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Programme details:
9pm, Wednesday 18 and 25 April 2007
Mark Lithgoe
BBC Radio 4 presenter Mark Lythgoe asks why are scientists and artists so different?
The New Two Cultures

The science verses art debate started nearly 50 years ago when British scientist and novelist CP Snow gave his famous speech The Two Cultures. In it he lamented the breakdown of communication and understanding between the opposing sides.

In this series of two programmes, neuroscientist and arts enthusiast Mark Lythgoe looks into the worlds of science and art to find out if they’re still poles apart.

Programme 1

Mark explores the history of the split between the Two Cultures to find out why CP Snow’s lecture, and the resulting backlash, caused a global controversy.

Fine arts student Mia swaps places with quantum physicist Nic to find out whether the divide is still as deep today.

Recent psychology research suggests that people who work in science and arts think in a different way. So what is it that drives people to become scientists or artists, and is it innate?
Listen AgainListen again to programme 1
Programme 2

What happens when the ‘Two Cultures’ come together? In this programme Mark looks at what science can contribute to art and art to science.

Alex James from Blur is the new Artist in Residence in Oxford University’s Physics Department. Head Professor Roger Davies thinks that these collaborations are incredibly productive.

Bringing science and art together is now big business. The Wellcome Trust has spent £3million over the past decade funding Sciart projects.

But others, like biologist Lewis Wolpert, think that the benefit is one-sided claiming, “art has contributed zero to science.”
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Read listener's comments

Phil, Merseyside
You only have to look at some current advertisements to see that there's one area where art and science meet to at least work side by side - computing. Computer scientists create graphics programmes, then graphic artists well trained on computers produce those wonderful flying cars, light bulbs that peel apart into cars etc. Pure art, whatever art purists might say about "commercialism". All CGI generated by artists not too isolated in their art to turn to science to produce good art for mass marketing.

Phil, Merseyside
I can still remember an article in the Radio Times when Carl Sagan was to go on Desert Island Discs. The RT article writers knew he was into astronomy. But to them "Sagan" meant "Francois Sagan" so they published a picture of Carl Sagan beside a chart of the sky, beautifully and clearly printed - in French!

Jonathan Wright, Congleton Cheshire
As a Geologist by degree and with a long-standing love of it - Art and geology are inseparable. Very few artists interpret the landscape through the eyes of a geologist - it never looks quite right! Look at the form symmetry and pattern of an ammonite shell, a crystal of Tourmaline with different colours at either end the list is endless. Art is in the eye of the beholder.

Ian, Alabama
Having now heard the second part my disappointment is considerably reduced. All except Lewis Wolpert that is, who seems like a stereotype actively reinforcing the stereotypes. Mark's own story, as a scientist discovering that science cannot address all issues alone, is the telling point, and the reason specialization should not be allowed to lead to exclusion.

Chris Clarke, Southampton
There's certainly a lot of lack of communication around (apparently carefully fostered by Wolpert). But isn't it more because all the specialisms - social science, physics, fine art, philosophy, mathematics, biology ... - have all isolated themselves too much from the rest of society? If something is worth doing, it's worth communicating.

Betty, North
Dear Alastair, as humans we are not all artists. Some of us don't have the inert skill assumed in some kind of art expertise (like painting), and in others (like conceptual art practice) some of us do not contain the ability to think outside our imposed social structures or norms. So you, and Beuys for that matter, are wrong. Beuys did say that we are all artists - perhaps we all have the potential to become artists in our thinking, but we are not, as every day citizens, artists. Art is a specialism - as is science - that generally a person's life work is dedicated to. All humans are therefore not all artists.

