C.P. Snow – The Two Cultures

C.P. Snow – The Two Cultures


  • “Snow had blundered across one of the most sensitive terrains in twentieth-century English culture: the assessment of the human consequences of the Industrial Revolution.” (xxxiii)
    • Interesting! What are our sensitive territories today?
  • The Two Cultures debate continued because there was “always more at stake than the ostensible cause of the current dispute.” (xxxv)
  • “In practice, scientists have not been rushing to apply their experimental techniques to the illumination of the plays of Shakespeare or the novels of Jane Austen, but literary theorists have been eager to extend the domain of discourse analysis to uncover the surprising figurative play at the heart of even the baldest scientific research paper.”(Iiii)
    • Not sure if this is a fair assessment or comparison
  • “We need to encourage the growth of the intellectual equivalent of bilingualism” (Ivii)
    • But how can this be done if science is so specialized today?
  • “What we need is less tragic self-conceit and rigidity of principle and more irony, self-criticism and the ability to see our own scientific work as though from the outside” – Wolf Lepenies (lxi)
    • Trying to get this idea of dissolving superiority between the two groups, seeing it as a problem and not a fundamental immutable order of things
    • Why should there be a divide between science and the humanities?

Part I: The Lecture Itself

  • “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?” (15)
  • Looser rein of American education system leads to more creative zest. American education system “more diffuse and less professional than ours” (35)
    • Yes, I do see that.
    • Russian high school education being “10 per cent, of science and mathematics. Everyone has to do all subjects. At the university this general education ceases abruptly: and for the last three years of the five year course the specialization is more intensive even than ours” (36)
  • “The rate of change has increased so much that our imagination can’t keep up. There is bound to be more social change, affecting more people, in the next decade than in any before.” (42)
  • “The capital must come from outside.” (46)
    • This is snow on how to fix the gap between the rich and poor.
    • He alludes to our duty to solve these problems of the world, because we have the capacity to, but yet.. don’t…
  • “When those two senses (science and humanities) have grown apart, then no society is going to be able to think with wisdom.” (50)
  • “western society living precariously rich among the poor, for the sake of the poor who needn’t be poor if there is intelligence in the world, it is obligatory for us and the Americans and the whole West to look at our education with fresh eyes.” (50)
    • I also feel this, to a very much large extent, and is this perhaps the reason why, this whole two cultures thing that most scientists don’t engage in this ‘duty’ that Snow speaks of?

Part 2: A Second Look

  • “Debating gives most of us much more psychological satisfaction than thinking does: but it deprives us of whatever change there is of getting closer to the truth.” (56)
    • This reminds me of the importance of listening
  • “We cannot know as much as we should about the social condition all over the world. But we can know, we do know, two most important things. First we can meet the harsh facts of the flesh, on the level where all of us are, or should be, one. We know that the vast majority, perhaps two-thirds, of our fellow men are living in the immediate presence of illness and premature death; their expectation of life is half of ours, most are under-nourished, many are near to starving, many starve. Each of these lives is afflicted by suffering, different from that which is intrinsic in the individual condition. But this suffering is unnecessary and can be lifted. This is the second important thing which we know – or, if we don’t know it, there is no excuse of absolution for us.” (77)
    • This is the single most important passage. Snow really attributes the divide in the Two Cultures as one of the larger reasons to why we don’t solve the problem of poverty. The problem of poverty is something in all our minds (the developed countries), somewhere buried in there, yet not everyone thinks of it, let alone acts on it. If Snow is speaking correctly, then bridging these two cultures through, one solution being the education system, then we can produce citizens that would be more open to bilingualism in the science and humanities, more collaboration.
  • “Man doesn’t live by bread alone.” (78)
    • There has to be more that comes behind capital.
  • “They may, like some of us, try – through sex or drink or drugs – to intensify the sensational life.” (79) (In speaking of the men of the future)
    • I just read a Lucretius or Epicureanism view of the world which holds pleasure as the highest good. How can we square away both views? Does Snow view pleasure as vice?
    • Snow goes on, “Or they may try to improve the quality of their lives, through an extension of their responsibilities, a deepening of the affects and the spirit, in a fashion which, though we can aim at it for ourselves and our own societies, we can only dimly perceive.” (79)
      • I think Epicureanism can be included in Snow’s view. In the sense that pleasure is satisfied on the condition or satisfaction of human’s deeper responsibilities. That through a responsibility to the world, they achieve true pleasure and happiness.
    • “The scientific revolution is the only method by which most people can gain the primal things (years of life, freedom from hunger, survival for children)” (80)
      • Snow says people want the scientific revolution. And I agree. After reading Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis, railroads was readily welcomed by farmers who wanted to bring their produce to market instead of traveling by wagon over long distances, increasing risk of fluctuating demand, prices, and perils of travel.
      • Science is good, but also there should be a need to be cautious. We need to use science in a way that is not harmful to our society and one in which its effect is planned sustainably, the best it can be.
    • There is no such thing as a “pretty-pretty past”. (82)