Archive for Darryl Perrins

That Old “Two Cultures” Thing…

Posted in Art, Biographical, Education with tags , , , , , on March 20, 2011 by telescoper

Just a very brief follow-up to a post earlier this week about the 2nd Bright Club Wales. First, for all of you who refuse to believe I actually did stand-up, here is a picture of me doing it, i.e. standing up. It’s a bit blurred, I’m afraid. The person taking the picture must either have been drunk or was laughing so hysterically that he couldn’t hold the camera still. You can also find a review of the evening here, which is where I got the picture from.

I mentioned in the comments on the earlier posts that one of the other “acts” that evening was a lecturer in Film Studies. In fact that was a chap called Daryl Perrins who works at the University of Glamorgan.

He started his 8 minutes with the comment “I hate science” and followed it up with a number of unfunny remarks that relied on crude stereotypes of what a scientist is. None of that endeared him very much to me, nor, judging by the stony silence did the rest of the audience appreciate it much. I wouldn’t have minded him taking the piss out of scientists at all had it been funny. After all, I do a fair bit of that on here..

Anti-science attitudes are far from unusual amongst the Arts & Humanities fraternity, which I think is a real shame. After all, you’ll have to work very hard to find a scientist who would be prepared to stand up in front of audience and proudly announce “I hate art”. Many of my scientific colleagues have deep passions for the performing arts (especially music and drama) as well as being very well read across a wide range of subjects.  Many also hold strong  (and often idiosyncratic) political opinions and are involved in a huge range of activities outside science.

In short, scientists don’t just sit in their labs and offices torturing small animals. We live in the real world and have as much contact with wider society as anyone else. Imagination, creativity and free thinking can be found in scientists, just as they can in the arts.  Scientists both contribute to and participate in our society’s cultural heritage.Scientists are human beings. Culture belongs to us too.

Coincidentally this week there was an article in the Times Higher with the title “Life depends on science but the arts make it worth living“. I agree with a lot of what is written in the piece, in fact, although it does seem also to contain numerous examples of non sequitur and I think it’s both poorly argued and highly exaggerated. The arts are undoubtedly among the things that make  life worth living, but there are others, such as “ordinary” human relationships and the “simple” enjoyment of the natural world, which academics of all persuasions all too frequently neglect. I am a scientist, however, and I do think that the government should be spending more on science, but I certainly don’t think it should be robbing the arts and humanities which is what its current policies are doing.

You probably think I’m going to go off on a rant about the famous Two Cultures thesis advanced  by C.P. Snow, but I’m not. I think Snow’s analysis is only marginally relevant. I do think that there are “two cultures”, but these are not “science” and “the arts”. One is a creative, thinking culture that encompasses arts, the humanities and science. The other is its antithesis, a “culture” that sees the sole function of education as being to train people  to take their place on the never-ending treadmill of production and consumption.

The way we are heading, it’s not “two cultures” that we should be worried about. It’s no culture at all.