One has to wonder why Snow’s lecture has continued to draw flagrant responses over the last fifty years. The lecture is fairly impertinent and opinionated and rather than propose ways in which on can bridge the schism between the humanities and sciences, it quite blatantly pits the intellectuals from science against whom he calls natural Luddites, the literary intelligentsia. What did he unearth with this debate that gets the blood boiling and why is it still relevant today?
One has to see the lecture firstly from within context that it was written: Post war England. Snow’s vision was shaped by the fact that he saw himself as “being in a country sliding economically downhill.” He believed that the success of the future of Britain lay in technological investment and scientific thinking and that the conservative traditionalists and intellectuals were not supportive in embracing these new ways of progressing an economy. He went as far as calling the Literary intellectuals backward looking as apposed to the field of science that he saw as more than just a profession, but “something more like a directing class of a new society.”
He blamed these intellectuals for throttling what he believed could alleviate world poverty and stimulate national growth, and what he believed in was progress.
Thus I think the reason why this lecture is still relevant today is not because it applies to the cultures of science versus the culture of the literary intellectual, but rather about an attitude towards progress: the culture that knows the power of it versus the culture that chooses to stay ignorant.
It was also highly likely that his outburst came from a place of frustration in seeing his cronies in the literary world being ignorant about the potential difference that new technology would have and not only on industry, but on education as well. He saw education as a way to alleviate poverty and grow the national wealth.
“There is no excuse for letting another generation be as vastly ignorant, or as devoid of understanding and sympathy, as we are ourselves.”
He was further also fighting for a philosophy that embraces advancement as a group and not only for the benefit of the individual. And I don’t think he was asking for a turf war, but rather for the two cultures to consider collaboration for a more multi-dimensional perspective and stressed the importance of sharing knowledge to keep the group prosperous and secure.
His thoughts are almost more relevant today, fifty years on, where we are indeed approaching a new industrial revolution that really embraces this third culture he was hoping for. Concepts like open-source are advancing technology exponentially through a collective pool of knowledge.
Academic interest in the importance of science in the humanities and arts is seen not only in the industry’s demand for science and technology professionals, but also in the push it is receiving within the education system towards STEM education.
Snow speaks of the sheer force of science that cannot be restrained and will keep changing the world and if we can harness the joint knowledge of two cultures, embrace new technology and educate the next generation we have the power to change the world.
Closing the gap between [the two cultures] is a necessity in the most abstract intellectual sense, as well as in the most practical. When those two senses have grown apart, then no society is going to be able to think with wisdom. For the sake of the intellectual life, … for the sake of the 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 … the whole West to look at our education with fresh eyes.