C.P. Snow – The Two Cultures

In C.P Snow’s “The Two Cultures,” he discusses the very large divide between two different sects of the greater group of intellectuals. Using a negative tone, he concludes that each side selfishly refuses to acknowledge the equal importance of the other.

Ironically, he portrays his colleagues as viewing one another through their narrow scopes, while missing that this is not unlike his own view. He lived in a very specific area, attended a very specific university and frequented very specific work environments. That is not the world; that is his world. And if he only meant to make this comparison regarding his own experience, he was unclear with his defining boundaries. On the other hand, if he was attempting to define these intellectuals at large, his entire approach needs to be revisited.

It is ridiculous to split intellectuals into only two large groups. It is as ridiculous as the notion that people can simply identify with only two political parties, two genders, or two personality types. If only the world could be so clean cut. In these circumstances, a severely oversimplified duality was not the original intent, but it unfortunately became the outcome. I’m unsure whether it is easier to understand or it is easier to explain it this way, but I don’t believe it was his intent to forcefully push unique human beings into two very broad categories. When only two types of intellectuals are discussed, the reader will assume the writer believes there to be only two types of intellectuals.

Even if a person is placed into the category of a “scientist,” what qualities must they exhibit to relate to all of the other scientists? A love for learning, very analytical and literal thinking process, no artistic abilities present, a generally grim outlook on life and religion, a keen sense of curiosity, needs glasses etc. Is this the same for all scientists? Only scientists? No, it’s just a generalization.

Snow does begin to acknowledge this when he discusses a younger generation of scientists. They have broken away from some of the older generation’s views on religion and politics. They have sparked variety into their culture. But what I find most important in the points he makes is the idea that both groups of intellectuals could only benefit from embracing the other. They are only harming themselves by abstaining from leaving their own realm. He wrote that he is often tempted to ask a group of literary intellectuals how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It is the equivalent to asking a scientist about their knowledge of Shakespeare. The response he receives is cold and negative. It’s all unnecessary.

Hybrid intellect can be incredibly beneficial. Each group of intellectuals can both learn and teach. For example, he brings up the scientists’ optimism. Their impatience for things to get done, and inclination that they often can be done, is an optimism many others badly need. Instead of greeting our misunderstanding of others with hostility, we can choose to learn. This might even solve Snow’s original problem with overgeneralization. Black and white cultures beginning to turn gray as a healthy mix of cultures between groups of individuals. This, instead of the portrait of the suffering dichotomy he painted for us.