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Vaclav Smil On The Two Cultures And Our “Fully Post-Factual World”

Vaclav Smil On The Two Cultures And Our “Fully Post-Factual World”

My emails with Smil on C.P. Snow’s 1959 essay, scientific illiteracy and innumeracy. Plus: Kotkin, Gurri, and Teixeira on the elites vs. the “normies”

C.P. Snow in 1977. Photo: Bern Schwartz, National Portrait Gallery.

In 1959, British novelist and physical chemist C.P. Snow gave a now-famous lecture called “The Two Cultures.” Snow argued that there was a growing disconnect between the culture of the sciences and the culture of the humanities and that bridging that gap was critical to understanding and addressing the world’s problems. Snow declared,

I believe the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups… Literary intellectuals at one pole – at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension.

Snow then underscored the general public’s lack of understanding of energy. As Snow put it:

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. 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 the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?

Indeed, while most moderately cultured people will be familiar with the Bard’s A Comedy of Errors or The Merchant of Venice, the three laws of thermodynamics are considered by most people to be the domain of nerds and wonks…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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