The Soul of Man Under Physics
What is it? A sense of unease, perhaps, some persistent feeling, as the century slips into the darkness, that the larger structures of scientific thought and sentiment are disembodied, disorderly somehow. The feeling is familiar, like the taste of tea. A long moment in our collective experience is coming to an end.
The British novelist (and physicist) C.P. Snow argued in the golden 1950′s that contemporary culture had acquired two contentious heads, the one scientific, the other humanistic, each unable to understand the other and both committed to commandeering the conversation. Snow’s diagnosis exacerbated the disease: intellectual life seemed suddenly to divide along a fissure separating those who understood the second law of thermodynamics from those who did not. There ensued a period of comical soul-searching, as literary critics in particular realized with dismay that, just as Snow had suggested, they were incapable of following a rudimentary scientific argument. Viewed from the perspective of the present, the whole episode takes on an ineffable air of poignancy, the 1950′s comprising perhaps the last years in which educated men retained the capacity to be embarrassed by their ignorance.
About the Author
David Berlinski, the author most recently of Infinite Ascent: A Short History of Mathematics (Modern Library), is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute.