I recently saw an essay about C.P. Snow’s famous lecture on the Two Cultures. In 1959 Snow observed that there was a “gulf of mutual incomprehension” between scientists and “literary intellectuals”. This resulted in a furor of name calling and fence building, that seemed to have more or less died down until the Sokal Affair. In Roger Kimball’s essay he quotes several of Snow’s critics as well as laying out his own criticism that science is intrinsically incomprehensable: “because of the extremely technical nature of contemporary scientific discourse—think, for example, of its deep reliance on abstruse mathematical notation—that gulf is unbridgeable and will only widen as knowledge progresses.” He further complains that science doesn’t deserve to be thought of as a culture in any case. Assuming that we can consider Roger Kimball a “literary intellectual” this just seems to add evidence to Snow’s case.
What I think is interesting is that even though the gap between scientists and “literary intellectuals” still seems formidable, the general public goes to a lot of effort in attempting to understand the latest scientific developments. They are buying science books, going to public lectures, watching NOVA, and participating in science cafes. Even if “literary intellectuals” don’t know what exactly is meant by mass, acceleration, or the second law of thermodynamics, the “person on the street” probably has some familiarity with electrons, quarks, and string theory.