Are the “Two Cultures” as divided as ever ?

“Modern Life is rubbish for creative thinking” says James Marriott in The Times today.

I spent forty years in a multinational corporation in which creativity and originality were generally treated with suspicion. It was a very rational environment in which engineers and accountants reached the top. Clever people all who relied on what they knew and what they had experienced rather than what they could dream.

My colleagues occasionally ventured into the unknown but it wasn’t long before they retreated back to the familiar. To diversify was occasionally part of the goals, nominally anyway. But “sticking to the knitting”, in Tom Peters phrase, was for most much more comfortable. In all my years I cannot think of one major new venture on truly unfamiliar terrain that succeeded, and many were tried.

Left versus Right brain thinking

Those of us who were Right Brain biased were looked at with condescension although there was some acceptance that we were necessary. When we spotted that much project planning was data based and that some of these data were actually assumptions rather than hard facts we were sometimes treated with scorn. You don’t challenge a geologist from Delft or a man with a Cambridge First in Mathematics or Physics.

When we marvel at the paintings at the Uffizi or listen in awe as a fine conductor creates magic at a concert we are in a terrain in which rational man struggles. True originality is rare because the ability to be creative is, in some cultures, less valued. In one Noel Coward play a woman admits to not being very musical. “Good for you” says her philistine companion.

Sixty Years ago in Cambridge C.P. Snow railed against the lack of understanding between the “Two Cultures” of Science and the Humanities. But on reflection it is only by using both sides of the brain that real progress can be made. Like Oscar Hammerstein’s “Farmer and the Cowman can be friends” so can the Geologist and the expert on Jane Austen. But we still need to find a way.

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