Author Topic: Vaclav Smil On The Two Cultures And Our “Fully Post-Factual World”  (Read 67 times)

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Vaclav Smil On The Two Cultures And Our “Fully Post-Factual World”
My emails with Smil on C.P. Snow’s 1959 essay, scientific illiteracy and innumeracy. Plus: Kotkin, Gurri, and Teixeira on the elites vs. the "normies"
JUN 10, 2024
In 1959, British novelist and physical chemist C.P. Snow gave a now-famous lecture called “The Two Cultures.” Snow argued that there was a growing disconnect between the culture of the sciences and the culture of the humanities and that bridging that gap was critical to understanding and addressing the world’s problems. Snow declared,

I believe the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups... Literary intellectuals at one pole – at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension.

Snow then underscored the general public’s lack of understanding of energy. As Snow put it:

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?
The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
Thomas Jefferson