07 March 2016


When I was in high school (back in the Middle Ages) I read C. P. Snow's ​T​he Two Cultures, (1959) about the seemingly unbridgeable split between the "Literary" culture and the "Scientific". (Snow was a physical chemist, but also a polymath of sorts, who wrote a rather good Whodunit, ​​Death Under Sail (1932) and a biography of Trollope). In the 1960s this seemed to be an increasing split, that would remain forever unbridgeable, and in fact grow wider. Now I'm reading another polymath's book somewhat on the same subject, Ant-expert and philosopher Edward O. Wilson's Consilience (1998). Wilson mentions Snow, but he says that the "border" between the Natural Sciences and the Humanities and Discursive Fields (some referred to, with a sort of physics-envy, as "social sciences") is not a boundary line but more like an insufficiently explored terrain. Which (paraphrasing wildly here), increasingly people from both sides of the divide must venture into and explore, for the good of the species and the planet, because we need the whole picture, not just the specialists' perspectives, to engage our collective noggin and figure out where to go from here. We've made a hot mess of things in many ways, but we have some fantastic tools: our cultural adaptations and incredible genetic heritage that has somehow given us a brain capable of understanding everything from how to save seeds to grow next year's crops to the metaphorical extravaganza of ​​The Odyssey to deducing the age of a galaxy billions of light years distant from a the record of a point of light on a complex device that wouldn't exist without the intersection of technology and quantum mechanics. These will be our means to survival, and to thriving in the universe beyond even our home planet, but only if we learn to overcome the maladaptations that inevitably come with them. But I remain guardedly optimistic.

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