Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Minding the Gap-Artists as Scientists, Scientists as Artists: Some Solutions to Snow's Dilemma

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Minding the Gap-Artists as Scientists, Scientists as Artists: Some Solutions to Snow's Dilemma

Article excerpt


It seems to be the curse of our times to think in terms of either-or. C.P. Snow directly addressed this in The Two Cultures (1964, 63-64): "I want to repeat what was intended to be my main message .that neither the scientific system of mental development, nor the traditional, is adequate for our potentialities, for the work we have in front of us, for the world in which we ought to begin to live".

Snow decries the profound practical, intellectual and creative loss resulting from the polarization of the traditional and scientific cultures. He refers to the gap between these polarities as "a gulf of mutual incomprehension. (1964, 4) needing immediate attention because "[w]hen these two senses have grown apart, then no society is going to be able to think with wisdom. (50-51). Nobel laureate Vaclav Havel explained how such a gap could have occurred (1990, 10-11):

   [S]omewhere here there is a basic tension out of which the present
   global crisis has grown ... I'm persuaded that this conflict ... is
   directly related to the spiritual condition of modern civilization.
   This condition is characterized by loss: the loss of metaphysical
   certainties, of an experience of the transcendental, of any
   superpersonal moral authority, and of any kind of higher horizon

This paper intends to focus on the potential and the possible existing in the middle ground between the polarized extremes. It is a plea for balance born of reason and for the sake of us all.


C.P. Snow's The Two Cultures was read, applauded and commented on by scholars in a surprising array of disciplines. One of them was Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967), celebrated Hungarian composer-linguist-educator who remarked:

   Remember the great discussion about Snow's book, The Two Cultures?
   It made waves in Europe and America. Over-mechanization can only
   have dire consequences, and concerning this subject we ought to
   listen to this physicist and writer who is also an observer of
   everyday life all in one person. After all, he sees both sides
   clearly (1966, 109)

Kodaly and his close friend, Bela Bartok, also a composer of international stature, were actually also scientists. Together, they built a discipline around the deep analysis and classification of folksong down to the intervallic level including investigating several sticky problems about the relationships among spoken language, rhythm and melody. The resulting discipline, comparative folksong musicology, has stood the test of time, being now a century old and still going strong not only in Hungary but also on an international scale. Both Kodaly and Bartok the composers were strongly informed by Kodaly and Bartok the scientists as they created their distinctively modern tonal system (1) out of the raw materials of the ancient Hungarian melodic-rhythmic language. Their scientific work was so highly regarded that a new department for it was created in 1934 within the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Kodaly 1966, 120). Today, this department, known as the Institute for Musicology, is so large that it occupies an entire building of its own, employs a large staff of scholars, has a vigorous publishing program, and is itself comprised of several sub-departments. The widely admired Hungarian music education system and national musical life are largely centered on this venerable institution.

In 1946, Zoltan Kodaly was elected president of the entire Hungarian Academy of Sciences, a position he filled until 1950 (Kodaly 1966, 121). Think of it--an internationally celebrated (2) artist heading a complex scientific organization! His election resulted in his providing a key solution to Snow's Dilemma. In an address to the assembled members of the Academy, Kodaly declared:

   Not only is there a close relation between the various sciences ...
   it is also true that science and art cannot do without one another. … 
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