Charles Percy Snow, also known asC.P. Snow, was a British scientist and novelist who in 1959 delivered a lectureat Cambridge called “The Two Cultures”. Thislecture was later on made available in book form. C.
P. Snows main purpose was to explain thedivide in western society, as he saw it, into two groups. The first group being the culture of the intellectualsand the other being the culture of science. “The Two Cultures” is about the difference of opinions of people in the humanitiesand sciences field. While ideally, thesetwo fields are supposed to complement each other, Snow tries to prove how farthey have drifted away from each other, to the point that not only do theystrongly disagree with each other, but to a point they strongly disapprove andmock each other’s work. C.P. Snow, whobelongs to both the scientific and literature communities, attended Cambridge University where he spent about thirtyyears of his life interacting and working with the scientific community.
Afterthat, he decided to write his own book and that is what took him among writers.There were plenty of days where he spent his working hours with scientists andevenings socializing with the writers. That is what led him to initiallydiscover and then discuss the increasing gap between people in the science andarts fields.Snows blames both,the scientists and intellectuals, for the distrust and called it a “breach intwo major branches” which has been largely ignored by the world. Snow thinks that their differences might betraced back to the vast differences in their attitudes. While literary people consider science peopleto be non-emotional, boastful and totally lacking in foresight, science peopleconsider intellects to be lacking in foresight, disconnected with the realworld, unconcerned about other people and unwilling to adapt to the realitiesof the world.
Accordingto Snow, while some of these reservations about each other might make sense,most of these are baseless and rely on dangerous misinterpretations. C.P.Snow tries to further explore the reasons for this gap between the twocommunities. He starts by talking aboutthe much debated scientists’ optimism.
It’sa common understanding that scientists are usually motivated to make newdiscoveries and envision a “new and better” world. Some people are against this attitude as theycall it “unwanted optimism”. Snow arguesthat this optimism is necessary as human life is inherently lonely and tragic,and scientists are the people who figure out if something can be done andindeed bring a change to society.
In myopinion, Snow was a little bit in favor of the scientist as he labelled theprominent writers of the 20th century as politically impractical andcalled 20th century literature to be misguided. Although,Snow also blames the scientific community for failing to understand or showinterest in the intellectual or literature world at all. His bias was alsovisible when he claimed that the scientific culture has a great deal ofargument, which was more rigorous and at a higher conceptual level than that ofthe literary person’s argument. Snow says that the “Scientists are intelligentmen, but they show complete lack of interest in art, intellect or social life”.
Snow then goes on to say that intellectualsconsider a “traditional culture” to be the mainstream culture and have acomplete disregard for scientist or scientific achievement. C.P then tries todig in further and explore the reasons as to why the gap between scientists andliterary people has been widening over the years. Even though Snowshowers praises on the scientific community, he also blames them for failing tounderstand or show interest in the intellectual or literary world at all.
He claims that “scientists are intelligent menwith admirable ways who show complete lack of interest in art, intellect orsocial life”. Such an incomprehension ofboth sides is really dangerous and a loss to both sides. He recalls the timeduring World War II when he interviewed about thirty to forty thousandscientists and engineers and found out that they were absolutely negligible or hadno links to traditional culture. Snow claims that the intellects are impoverished becausethey fail to observe and acknowledge the natural order. He thinks that theyabsolutely fail to understand what all science has done in decrypting thenatural order or what it means for the world. Snow himself thinks that thescientific exploration of the world is the “most beautiful and wonderfulcollective work of man’s mind”.
Even ifthe intellects wanted to acknowledge scientific achievements, they couldnot. There is nowhere these two culturescan meet. Maybe it was possible thirtyyears ago, but not today as science has progressed way more rapidly thanliterature has.
Today, scientists or engineers make twice or three times theamount of money art majors or writers make. Snow also places the blame for this wholesituation on the British education system, which places undue emphasis onspecializations rather than general education. He thinks one of the most crucialreasons for the widening gap is the flawed education system. On the contrary,more scientifically accomplished countries like the U.S and the U.S.S.R haveway more diverse curriculums which give students a more rounded education.
According to Snow, British schoolmasters blame it on the competitive andpopular Cambridge-oxford scholarship, which puts the ultimate benchmark of theBritish school system on specialization in one specific field. Snow believes that there is an urgent need tochange the educational system and make it a much more diverse system that wouldbenefit everyone.As Snow himself stated on page one of his text, “All that Ineed say is that I came to Cambridge and did a bit of research here at a timeof major scientific activity. I was privilegedto have a ringside view of one of the most wonderful creative periods in allphysics” and he then later states “So for thirty years I have had to be intouch with scientist not only out of curiosity, but as part of a working existence”. With these words alone I feel Snow may havebeen leaning towards the side of the scientists rather than both the writersand scientists. Although he claimed tobe a member of both communities it’s is quite obvious, in my opinion, that Snowshowed favoritism to the scientific community throughout his writing.
Snow made more negative comments towards thewriters, even though he did have some negativity towards scientists. This may have been due to the fact thatduring the time he gave the lecture on “The Two Cultures” science was much morein favor then writers and the same may even be true today. As I mentioned previously science, for thepast few decades, has proved to be more important and actually needed to keepthe world going. Whereas intellectualsare of less importance, this is proved through the education system which isstill flawed today. Science is somethingthat is needed, without it the world wouldn’t be able to flourish. It plays a role in almost everything wedo. Almost everything we have today wasstarted by someone in the science field.
For example, we wouldn’t have electricity if it wasn’t for a scientistconducting experiments, and electricity is something that almost the wholeworld needs to carry out day to day life. As for writing, some may view ithas playing a major role but in reality it does not have nearly as muchimportance as science does. For that reason,I can get a sense as to why Snow would be in favor of the scientificcommunity. I also do feel there is still a cultural divide amongstintellects and scientists, which is a problem I don’t see getting resolvedanytime in the near future. I feel thismay be due to the fact some education systems fail to teach the importance thatevery subject matter is important. Many countrieseducation systems put much emphasis on science and math and tend to put writingon the back burner.
I feel if theeducation system as a whole, in every country, should start by ensuring everystudent gets a well-rounded, diverse education. Being educated on every subject equally can make students much more readyfor real world experiences. As myselfand many other college students it is hard to make a final decision on yourmajor but it something that you are in a way pushed to make within your firsttwo years of college. But once you makea choice all of your classes all correspond to that one decision.
For example, I decided to be a businessmajor, I have taken every class from accounting to business law but in fouryears I have only taken one writing class. I feel this is a great example as to why I feel science is still of muchmore importance than writing. As Snowstated in the text, “cultural divide is not just an English phenomenon: itexists all over the western world. Butprobably sharpest in England, for two reasons. One is our fanatical belief in education specialization” and “is ourtendency to let our social forms crystalize.
” Education should not just focusaround one’s specialization, but rather it should instead teach things thatstudents can actually benefit from once they are out in the real world.