Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Divorce between Science and 'Culture.'

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Divorce between Science and 'Culture.'

Article excerpt

There was a time when scientists looked askance at attempts to make their work widely intelligible. But, in the world of the present day, such an attitude is no longer possible. The discoveries of modern science have put into the hands of governments unprecedented powers both for good and for evil. Unless the statesmen who wield these powers have at least an elementary understanding of their nature, it is scarcely likely that they will use them wisely. And, in democratic countries, it is not only statesmen, but the general public, to whom some degree of scientific understanding is necessary.

To insure wide diffusion of such understanding is by no means easy. Those who can act effectively as liaison officers between technical scientists and the public perform a work which is necessary, not only for human welfare, but even for bare survival of the human race. I think that a great deal more ought to be done in this direction in the education of those who do not intend to become scientific specialists. The Kalinga Prize is doing a great public service in encouraging those who attempt this difficult task.

In my own country, and to a lesser degree in other countries of the West, "culture" is viewed mainly, by an unfortunate impoverishment of the Renaissance tradition, as something concerned primarily with literature, history and art. A man is not considered uneducated if he knows nothing of the contributions of Galileo, Descartes and their successors. I am convinced that all higher education should involve a course in the history of science from the seventeenth century to the present day and a survey of modern scientific knowledge in so far as this can be conveyed without technicalities. While such knowledge remains confined to specialists, it is scarcely possible nowadays for nations to conduct their affairs with wisdom.

There are two very different ways of estimating any human achievement: you may estimate it by what you consider its intrinsic excellence; or you may estimate it by its causal efficiency in transforming human life and human institutions. I am not suggesting that one of these ways of estimating is preferable to the other. I am only concerned to point out that they give very different scales of importance. …

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