Over 50 years ago, C.P. Snow set the educational and cultural and political worlds afire as he argued in his ovaric book — “The Two Cultures” — that there was a growing divide between the Arts/Humanities and Science in explaining how the world worked and he warned us against the perils of getting caught in the crossfire of that ashen division.


Science, taught mainly by non-scientists, C. P. Snow argued, believed the world must be understood through the scientific method and ruled by facts and the essence of a quantifiable truth while the Humanities — almost always taught by non-Artists — believed the world was made of many truths that could be invisibly understood in bailiwick and that qualitative analysis was achieved by the daily osmosis of a variety of experiences fed by Art and beauty and performance that imitated and enhanced human learning.

We still live in that C. P. Snow divide today — even though the labels have changed:  Memory vs. Emotion, Information vs. Knowledge, State vs. Church, and even Reading vs. Browsing as we are asked to wonder if wandering around online has become a replacement for actually reading a book or a scholarly, peer-reviewed, paper.

Is there a difference between knowing something and the essence of the thing that you know?

As we expand our minds on the web through virtual experiences — are we honoring the scientific method of fact-finding and exploration?  Or are we merely tending to our fantasies and training our eyes to fuzz the line between shared facts and private yearnings?

How do we first value, and then quantify, intent on the internet? 

Do we accept information in situ or are we first required to apply an intellectual filter against our common knowledge?

How do we manage the necessary demands of our intention against the unexpected, the divine, and the non-universally shared aesthetic?

19 Comments

  1. David!
    this is a very engrossing topic!
    i think the NYT article had an interesting phrase in “experiencing information”.
    in a way, every new information passes through the filter of what we know already. this of course echoes what Eco says in Serendipities –
    “Naturally, everything depends on one’s background books and on what one is looking for.”
    and yes, i think there is a difference between knowing something and knowing the essence of something.

  2. Great comment, Dananjay, but the NYTimes article was more specifically addressing the learning habits of younger children on the internet and how their web browsing — sometimes up to 6 hours a day — has replaced reading and paper.
    How do those young minds know what is true and important when they have no experience or basis for learning from which to rebound and question?

  3. Well, that is an interesting take, Anne. The web is young and immature compared to the thousands of years of written history you can hold in your hand. There is intent that fascinates me includes — the intent of the publisher, the searcher, and the intention of what you plan to do with what you find.

  4. That’s true, David. We don’t know how the indiscriminate assimilation of disparate and often unverifiable factoids affect our minds.
    like i heard somewhere that the greatest role of teaching isn’t to tell you that, for ex., the earth is flat or the earth is round, it is to equip you with the knowledge, that when we are presented with arguments for both, we can tell the difference.

  5. Hi Dananjay —
    Yes! Yet there are still things we must just believe because we cannot comprehend or see or touch or feel it except for its essence: Like the atom or radiation or UVB Rays. Scientists claim that belief in those systems is not blind or uneducated because of historical function, deduction, induction and because the results can be re-tested and re-verified by others choosing to use the scientific method of discovery.
    Those of Faith claim that belief in an atom and its power is no different than belief in God and in His power. The scientists claim the God vs. Molecule argument is the perfect example of a Straw Man shuffle.

  6. Exactly, David. Much of what is sent through – what is fast becoming the mainstream channels of information on the internet – is backed by intent and often diverts our attention to the here and now. but what happens when we experience, and attempt to understand, everyday life without the background knowledge of what has been written throughout human history?
    and while much of this is also available on the internet, it has to be found through diligent and purposeful seeking.

  7. That is the real danger Dananjay. The less we know, the more we believe we know. I was always fascinated as a youngster when I visited my much older friend Marshall — he had a good 50 years on me. He would always say, “The older I get, the less I know.” I thought he was kidding me because, at my young age, I knew everything!
    Now, as I get older, I understand what Marshall meant. There are no real truths, only facts, and there is no divine inspiration — only human ingenuity.

  8. “The older I get, the less I know.”
    OR – the older I get the more I realize what I do not know. As we grow older (and wiser) we realize that there is always something more to learn and that finding an answer often leads to more questions.
    I tend to view my knowledge as a tapestry – when I was a child it was very simplistic in black and white – now it is multi colored, multi faceted – developing more shades and hues daily.
    There is a difference between knowing and understanding – usually it is experiencing 😉

  9. Right, Nicola! As we get older — and, we hope, wiser — we realize there are very few hard truths and lots of soft facts that others try to wield into cudgels to pound home their own private agendas.

  10. The thought of young, young children on the internet scares me. When I was a young, young child, I read book after book after book – and that is how I hope G-d willing to raise my children. 🙂

  11. Gordon —
    It will be interesting to see is schools even provide hardcopy books to your children, Gordon. They might all be WebBooks and are only read from a computer screen.

  12. Hi David,
    “Knowing something” means I am “aware” of it; “knowing the essence of something” means I am able to relate/ connect/ convey/ teach successfully what I am aware of.
    It also means, I have learnt it.
    The first one doesn’t urge you to go deeper, the second one does.
    I remember, when I was in school, may be in 9th/ 10th. grade – I had a difficulty with “history” which my mother was pretty good at. Every time I got frustrated with a particular chapter she used to pretend that she didn’t know it and I had to teach her – that made me learn!

  13. Your mother is a natural teacher and learner, Katha! What a great gift to have in hand!
    You’re absolutely right about the essence of connection. It is paramount, but too often we trample the idea in the race for entertainment instead of true learning.

  14. Yes David, she is a natural teacher as well as by profession and she is pretty good at it.
    It’s because of her I managed to get a straight “A” in history in my final exam of the school or else by now I would be lost in those Hitler/ Himmler/ Mussolini saga…
    We had two divisions in our “histrory” – I used to dread the “world history” part!
    This is one technique I still use!