Week 1_ The Two Cultures_ Long Fung Lau

On the first day of class I was reminded by Professor Vesna’s artworks of the novel Next by Michael Crichton. I still remember how I was amazed by one of the articles in the novel stating that an artist has created a cactus that grows hair instead of spikes using genetic engineering methods. The artist called it “the transgenic cactus”. I was perplexed by the notion of using science or technology as a medium in portraying art. Then I began to think deeper and it occurred to me that this notion has been around for a long time; for instance, photography and motion pictures are art forms that came about by the advances of optical technology. The transgenic cactus isn’t at all different from any other forms of art.

Though it has always been there, the connection between the sciences and the arts is so subtle that it often escapes people’s attention. On one hand, the discipline of science is the use of logic to search for answers; on the other hand the field of arts is known to emphasize creativity. In Professor Vesna’s lecture she mentioned one of Einstein’s famous quotes: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Indeed, the common ground between the two vastly different subjects is the spark of imagination. Needless to say, in the realms of arts imagination is the key ingredient in cooking up masterpieces throughout history. What’s more difficult to see is the role of imagination in science, a study of reality. Apparently, the sole driving force of scientific advances is the spontaneous generation of new questions based on answers obtained from previous experiments and theories. These questions arise from both knowledge and imagination; without either component, the very dynamics of science would crumble.

In the essay by C.P. Snow, the separation of the intellectuals into two distinct groups is portrayed as “The Two Cultures.” The problem here is that both groups “crystallize” their social forms away from each other and refuse to communicate, blaming it on mutual misunderstanding. As Snow points out, this problem seems to have arisen from the over-specialization in the education system. While it is true that to gain expertise one must be specialized in the area, however I agree with Snow that interaction with other areas is imperative in making progress. Information must diffuse into each other’s fields in hopes that something new and original can come about.

The following cartoon pokes fun at the hostility between the architects and the engineers.

Pearls before swine

Long Fung Lau

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