order to be a well rounded intellectual who can be an informed individual and contribute effectively to society. But his point is well made that people sometimes seem to regard the study of literature as more important than the study of science, for some unknown reason, as knowledge of science seems to be much more necessary to address current issues as well as appreciate the way the world works.

Science is becoming an increasingly important subject for the public to understand in our rapidly changing world. Today, Snow’s argument holds true in a sense that could not have yet been fully realized when he delivered his speech in 1959. The problem of global warming has just recently been recognized as a highly important issue in our world today, and in order to understand this problem, it is critical to have a solid understanding of science. It is unbelievable that so many current politicians and authority figures have such a minimal understanding of science. There is a lack of progress in scientific and especially environmental areas, because the policies that aid our environment are so often prevented from being implemented. This is due in part to the literary bias, or perhaps lack of understanding of science, by many politicians. And the reason why these people are able to occupy such influential and powerful positions is because of a lack of understanding of science of the voters and the general public.

Indeed, I always wondered why my high school required more English credits than it did science for graduation requirements. The problems emerging today warrant a necessary change for our education system in order to make science more valued. It is time for the societal literary precedent to give way to a more rounded education that emphasizes the science needed to understand current issues. It is necessary for everyone to become more educated in scientific fields in order to make these critical changes in our government and our world.

The link between the two cultures

When a scientist writes a scientific paper, most of the time literary elements will not be used to structure the piece. This is a given,  a scientific paper must be concise, precise and leave no room for ambiguity. Someone not familiar with the nature of science, who is on the humanitarian side of C.P Snow’s two cultures would say such a work allows for no creativity nor freedom. A literary work, however, is an exercise in the creativity of the author and his ability to manipulate the thoughts of the reader, take someone on an intellectual journey. This would lead most who associate themselves with one of the two cultures or the other to see distinct, insurmountable differences in their approach and method towards their work. However, upon looking closer, there is a lot more overlap than on first glance.

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The Yin and Yang of the Two Cultures

Carter Liou




In his 1959 Rede Lecture, C.P. Snow addressed an idea that would later spark debate over the divergence of academia in the Western world.  His argument was that there was an “ever growing” schism between the sciences and the humanities, which could ultimately be responsible for the lack of progression in solving global problems.  Snow would go on to criticise the British educational system, holding it accountable for misguided political leadership. While Snow presents the two fields of study, which he refers to as “cultures,” as being antithetical to one another, the two are actually not as black and white as he deems them to be.  A perfect representation of their relationship is the Yin and Yang symbol which illustrates that seemingly opposing concepts or, in this case, cultures, may actually be interconnected in small, distinct ways. Thusly, I will be comparing very stereotypical aspects of the two different cultures; for the sciences I will be examining lab based-research, and for the humanities I will be examining literature.  


The first way in which the two cultures overlap is through the integration of creativity. For a fiction writer, the need to have a creative mind is fairly self explanatory in the sense that in order to develop a story, the writer must develop something new.  In the sciences, creativity is not as obvious, but still essential.   In lab research, before an experiment can be conducted, a hypothesis must be developed.   This requires creative thinking through the formulation of something that, although may not be factual at first, is in itself new.  In this sense, creativity is necessary for the overall pursuit of scientific knowledge because all scientific research is conducted by first setting up a hypothesis.  Without creative thinking, progress in both the sciences and the humanities would not exist.


The second way in which the two cultures overlap is through an emphasis on precision.  The term “precision” denotes how closely a concept, story, or measurement is to the actual thing.  In the humanities, precision writing is an exercise where a writer learns to discriminate between essential and nonessential information.  The goal is ultimately to clarify and to highlight information that the writer wishes to convey to the reader. In this way, an exercise such as precision writing is helpful in honing one’s ability to compose the journals, articles and biographies that constitute nonfiction writing.


In lab research the use of precision is also important.  When conducting research, it is necessary to follow instructions and ensure that measurements are precise.  Precision is also vital to results in which a percent error can tell you how precise your data was. This is crucial and allows scientists to examine the mistakes that could have been made during the experiment.  Without the integration of precision in the sciences and the humanities, both cultures would struggle to produce reliable data and comprehensible writing.


While there are underlying similarities between the humanities and the sciences, it does not mean the two are one in the same and that one can equally divide their time in both and be successful.  Then again, to only dedicate one’s time to a single subject would not stimulate “well rounded” intellectual growth. The key is to find a healthy balance and to utilize skills that radiate from both sides of the academic spectrum.  

Are There More Than Two Cultures?

