The Two Cultures in the 2020s — Other Life Symposium

The Two Pandemoniums of C.P. Snow

The Economic, Epistemological, and Pathological Implications of “The Two Cultures”

C.P. Snow

Snow was a writer and a scientist, but between those two worlds, which he saw as ‘comparable in intelligence, identical in race, etc.,’ he noticed ‘an ocean.’ He feared that ‘intellectual life of the whole of Western society [was] increasingly being split into two polar groups,’ and ‘[b]etween the two [he saw] a gulf of mutual incomprehension — sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all [a] lack of understanding.’ ‘The non-scientists have a rooted impression that the scientists are shallowly optimistic,’ Snow wrote, ‘unaware of man’s condition. On the other hand, the scientists believe that the literary intellectuals are totally lacking in foresight […]’ — and so Snow diagnosed culture.

‘A good many times,’ Snow encountered the ‘highly educated’ and found them incapable of ‘describ[ing] the Second Law of Thermodynamics,’ ‘the scientific equivalent’ of asking someone about the ‘work of Shakespeare.’ F.R. Leavis disagreed with this parallelism, claiming ‘There is no scientific equivalent [to Shakespeare],’ for even thermodynamics entails specialization, but even if that’s true, I do think we can say, to channel Thomas Sowell, that many people are considered educated who know nothing about combustible engines and the supply chain. We often hear warnings that “science isn’t everything,” but it sometimes feels that science doesn’t matter to anyone but scientists. This, Snow believed, would cause societal and practical suffering, but at the same time “scientism” has contributed to turning the world into what Heidegger called “standing reserve.” When “the two cultures” don’t relate, the worst of both dominate.

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The Two Cultures in the 2020s — Other Life Symposium

This is the 2022 C.P. Snow Symposium, for which this paper was written. This Symposium was hosted by Hal Conte in conjunction with the Other Life community.

As I understand it, Snow originally titled his lecture “Rich and Poor,” which gives a whole new meaning to “The Two Cultures.” Deidre McCloskey argues that creativity generates wealth, and if art cultivates creative thinking, then the loss of art will be the loss of technological innovation. At the same time, the loss of science might contribute to a loss of “technological know-how,” which means we’d struggle to engineer ideas to market. Hard to say, but we can point to “The Meaning Crisis” John Vervaeke discusses as evidence of what can occur when “non-creative thinking” dominates, but the explosion of conspiracy theories and ideologies might be evidence of what occurs when “autonomously coherent thinking” is unleashed. To allude to Milton, “The Two Cultures” become “The Two Pandemoniums,” separate kingdoms in which nobody wants to dwell but lack any alternatives for escape…

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This has been a preview of “The Two Pandemoniums of C.P. Snow” by O.G. Rose, with the whole paper due to be released in an anthology later this year.

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