Can the “Two Cultures” Become One Again?

Historians of psychology (and of science more broadly) often find themselves caught between the mutual animosities of natural scientists and historians — refugees from the “Two Cultures” of C. P. Snow’s famous 1959 lecture. The “Science Wars” of the 1990s certainly didn’t help matters as those who wanted to study science from historical, sociological, and anthropological perspectives were confronted — sometimes angrily — by those who believed science’s pristine self-image to be adequate to the task of understanding what was taking place.

But now there may be hope of an accommodation of sorts between the two. The New York Times reports that an attempt is being made at Binghamton University in New York called the New Humanities Initiative. The NYT’s Natalie Angier writes:

Jointly conceived by David Sloan Wilson, a professor of biology, and Leslie Heywood, a professor of English, the program is intended to build on some of the themes explored in Dr. Wilson’s evolutionary studies program, which has proved enormously popular with science and nonscience majors alike, and which he describes in the recently published “Evolution for Everybody.” In Dr. Wilson’s view, evolutionary biology is a discipline that, to be done right, demands a crossover approach, the capacity to think in narrative and abstract terms simultaneously, so why not use it as a template for emulsifying the two cultures generally?…

As he and Dr. Heywood envision the program, courses under the New Humanities rubric would be offered campuswide, in any number of departments, including history, literature, philosophy, sociology, law and business. The students would be introduced to basic scientific tools like statistics and experimental design and to liberal arts staples like the importance of analyzing specific texts or documents closely, identifying their animating ideas and comparing them with the texts of other times or other immortal minds.

For the complete article, go here.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.