In C.P. Snow’s famous book The Two Cultures, he argues, as you might expect, that western society is divided into two cultures who generally do not interact with one another and regard each other negatively. These two groups are the scientists and the humanists. Obviously, based on life choices alone, individuals on either side of this spectrum likely do not have many interests in common, and it can be seen why they might think less of members of the other side. Scientists were likely never too interested in the arts, and people concerned with humanities probably don’t care what happens when certain chemicals interact on a molecular scale. Scientists regard humanists as lazy, flighty, flowery, and crunchy while those same humanists turn around and call scientists narrow-minded geeks and nerds. Now while these two “cultures” have their differences, in order to see this as a legitimate argument, we must first define what a culture is and decide if there is really more going on.

I believe a culture can be defined as the culmination of ideas and values held by a specific group or community, as well as how a member’s upbringing in this community shapes their development as they experience it and age. Based on this definition, I can somewhat see how science and the humanities could be considered cultures. In both of these disciplines, there are certain things valued by those who consider themselves a part of them. In science, things like hard facts, skepticism, and accuracy are highly valued. In humanities, ideas like critical thinking, evidence, and literature are important. That said, I still do not think that it’s safe to go as far as to say science and the humanities are the only two intellectual divisions among western society.

Across the globe, there are considerably more than just two cultures that can be found. However, these are not the cultures C.P. Snow is talking about in his book. His point is that although both renowned humanists and scientists are considered smart, if either is taken out of their culture and put into the other, they would be seen as far inferior in terms of intellectual ability. A discipline that I think bridges the gap somewhat between these two cultures is the social sciences like sociology, economics, and psychology. In these disciplines, they are still regarded as sciences, since they deal with the intellectual study of behaviors and trends through observations and experiments, but simultaneously take a closer look at human history, culture, etc. I believe that social sciences can be seen as a sort of counterargument to the ideas raised in The Two Cultures. Because social scientists deal with a chunk of either side to some extent, when placed out of their niche and into one of the other two, there would not be as negative of a response from their one-on-one interaction. They do not study the exact same things, but a mutual understanding would be reached much more easily.

C.P. Snow’s lecture on the two cultures of science and humanities makes a few valid points, but in the end fails to account for a possible addition to this list. The social sciences represent the overlapping area of the Venn diagram of intellectual western culture. Some may argue that social science could be considered a class of its own, but I believe its roots extend into both sides.

The Natural Sciences and Humanities are Cut from the Same Cloth

C.P. Snow proposes in The Two Cultures that there are two distinct disciplines: natural sciences and humanities. Snow conveys that each culture is distinct and the scholars have minimal knowledge basis of the other culture. However, Snow fails to recognize that each culture has similar characteristics such as methodology and creativity and that the collaboration of the two cultures could solve societal issues. The two cultures are not as different as Snow suggests and the social sciences, the third culture, is a clear combination between the two cultures. Scientists, writers, historians, and others need to recognize the similarities and utilize the skills within the other cultures to solve global issues. Continue reading

C.P. Snow’s Bridge

A graduate with a science degree asks, “Why does it work?”

A graduate with an engineering degree asks, “How does it work?”

A graduate with an accounting degree asks, “How much does it cost?”

A graduate with a liberal arts degree asks, “Would you like milk with your coffee?”


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Environmental Humanities: Connecting Two Cultures.

      Global temperatures are skyrocketing, species are going extinct, and our environment is experiencing rapid devasting changes. Currently, over 97% of climate scientists are in agreement that humans are the cause of climate change. These scientists strongly advocate that we need to take drastic action to prevent the alteration of our climate. However, only 45% percent of the public is in agreement that we, as a biological species, are causing these biogeochemical changes(ES 118). If less than half of the public believes in man-made climate change, it will be exceptionally difficult to fully address the climate issue. To best tackle the climate crisis, we need to bridge the gap between climate scientists and the general public; we need to connect the two cultures. By implementing a system of environmental humanities, along with the science, it will be possible to increase acceptance of climate change in our society.

       Environmental scientists are extremely capable of proving climate change, however, they fail to connect with much of society on this issue. Organizations, such as NASA and the EPA, have compiled innumerable graphs and datasets, demonstrating the effects of climate change(NASA, EPA). They have emphasized the point that there is nearly a perfect correlation between carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, largely emitted from man-made technology, and global temperature rise. Furthermore, climate scientists have posted articles and research papers on how increasing temperatures result in droughts, melting glaciers, and other factors that provide deadly for earth’s biota(NASA). Despite the mountain of evidence scientists have compiled on the reality and effects of climate change, it is not largely accepted by the public. This is a failure of scientists and the greater community; there is a void between the two. Many people have written on this issue. Namely, C.P. Snow addresses this lack of communication and acceptance in his book, “The Two Cultures.” In his book he discussed the divide between scientific community and others (Snow). The lack of understanding and connection between scientists and the rest of society decreases the effectivity and authority of scientific discoveries. Without this communication, scientific discoveries decrease their value as they cannot be implemented into society. For example, climate scientists have the evidence for climate change, yet more than half of the world’s population does not believe in it, begging the question of the necessity to change the way we express the issues of climate change. Currently, if you wish to find information regarding climate change, you need to turn to scientific magazines, journals, and videos. People, especially those not scientifically inclined, will likely not be overly concerned with the spouting of statistics and dry scientific research. It will take more of a well-rounded, humanities-based approach to convince them of the severity of the climate issue.

