Navigating the site:


Are you in my class?













CORE acronym



Critical links







Health of places













Science subjects

Search the web

Service Learning

Site Map






water ethics

WEAL acronym


Z-A contents of this site

The Two Cultures

Abstract | Essay | Dialectic? | Bibliography

The page examines the clash of knowledge and practice that demonstrates the division in comprehension between folk intelligence and empirical investigation.

Snow's words | Snow's essay visual | The Two Culture's context

The Redux Essay | Siry essay

The Two Cultures Essay

Knowledge may be defined as acquired understanding to sustain a belief:

derived from testing versus gained from experience and practice

science versus experience



In May 1959, Charles Percy Snow gave the Rede Lecture at Cambridge University where he warned of a fatal fragmentation in western industrial cultures concerning the achievements of applied science and the education of literate citizens. The dichotomy between the arts and the sciences, central to Snow’s, critique of higher education and culture in general, has fragmented further over the half century since he addressed the fracture’s existence. By focusing on modern biology, nuclear physics and atmospheric sciences, since 1945, this fracturing reveals a deeply rooted split within the arts and within the sciences that feeds a persistent, debilitating anti-intellectualism among the wider literate culture. Attitudes are debilitating because they mask the reality of the world’s conditions from our education. Snow pointed to “three menaces which now stand in our way—H-bomb war, overpopulation, the gap between the rich and the poor.” (p. 48) He admonished his audience that “This is one of the situations where the worst crime is innocence.”

Charles Percy Snow argued, in answer to Mathew Arnold, that knowledge divided against itself lacks the practical ability and moral capacity to meet the gravest challenges of modernity; these intractable threats of poverty, nuclear war, and population growth still trouble the world and disturb our comfortable, educated faith in learning.

Now, engaged in a great debate over the ownership of ethical imagination and the means to inspire moral conduct to match both technical abilities and the enormous growth of knowledge, academicians ask us to choose. They confront us with selecting a literate versus methodological means by which to analyze a desired course of action. Meanwhile, we lack the means to effectively synthesize revolutionary information about our species in this logically complex biophysical world. The scientific revolution to which Snow paid so much tribute, after all, has revealed an intricate quantum uncertainty and a stochastic biological inheritance of such detail that we yet lack a sufficiently precise explanatory language to describe technological, social and individual actions in a ceaselessly reactive universe.

Western educational institutions, while dedicated to free inquiry, refuting untested assumptions and promoting honest discourse, are profoundly implicated in and may actually promote the economic gulf and technical paralysis that Snow sensed as exacerbated by the two cultures divide: expressive art separated from ethical science.
We are here to divulge this divided heritage and our personal schizophrenic contributions to the union of intellect and practice that must occur if human hope in the purposeful acquisition of knowledge for the common good is to remain a remedy in a secular society widely infused with material, commercial and individual autonomy. Now climate change and biological engineering demand a literate science.

Our task is great in that Snow argued we had so little time to act. His critics additionally charged Snow lacked the inspired visions to motivate effective action. This new knowledge, in which he invested so much hope, confronts us now with a profound sense of uncertainty, if not loss. This sensibility is due not merely a loss of our bearings, but a loss of certainty about what we are as a species, how well we ought to behave and how effectively we can curtail our individual and collective behavior’s impact on others and the life of this planet.

Never has the necessity for change and the need for hope been so mismatched by a widespread inability to remedy poverty as fast as it emerges or to reduce the nuclear fissionable means used today to assure western dominance. Since Snow wrote, nonetheless, women who own about a percent of the world’s wealth are acting in a innovative manner to both diminish the rate of population growth by reducing total fertility rates, and calling for ethical responsibility in raising families by improving social conditions. We can change, but we shall examine now to what extent we ought to overcome entrenched obstacles to morally informed action becoming the focus of a new education?



Snow's words | Snow's essay visual | The Two Culture's context | The Redux Essay | Siry essay





