The third culture

[2012-07-19] society, life, scitech
(Ad, please don’t block)

The Third Culture is a movement that tries to bring two cultures together. Quoting “The Third Culture” by John Brockman:

In 1959 C.P. Snow published a book titled The Two Cultures. On the one hand, there were the literary intellectuals; on the other, the scientists.
In a second edition of The Two Cultures, published in 1963, Snow added a new essay, “The Two Cultures: A Second Look,” in which he optimistically suggested that a new culture, a “third culture,” would emerge and close the communications gap between the literary intellectuals and the scientists. [...] Although I borrow Snow's phrase, it does not describe the third culture he predicted. Literary intellectuals are not communicating with scientists. Scientists are communicating directly with the general public. Traditional intellectual media played a vertical game: journalists wrote up and professors wrote down. Today, third-culture thinkers tend to avoid the middleman and endeavor to express their deepest thoughts in a manner accessible to the intelligent reading public.
Brockman wrote these words in 1991. And they were prescient. We really have seen many more scientists talking directly to the public in the last two decades. Brockman endeavored to make these conversations more interesting and created, whose mission is described as follows:
We look for people whose creative work has expanded our notion of who and what we are. [...] we encourage work on the cutting edge of the culture, and the investigation of ideas that have not been generally exposed. We are interested in “thinking smart;” we are not interested in the anesthesiology of received “wisdom.” The motto is “to arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.” [...] encourages people who can take the materials of the culture in the arts, literature, and science and put them together in their own way.
That reminds me of the difference between two modes of thinking: convergent thinking and divergent thinking. The former mode is about focusing on right versus wrong, of bringing things to a conclusion. The latter mode is about looking at the problem from as many different angles as possible. For a long time, western culture has focused on convergent thinking, but to solve modern problems, we need more divergent thinking. Convergent thinking has always been more common in science, while divergent thinking has always been more common in the humanities. That’s why the results are so interesting whenever the two manage to work together.