Sunday, November 02, 2008

A False Dichotomy

Following up from my post about the congruity between the Romantics and Science Fiction, I came across a review of Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science in today's Observer:

What's crucial is that in those days, society saw no gulf between the artist and the scientist. This point is important one. It makes it clear that CP Snow's assertion - that society is split into two basic irreconcilable cultures, science and the arts - lacks any pedigree and is, indeed, most likely a false dichotomy. As Holmes makes clear, 200 years ago, poets, writers and scientist shared a common vision of Nature. There is no reason why they should not do so again.
Well, yes.


Blogger PeteY said...

Really? I find that hard to imagine in the current situation. Consider Simon Jenkins of the Guardian claiming science has never added to his understanding or appreciation of the world. I forget his exact words. Or consider the religious fundies. It's all too easy for the majority of people to come out of education with essentially no scientific understanding. Byron, Shelley et al were smart and curious, and the science of the time was more accessible, since it was less specialised and required less background knowledge to appreciate (I'm thinking of Volta and others' frog leg demos and suchlike.) I guess I see little chance of 'one culture' ever happening.

November 03, 2008 10:17 PM  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

I was thinking specifically of science fiction writers and scientists sharing a common vision of the Universe, as well as similar feelings about its terrors and wonders. More generally, there's plenty of curiosity about science in general, and a big improvement in science reporting, but yes, also plenty of outliers and deniers. As there were in Byron's day, and as there always will be. The question is, how much influence do they have?

The British problem of science and education (the fact that the Oxbridge elite are scientifically illiterate and proud of it) is improving, and certainly isn't shared in many other countries. Here, it's now recognised to be a serious problem, if only because we now have to compete with India and China and other rising economies where science and technology are considered to be very important indeed. I agree with the point about specialisation, but that comes later, after a good broad grounding in general science.

Of course, if I put on my pessimist's hat, I can imagine a near future where the US and the UK are fundamentalist and backward countries attacking China and India because they are involved in radical and Godless biotech and AI. Which is why the election today is so crucial.

November 04, 2008 11:49 AM  
Blogger PeteY said...

Good point, I shouldn't think so parochially about this.

November 04, 2008 6:16 PM  

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