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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.  

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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