In April 2016, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, gave a concise explanation of quantum computing at a theoretical physics research institute, amidst much public applause. The academia and the media welcomed the ease with which the literature graduate engaged with cutting edge scientific research. Much earlier in May 1959, at a similar public event, another public figure called for bridging the widening gap between scientists and “literary intellectuals”. The event was the annual Rede lecture at the University of Cambridge and the speaker was influential physical chemist and novelist Charles Percy Snow.
As a scientist, CP Snow had collaborated with Lord Rutherford (“the father of nuclear physics”) in the Cavendish Laboratory, beginning in 1928. CP Snow gained greater recognition as a novelist in the 1930s and later in public office, becoming (among other things) the United Kingdom’s government spokesperson on technology in the House of Lords in 1964. But it was CP Snow’s Rede lecture of 1959 and the public debate it spawned that gave him prominence in science and public policy, and continues to generate discussion even half a century later. The fiftieth anniversary printing of The Two Cultures with an introduction by Stefan Collini gives us an opportunity to revisit CP Snow’s notion that our society is threatened by a “destructive” lack of understanding between two “cultures”. Continue reading “Revisiting the two cultures”