Snow and Steampunkary


As the long, hot summer begins, my mind turns more and more to philosophy. Specifically, a recent article in the Guardian made me think of the works of C.P. Snow and how they may pertain to Caledon.

C.P. Snow, later Baron Snow of Leicester, is best known for his seminal lecture in the 1950s called The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, in which he theorized that the worlds of Science and the Humanities had split into two distinct and antagonistic cultures. He also is responsible for one of my favorite quotes, which is as follows:

When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find more hideous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been committed in the name of rebellion.

Some time after his intitial theory was published, Snow amended it, to describe a possible THIRD culture which would accomplish a synthesis between Science and the Humanities…or at least facilitate communication between the two. However, not everyone was convinced.

The article in the Guardian, available HERE and called The New Age of Ignorance looks again at the existence of this Third Culture 50 years after Snow’s original work, and as can be gathered from the title, feels it is not developing terribly quickly if at all. At the risk of massively over-simplifying a very interesting analysis, it is the feeling of the author that the basic scientific knowledge of the general population has degraded so far that the rift between the culture of science and the culture of the humanities has widen to be near unbreachable. Hope is seen by some theorists and authors, however in the possibility of the Third Culture being made up of scientists with the ability to explain their culture to the laymen more effectively.

I agree that basic scientific knowledge today, including my own, is woefully lacking, however, I have hope for the Third Culture. I do not accept the fairly narrow interpretation of “The Humanties” that seems to be in use in this article, limiting it to literature. I feel that a true Third Culture is developing unifying Science and Art. The Third Culture, in my opinion, is not made up of approachable scientists, but of theoretical artists.

Look for example at Fractals, or the massive advances in the multimedia arts. These are spaces where Science and Art are becoming one and the same, feeding one another. These art forms and those who create them are what is showing the general population the beauty and fascination of science, not yet another eccentric genius writing yet another glib, anecdotal book of science for the mob. Looking at the non-fiction shelves, one would think that the universities are chock full of iconoclastic, “hip” scientists, just aching to tell you funny bits of atomic trivia.

I also feel that a Third Culture is being formed around niche cultures, such as Steampunk. Consider a quote from the Wired profile of Jake von Slatt…

“The Victorian era was really the last era in which a high school graduate was given the complete set of scientific concepts to fully understand the technology of the age.”

Isn’t Steampunk an attempt to merge science and art to make a third medium altogether? That we use the cutting edge technology of 100 years ago simply indicates that we are developing the concept using simpler, easier to understand forms. Perhaps Steampunk, Clockpunk and other “retro” forms are the building blocks to bring people’s concept of beauty and science back together. There WAS a time when science was the most popular hobby amongst all but the most impoverished classes. People would come home from their jobs and explore all manner of scientific fields from home labs or local clubs. Weekend outings were taken by groups of friends and families in which geology and astronomy and zoology and the like were the featured pastimes. If you look at the records of scientific discovery, a vast number of things and ideas where discovered by what today we would called amateurs or dabblers. That is an age we in Caledon celebrate…and from celebration often comes rebirth.

What has Steampunk taught you? What do you think the future holds for this Third Culture…was Snow right or wrong?

Is this TRULY the Age of Ignorance?



  1. I think the whole notion of the Split is fallacious anyway. I certainly didn’t experience it, and in RL I am a Geographer with feet firmly planted in both camps. It’s true that Geology often is antagonistic of Geography, but that’s due more to them often being merged in University departments and competeing for resources.

    I think most people have no problems integrating the two.


  2. Just to share further observations, and continuing to breach the fourth wall here, in RL some of the engineers I work with are also musicians.


  3. Interesting article. Hmm. I think it is a matter of perception. I believe science has become seen as something truly abstract–that only those who deal in it understand. Children, for instance, inherently have that spirit of curiosity, which is a trait which drives that search for new knowledge or answers. At some point, for many, this dies and apathy sets in instead: “It works. Why should I care how?”

    Even the arts/humanities suffer from this ignorance. History becomes skewed, the language lax, musicianship unappreciated from a lack of knowledge of musical and instrumental basics. Look at how classical and jazz programming has been affected in favor of popular music. For many, it is hard to appreciate what they do not understand. In RL, I work at an arts organization and I see this as a battle that’s being steadily lost every day.

    Creativity is the same, whether in science or the humanities. Those same creative minds can create those bridges to combat this ignorance across the board. I believe it can be done.

    Just my thoughts…I think about this sort of thing a lot.

  4. Very interesting article, yes. And I believe the split, which I do believe exists, exists due to application and will.

    I’ll separate out anyone with a college degree for the nonce. They have, due to internal drive or employment need, dedicated themselves to learning. I’ll speak more to people without access to college, or upper-level instruction of sorts–for *them* to explore a love of scientific thought means they are also dedicated to the love of learning for its own sake. To find things fascinating enough to explore them, beyond the basic needs of daily life and survival, that takes will, drive, genuine curiosity–and *that*, I believe, is the character traits that are steadily dying out, not necessarily a love for science.