      Environmental humanities draws from the arts, and in this way connects with people and expresses climate change in a way that can be more accepted by the public. By studying and focusing on the relations between cultural, linguistic, and environmental relations, this topic touches on almost every essential academic aspect in society. In this way it has the potential to bridge the gap between scientists and the rest of society. There have been several artistic attempts to express the effects of climate change. John Quigley made an immense replica of the Vitruvian man on a melting glacier as a metaphor of the effect climate change has on humanity, in addition to nature(TIME). Furthermore, David Nye claims that our environmental crisis cannot be solved by technology and science alone. He says that addressing this issue will also require addressing the cultural and social effects of climate change(MIT). Environmental humanities allows us to understand how climate change is affecting humans directly, through means such as famine and natural disasters. Furthermore, it portrays these ideas visually and artistically, which can be an extremely powerful means of expressing the climate crisis. Alternatively, not only does environmental humanities increase the access to and understanding of climate change, but it also welcomes a wider variety of academics into the environmental field. By expanding environmental studies to include the humanities, people who are not scientifically minded can contribute to environmental protection. This in turn, will increase the publicity and access to the environmental studies, resulting in a larger percentage of the population engaged with and understanding climate issues.

      With the combination of environmental science and humanities, it is possible to increase the accessibility of information and knowledge on climate issues. Environmental humanities can portray the information provided by scientists in a way that is understandable and inclusive to the general community. If more people accept climate change as a reality, and accept its true effects, socially and scientifically, we can hazard to hope that society will make it a larger goal of theirs to address the climate crisis. By introducing the larger community to the environmental humanities, an alternative mechanism of addressing the issue of climate change, our society may have a chance at preserving a healthy and natural environment.


Climate Change Basics 12-14 March 2018File





“The Two Cultures” by C.P. Snow

Discrimination doesn’t just stop on race or gender

It has never been easier to divide people into different groups in history. Gender, race, political standpoints, nationality, to name a few. Another category that is not less bizarre is intellectual orientation, with mathematics and natural sciences on one side and humanities and social sciences on the other. Similar to other contrasting groups, there is also a heated dispute – to put it lightly, between the mathematicians and natural scientists versus the humanists and social scientists. Despite its core nature, the debate is viewed differently in, and thus poses different impacts on, different cultures, especially between the East and the West.

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Do Outsiders Exist?

Chase Holding



Professor Fleming

Do Outsiders Exist?


The idea of our society having two cultures –scientists and literary intellectuals—was originally thought of in the mid 1950’s. C.P. Snow can be credited with this idea, believing that if you don’t fall in either category you should be considered an outsider. Viewing this argument from the 21st century, one might wonder why these two fields were considered dominant. Should people who reside in cultures other than science and humanities be considered outsiders? The fact is that each person that lives in our society contributes to the overall culture in his or her own way. The sooner we can accept this; the better off our society will be with regards to diversification.

Snow’s book The Two Cultures is famous for discussing the divide that exists between his two said cultures. He believes that in the work place as well society as a whole, his two groups rarely converse with each other. Based on various studies, Snow wasn’t entirely wrong at the time about this idea. Over the last sixty years, there has been a strong shift in the respect people have for other fields of study. In our Science, Technology and Society class, we compared how three fields of study view each other in terms of their work as well as their personality. Our present day class was much more considerate when describing each other’s fields than classes from decades ago. Many stereotypes about various fields of study still exist in 2018, however there is no question that we are on the right path to a more accepting and respectful society.

Snow’s belief that only two cultures make up our world is a single-minded approach to viewing society. Our current world is filled with billions of cultures that make society the way it is. While there are various definitions of culture in the dictionary, to me culture is created and altered by the actions of each and every person that lives on this planet. The discoveries, the failures, and everything else humans do and have done make our culture unique. While people such as celebrities and entrepreneurs might have more influence on our culture than the average person, there is no such thing as an outsider in our world. Snow’s objective in creating his opposing cultures was to generalize a variety of groups into two branches. This is an impossible task as not even a respected physicist is bright enough to define our world’s culture.

So to answer the question: No, an outsider in our society does not exist with regards to defining culture. Not only was Snow incorrect about the idea of people being insignificant, but also he was also wrong in generalizing our society into two cultures. Diversity has and will always play a significant role in our society and workplace. Imagining a world solely focused on science and humanities is a daunting idea. Instead we must respect the ideas and actions of each and every member of our world. The meaning of culture will continue to change in the future, if we cannot accept diversity and unity in our society as positive values, we are no better than C.P. Snow.


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