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Sunday, 11 May 2014

Two Cultures Alive and Well!

Being grounded in two very different cultures – science, engineering and technology on the one side, and literature, art and the social sciences on the other – has given me a perspective on the world quite different to that of most other people. I can also see that there are other valid ways of thinking and doing, and also that different perspectives, ideas, mind-sets, values, beliefs, etc. can be combined into a new type of professional person, someone, for example, who combines both science and art, but is strictly neither scientist or artist as we now know them, but someone who has transcended these to become … ? I (and others I work with) have as yet no name for this trans-discipline, but through the work I undertake with others, collectively we will be able to better define what this new transcending discipline is and its working methods and tools, and in doing so, find a name for such people.

And thinking about this matter reminds me of C P Snow and his Two Cultures hypothesis.

C P Snow was by vocation a writer, producing over his lifetime a number of works of fiction. But he was also by education, training and employment a physicist who undertook a considerable amount of work for the British Government. Being grounded in two very different worlds, and being given the unenviable task during the Second World War of interviewing science and engineering undergraduates to determine how best they could be deployed in support of the war effort, Snow became aware of the existence of what he called Two Cultures, and eventually gave a lecture on this subject and wrote a book addressing this matter.

Many decades on, the question remains whether the problems associated with Two Cultures still exist, how this concept has evolved, and also what new issues arise in the modern world as a consequence. Being in a similar position to Snow, moving and working in two very different worlds, which interestingly are increasingly coming into contact with each other (about which I will have more to say in future blogs), I realise that the two cultures are still alive, but perhaps not fully in the way the Snow experienced.

The main difference today is that the sciences, engineering and technology are over valued, not under valued, so the table has turned, and that leads also to a bad circumstance. I know, perhaps more than Snow, or more than Snow was willing to admit, that scientists, engineers and technologists are far removed from being the logical, rational, objective, and evidence-based people that they say and think they are. On the contrary, they are deeply grounded in selective use of evidence, disregarding that which does not fit with their theories or their interests, and they are highly subjective and irrational. That they think themselves logical etc. is a measure of their self-delusion, which it now appears, is an inherent characteristic of humans. But in engaging in their delusions, they miss the connection with the arts and literature, and maintain the notion of two cultures, for it is without doubt the case that artists and writers are also highly subjective and irrational. And it is here, in these observations that one finds the grounding for the trans-disciplinarity that interests me, and the making of a new discipline.

Being by vocation a writer, a person with artistic inclinations, and being also involved (by accident) via my education, training and work, in the world of science, engineering and technology, as well as business, I have become very familiar with Two Cultures, and I have begun to explore, in my works of fiction, some of the implications for humanity, especially given the social, economic and environmental challenges of the early 21st century. And it is these great challenges that we now face, that motivates me to use my first-hand observations of scientists, engineers and technologists, to not only write about their damaging beliefs and behaviours, but to work on the development of a new type of professional, one grounded in both cultures. This is a task most important to achieving sustainability, for as I have said in previous blogs, behavioural change is the key to creating a sustainable future.

My new novel Moments in Time (a novel about time and that which is timeless and that which is not) is an example of how the creative literary process can be used to undertake enquiry and research, which can eventually lead to new ideas and technologies that would not otherwise come about. And I suppose here you are thinking that I am referring to the research that a writer might undertake when writing such a book as Moments in Time. And if this is what you are thinking then you are wrong, for I did very little research when writing this book, yet as a result of writing it I have come to a much deeper and more interesting understanding of time, which, I believe, is far more important that any scientific research could ever produce, and I will one day explain more about this statement. I cannot say more at this moment for I am in the process of preparing a short exegesis with the aim of then seeing what new technological concepts do emerge as a result of the knowledge and understandings developed through the process of creation.

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