The Divorce between Science and'Culture'
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. If Homer and Aeschylus had not existed, if Dante and Shakespeare
had not written a line, if Bach and Beethoven had been silent, the daily life
of most people in the present day would have been much what it is. But if
Pythagoras and Galileo and James Watt had not existed, the daily life, not only
of Western Europeans and Americans but of Indian, Russian and Chinese peasants,
would be profoundly different from what it is. And these profound changes are
still only beginning. They must affect the future even more than they have
already affected the present.
At present, scientific technique advances like an army of tanks that have lost
their drivers, blindly, ruthlessly, without goal or purpose. This is largely
because the men who are concerned with human values and with making life worthy
to be lived, are still living in imagination in the old pre-industrial world,
the world that has been made familiar and comfortable by the literature of
Greece and the pre-industrial achievements of the poets and artists and
composers whose work we rightly admire.
The separation of science from "culture" is a modern phenomenon.
Plato and Aristotle had a profound respect for what was known of science in
their day. The Renaissance was as much concerned with the revival of science as
with art and literature. Leonardo da Vinci devoted more of his energies to
science than to painting. The Renaissance artists developed the geometrical
theory of perspective. Throughout the eighteenth century a very great deal was
done to diffuse understanding of the work of Newton and his contemporaries.
But, from the early nineteenth century onwards, scientific concepts and
scientific methods became increasingly abstruse and the attempt to make them
generally intelligible came more and more to be regarded as hopeless. The
modern theory and practice of nuclear physicists has made evident with dramatic
suddenness that complete ignorance of the world of science is no longer
compatible with survival.
(Bertrand Russell on receiving the Kalinga Prize for the
Popularization of Science, at UNESCO Headquarters on 28 January 1958)