>In 1959 at the height of the cold war Charles Percy Snow (or C.P. Snow as he is better known) delivered the prestigious Rede lecture at Cambridge University The topic of the lecture and its title was “The two cultures and the scientific revolution”. In this lecture, which he based on an earlier article which he published three years earlier in the Spectator, Snow warns against the rift and the “total incomprehension” between the traditional intellectuals’ whom he derogatory calls “Luddites” and the scientists. This polarization, the lack of understanding and the mutual contempt has resulted in the creation of two separate cultures, and it is threatening not only the future of Britain but, more importantly, the intellectual and creative future of our society.
C. P. Snow a physicist and an author and who taught at Cambridge University, was an embodiment of the fruitful combination between literature and science. His novels describe the academic environment where he lived and worked, the product of the same British education system which he chose to criticize in his lecture. He criticizes a system in which the scientific and technological subjects do not get the prestige they deserve.
At that time in Britain in the best universities, the humanities: history, English and French were the most prestigious subjects, the best and the most brilliant students chose to pursue those subjects at universities while science and technology were (and still to a great extent are) considered inferior.
Although Snow offered solutions to bridge the gap, what is mostly remembered from that lecture is the name “two cultures” and a key word for the gap between the humanities and the sciences and also the famous feud between Snow to another famous intellectual, F. R. Leavis—a proud Luddites.
Leavis reacted to the speech with a personal attack on C.P. Snow in his Richmond Lecture at Downing College Cambridge: Two Cultures? The Significance of C. P. Snow, and later with another essay entitled “Luddites? or There is Only One Culture”
At that time, in spite of the cold war, the view among other traditional intellectual in Britain was similar to that of Leavis. For example, after the Russians sent the first satellite to space, in 1957 the British diplomat, author and politician Harold Nicholson gave a talk on BBC radio, which appeared in The Listener as well, entitled “Science or the Humanities
“In any case it seems as if the theory of a mass-production of potential inventors is that which has been confirmed in the minds of educationalists throughout the world by the great Russian achievement. So everybody, in great Britain at least, is now considering whether we have not in the past fifty years devoted too much of our time and money to what one loosely called ‘the Humanities’ – namely the teaching of classics, history, languages, and the arts – and too little of our time and money to the instruction in the sciences. In any case the scientists in this country are asserting that not nearly enough of our educational equipment is devoted to science and contending that the Russian Satellite now whirling round us is a proof that they have been seeking for years to present to the parliament and the government is overwhelmingly proved. So I suppose that all the little boys and girls in this island will be henceforward be taken away from the history books and the literature primers and set down to science. This prospect fills me with gloom (696-97)
The cold war ended generations ago, but it seems that even C.P. Snow, the optimist, would have turned in his grave, had he known that in today universities there is no more room for Luddites and their useless Humanities, and departments of Classics, Musicology Arts and Literature are gradually eliminated.
F.R. Leavis knew that since education is much more than “curricula, formal studies and official instruction” the role of university is to create an educated person, but where will we find that person tomorrow if we don’t educate him/her today?