    *Anyone* can be taught to appreciate a thing, given enough time, and the proper explanations to reach that particular mind–but it is always, *always* dependent on whether that particular mind *wants to learn*. And many, in this modern age, do not–they see no point in learning for the joy of it, only enough as they need to get through specific chosen tasks.

    And sadly, this is no longer a specific offset of the working poor. The value in education, for the sake of education, but no specific discernable goal–this is no longer seen, for many, as desirable in itself.

    That’s the danger, I think.

  5. One can interminably play the Aristotolean game of splitting everything into hard catagories. But, as Mr. Dagger points out, such catagorization is often inaccurate, and in my view, divisive. Humanities and Science are hardly exclusive of each other, as they both represent people who are pursuing intellectual goals.

    A more real problem, which Ms. Laval sees in a decline in musical literacy, and Her Grace Bellambi in a disdain for education, is a reduction in a drive for that pursuit.

    I think this reduction is due in part to another artificial dichotomy–that of creators and consumers. Lord Bradhaven speaks of the 19th century as a time of the amateur scientific enthusiast. People would pride themselves on keeping up with the latest Proceedings of the Royal Geographic Society, perhaps even go so far as to submit a paper or create a better mousetrap themselves. Artistically, music making was a strong part of everyday life, as was the dedicated letter writer. For all of Mr. Gilbert’s whimpering about “singular anomaly, the lady novelist”, she would not have sprung up in such still inequal times had not a culture of encouraging amateur expression not been about her.

    How markedly different from mainstream culture today (as someone who lives in the States, I speak of there, of course, but I suspect we have no stranglehold on anti-intellectualism). We have become consumers of thought. The man on the street has little concern about how things are made, far less in making them himself. It is easier to purchase than create or listen instead of play. But the cost to the creators is the classic unappreciative audience. A scientifically disinterested audience does not care if NASA sends back telemetry from th latest probe, a artistically disinterested audience does not care for complex music. Far less likely is the prospect of getting said audience to fund such endeavors.

    What a welcome relief our virtual world of Caledon is! We have, in our small way, carved a little niche where anyone can create, where (as evidenced by this blog) we do have conversations about things other than the lastest mass culture items we are instructed to like. Is it coincidentla that in creating thsi world, we have sought out an aesthetic that encompasses a different culture–a never-was-but-should-have-been time embodying so much good from the Victorian Aesthetic, and heaping a good bit of progressivistic idealism on top of it.

    Well, high minded talk from a girl who’s primary work this weekend was creating an animated talking bat! But I do like to think myself appreciative of the more talented. And speaking as a happy amateur creator, I think my struggling efforts artistically and intellectually help me appreciate the greater skills I see about me–both in SL and in RL.

  6. Indeed, the beauty of Caledon is that we are many ways the advante guarde of the future of the internet….call us the Third Culture if you will, but labels tend to muddle the debate, as people will as the are so wont to do, quibble over the definitions and forget the shades of grey…but in essence, SL is a giant easel – sheet of paper, in which we the contributing creators employ the science of computer technology to bring to graphic life the ideas germinated within our own consciousness. Artistic intent is animated through scripts, and mathematical equations that shape and texture our prims. And it matters not if it is a simple flying bat, gorgeous uniforms. or the most complex of steam and clock punk creations…we know we have added beauty to the world. And if I know my fellow Caledonians, if they are anything like myself, these creations are primarily brought to life NOT because we want to make money, but because we wanted to know if we can do it ourselves, and add some beauty to contrast the ignoble, inane, insane anomyminaty that is characteristic of many of the mainland builds, produced with with main intent of merely making a buck, and instead of inspiring the masses to try to see if they can build their own, just buy it, use it for awhile, and lose it in the ever-increasing inventory.

  7. Regarding the ties between Science and the Arts that many of you have quite correctly noted, many are established facts. The connections between music and mathematics for instance, or the presence of fractals in the paintings of jackson Pollack.
    The links between science and the arts are there, but are becoming increasingly obscured as all of world culture is seeming to be “dumbed down” to the level of a deeply average 14 year old.
    There is no doubt that the majority of Caledonians are the sort of people who defy such intellectual gelding in real life. We choose to simulate a world where a good, basic education was expected to teach you to handle a microscope or piano at least passably, and to be able to identify a composer or a species of bird in the the first few notes. Surely that cannot be accidental.
    I do believe there are deep cultural and intellectual divides in society today, but many of your arguments has led me to believe they may be between the curious and the passive rather then between Science and the Humanities.
    Never forget the words of O’Shaughnessy…We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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