re: C.P. Snow: Bridging the Two-Cultures Divide By David P. Barash

[ Thu. Jan. 19. 2006 ]

To the Editor:

David Barash provides useful and interesting insights and background information regarding the state of academic discourse in England at the time C.P. Snow presented his Rede Lecture, which became The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.

That was then. This is now.

Barash writes: "We might also ask whether scientists are doing a better job of communicating with the public, crossing the Snow bridge and thereby constituting a Third Culture, as John Brockman has claimed."...

While I agree with his statement that "there is nothing new in scientists reaching out to hoi polloi," that's not what the Third Culture is about. This position is presented in "The Emerging Third Culture," an essay I wrote in 1991, and in my book The Third Culture(Simon and Schuster, 1995).

What's different between now and Snow's day is that although journalists used to write up while professors wrote down, today scientists are using popular books, accessible to the general public, as a way of developing their best ideas and communicating with their peers. There are no longer two separate activities, serious science and popular science writing; they've come together as a Third Culture i.e., those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.

The wide appeal of the third-culture thinkers is not due solely to their writing ability; what traditionally has been called science has today become public culture. And since we now live in a world in which the rate of change is the biggest change, science has become a big story....

John Brockman
New York