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Immortal since May 19, 2009
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I'm the mind swaying silently from behind observing the kind of timeless rhyme ancient cultures perceived divine
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    C.P. Snow (1905-1980)

    No Field of Study Is An Island

    Is it important to understand physical anthropology if you're a social worker? To comprehend human evolutionary biology if you're an ethicist? Or is does it even matter if you're a mathematician and think it irrelevant to appreciate Shakespeare? C.P. Snow, 20th century English physicist and novelist, realized the intellectual impoverishment that both scientists and humanists had in their ignorance of one another's disciplines. He articulated his thesis in an influential 1959 Rede Lecture given at the University of Cambridge entitled The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. He believed that the quality of education around the world was declining and that the over-emphasis of specialization was creating intellectual barriers between the humanities and the sciences that would become a hindrance in solving the world's problems.

    The Program And Its Context

    Today, in an ever-accelerating world, where technology and globalization have completely transformed the ways in which we not only interact with one another but how we think of one another, is a rising trend among leading thinkers around the globe for increased interaction between all the sciences. Far removed from the arcane notions of the "Ivory Tower" of the academic intelligentsia "controlling" in a sense the intellectual currency of society, our new context, in large part due to the democratizing power of the Internet, global trade, and accelerated development of myriad forms of media in the exchange of ideas, has galvanized a new sense of awareness that interdisciplinary dialogue and constructive cross-pollination of academic fields is in order. The lines have already begun to blur.

    It should be acknowledged, however, that specialization has its place and should be encouraged; in a variety of fields it is definitely necessary to further enrich a respective discipline's academic culture, but what is equally important, if not more important, is an appreciation of other forms of knowledge or methodologies that contrast one's own specific field of discipline. In other words, there is no need for mutual antagonism between the humanities and the sciences, but rather a belief that dialogue could perhaps enrich our mutual understanding of the world in ways we are only slowly beginning to realize. For example, E.O. Wilson and Mark Hauser can add insight into morality and aesthetic judgment based on genetic predisposition and physiological phenomenon; and even Janna Lewis and Rebecca Goldstein argue that mathematicians tend to use values like beauty and elegance to describe mathematical formulas.

    Conversations created a video series concerning this very subject, which was the inspiration of this post, entitled "The 50th Anniversary of the 'Two Cultures': Where are we now?". Interviews include E.O. Wilson, Janna Lewis, Rebecca Goldstein, and Mark Hauser (as mentioned) along with Laszlo Barabasi and Steven Pinker.

    To view the interviews in their entirety, go to this link: The Two Cultures

    So what do you think? Is dialogue important between the "two cultures"? Does it serve any pragmatic purpose, or is all of this just intellectual noise? Can real progress be gained to "build bridges", or will the two cultures always communicate at cross-purposes, where science is science and the humanities are the humanities, and "never the twain shall meet"? Feel free to leave a response if you like.
    Mon, Jun 8, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: Science, culture, dialogue, humanities
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