Snow, C. P. The Two Cultures: And A Second Look. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1959; 1963 [ Mentor Edition, 1963].
Boulding, Kenneth E. “The Two Cutures,” Technology in Western Civilization: 2 Vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967. Vol. II, pp. 686-707. “Technology has produced many paradoxes.” (704).
Cohen, Benjamin R. “On the Historical Relationship Between the Sciences and the Humanities: A Look at Popular Debates That Have Exemplified Cross-Disciplinary Tension.” Cohen writes “In this sense, Snow’s metaphor of ‘two cultures’ is itself a precursor to the program of science studies, shaping the discourse of the field, a point that longtime Science Technology and Society (STS) scholar Stephen Cutcliffe also argues (Cutcliffe 2000, 7). If we look to the history of the disciplines that combined to form an interdisciplinary science studies discourse—history of science, sociology, literature and science—the point that science studies found its genesis in relation to both sides of the two-culture divide is strengthened. p. 76 The impetus for this thesis was the notion that Snow's articulation rested on a particular view of science that has been elaborated and superseded by recent science studies scholarship.” Benjamin R. Cohen, is at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He lists twenty nine important works dealing with Snow’s ideas.
Burnett, Graham D. “A View from the Bridge: The Two Cultures Debate, Its Legacy, and the History of Science.” Daedalus, Vol. 128, 1999.
Leavis, Frank Raymond and Yudkin, M., 1962. Two cultures? The significance of C. P. Snow, With an essay on Sir Charles Snow's Rede lecture by Michael Yudkin, London: Chatto & Windus.
Trilling, Lionel. “F. R. LEAVIS, who is widely regarded as England's most important literary critic, recently launched a violent attack on C. P. SNOW, and in particular on Snow's famous description” of the two cultures split. [Originally in "Science, Literature and Culture: A Comment on the Leavis-Snow Controversy," Commentary (June 1962), Vol. 33 • June 1962 • No. 6, pp. 461-477. Information sited in "Science, Literature and Culture: A Comment on the Leavis-Snow Controversy," Cultures in Conflict: Perspectives on the Leavis-Snow Controversy, Scott, Foresman and Company, 1964.
Bachelard, Gaston. "The New Scientific Mind," 1934. p. 78.
Dawkins, Richard. The Ancestor’s Tale. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. pp. 4-6.
Margulis, Lynn. Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution. New York, Basic Books, 1998. pp. 2-3, “As a species we cling to the familiar comforting conformities of the mainstream. However, ’convention’ penetrates more deeply then we tend to admit. Even if we lack a proper name for and knowledge of the history of any specific philosophy or thought style, all of us are embedded in our own safe ‘reality.’ Our outlooks shape what we see and how we know. Any idea we conceive as fact of truth is integrated into an entire style of thought , of which we are usually unaware.” pp. 2-3. “Call the cultural constraints ‘trained incapacities,’ thought collectives, ’social constructions of reality.’ “ p. 3.
Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Perseus, Basic Books. 2001. pp. xii—xv, 3-13, 215-16, 264, 278.
Gould, Stephen. The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2002. pp. 93-94, 467-479.
Watson, James, D. DNA: The Secret of Life. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2003. pp. 92-104 discusses Cloning, 310-314, complexity, 347-356, stem cells, 386, identity.
Keller, Evelyn Fox, The Century of the Gene. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U Press, 2000. “As always, the counter forces working to destabilize a particular set of terms and concepts emerge out of what might be most simply described as science’s ongoing encounter with the real world-- from the accumulating inadequacies of an existing lexicon in the face of new experimental findings. “ p. 144.
Bronowski, Jacob. Science and Human Values. New York: Harper & Row, 1956. “We are hagridden by the power of nature which we should command, because we think its command needs less devotion and understanding than its discovery.” p. 70. [From a 1953 MIT lecture series, published in 1956].
Wilson, E. O. The Future of Life. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002. p. 23. Chapter 2: “The Bottleneck: “In Short, we have entered the Century of the Environment, in which the immediate future is usefully conceived as a bottleneck. Science and Technology, combined with a lack of self understanding and Paleolithic obstinacy, brought us to where we are today.” p. 23 “Now science and technology, combined with foresight and moral courage, must see us through the bottleneck and out.” IBID.
Jackson, Wes. “The Genome as an Ecosystem: Good News/Bad News Implications.” Washburn Law Journal, [Vol. 43. 2004] pp. 533-546.
Gell-Mann, Murray. The Quark and the Jaguar. pp. 16-41 on complexity, 81-84, unity, 126-141, “How can there be so many elementary particles?” he asks on pp. 196-198, 236-37.
Mayr, Ernst. One Long Argument. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991. p. 140.
“Darwinism...we mean evolution by (means of) natural selection“ pp. 68-69,107.
July, 1837, in Darwin’s worldview nature and human order were altered:
Static becomes dynamic since humans fitted “into the stream of animal evolution.”
“Yet, the causes of evolution were a complete mystery to him.” pp. 68-70, 101-106.
Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. Nov., 1859. pp. 171-177 on species concept, 317-320, on extinction and new species.
Weart, Spencer R. The Discovery of Global Warming, (Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 2003).
Weart traces the responses by skeptical professional audiences from the early hypothesis and evidence until the professional warnings dovetail with public concerns and the energy crisis of the 1970s through 2000. His thematic thread is that a strong belief in an alleged balance of nature inhibits understanding of the scope, timing and influence of global warming.
Carbon dioxide gas levels measured at 315 ppm in 1958, and 381 ppm in 2005, increased 76 ppm in 47 years, or a 1.607 ppm / annum average. “Today…that is higher than we have been for over a million years”
Shukman, David. “Sharp rise in CO2 levels recorded,” Tuesday, 14 March 2006, 00:12 GMT. BBC science correspondent quotes Sir David King, above. Parts per million is ppm. http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4803460.stm
for recent data, see -- http://www.cmdl.noaa.gov/ccgg/trends/co2_data_mlo.php;7-4-06,
Hansen, James. Et. al. “Earth’s Energy Imbalanace: Confirmation and Implications.” Science, Vol. 306, June, 3, 2005. pp. 1431-1435. “the confirmation of the climate system’s lag in responding to forcings, implying the need for anticipatory actions to avoid any specified levels of climate change….” p. 1431.
Achenbach, Joe. “When Science and Politics Clash,” National Geographic, (209:5) May 2006, p. 32.
Woodwell, George M., & Richard A. Houghton. “Global Climatic Change,” Scientific American, 1989 April, p. 18.
Hardin, Garrett, Filters Against Folly. (1987), pp. 16-57.
Knodel, John. “Deconstructing Population Momentum.” Population Today. Population Reference Bureau, 27:3, March, 1999. pp.1-2. 7. “actions can be taken in the present to lessen momentum.”
Kent, Mary M, and Haub, Carl, “Global Demographic Divide,” Population Bulletin. Vol. 60: no. 4, December 2005. pp. 3-24, Fertility decline is described, pp. 9-11, and called the “contraceptive revolution.”


What is science?