Kate Cumbria
you can't pigeon hole either - both disciplines are far too broad. our language constrains our understanding, separating and catagorising. perhaps we could introduce a new catagory to bridge the polemic - the science of art? SCART? i'd like to see that in cultural theory books in a few years!! (©KGB if you dare)

Helen, Luxembourg
The first programme, at least, totally confuses the concepts of 'art' and 'the arts'. I studied Modern and Mediaeval Languages at university - an arts subject - but I am certainly not an artist (which I would define as someone who creates works of art, literature, etc.). I am, rather, someone who studies and analyses subjects that fall within the Humanities. And that can be done in just as systematic a way as science - it is simply the subject of analysis that is different (and probably the method).

Macha, Japan
I work in computer graphics. There is a smooth blend from artists to scientists. It is almost like being back in the renaissance.

Ian Glendinning
Very disappointing focus on the either / or of cultural vs innate. We really need to leave this old dichotomy behind and look to the third-culture and inclusive, multi-disciplined education. The cause of the dichotomy is specialization, not the any innate pre-disposition. The latter simply says we're all different on a wide spectrum on characteristics. Brains learn and evolve to suite their environment. Change the learning environment.

Julian Barker
Only an anti–intellectual culture would wish to preserve the 19th century 'humanities' snobbery which so contributes to the parochialism of English thought. None of it is helped by an educational system that thinks that we are all "creative", a notion that is demonstrably untrue. Instead of talking to students, why not talk to mature artists... and LISTEN to what they have to say and then THINK about it. I am a poet, physician, science and philosophy teacher, am empathic and systematic about some things. I have tried to fight this kind of crap all my life on behalf of my studenst and my profession.

Bob O'Hara, Helsinki
Why does Mark Lythgoe think the ability to do science or art have to be innate? He's looking at adults and seeing specialisation, but why should he reject the idea that this specialisation isn't cultural? I don't see the logic. P.S. yes, I am a scientist. How did you guess?

Sophie, London
After listening to this show I'm very disappointed that the makers of this program have not found it necessary to look at anything but the obvious practice in art and science. Your assumptions disqualified any conclusions about art and science before you started. Next time to make the effort of looking at large strands in contemporary art practice, which widely applies methods from disciplines across the board. Equally scientists who develop their research beyond precision-knowledge would have been able to give a much better picture.

Claire C Smith North West
Looking at thinking styles of some of the great scientists, for example, it was Einstein who said "Imagination is more important than knowledge", Michael Faraday used visual imagery to discover electromagnetism and Roger Penrose said he used visual imagery before turning them into equations. In the same regard, there were many great artists who used systemising techniques, for example, Leonardo da Vinci used the human form and equated it to a mathematical value of 0.618 which is the golden section. The Pre-Raphaelites used a methodical elegance to compositions to compose their art and the works of Michelangelo tackled some rather bizarre perspective in the sculpture David in an almost anatomical way.

Ciara McMahon
Hi, as a practising general practioner who is also training at the National College of Art and Design I possibly have one foot in each stream. My experience is that both are intellectually stimulating, and challenging - differently but equally.

Peter Layzell, Lancaster
I have been a painter for 20 years - and I regard bringing the arts and science together as a rather futile exercise. Whether one is 'harder' than the other is entirely irrelevant; each can shed light on what it is like to be human, though in completely unrelated ways. I do agree with one of your contributors, however, that commentators on art increasingly use jargon to obscure meaning whereas many scientists (such as Richard Dawkins and Steve Jones) have found ways of communicating their specialist knowledge to the layman in a language that we can understand. It's twaddle to suggest that empathy belongs to the artist and the ability to systematise belongs to the scientist; I know scientists who have excellent social skills - they do have to work collaboratively after all - and artists who are so self absorbed that their ability to empathise with others is negligable.

Rohan, The Moon
EVERYONE is an artist, in some sense.Not everyone can be a Scientist.Being both I'm not saying one is markedly better than t'other, just that they are incomparable as intellectual markers!

Sydney Gerald Kirsch
A very interesting programme. Dr Lythgoe might perhaps have mentioned how the existence of "two cultures" influences our national affairs. Plus, natural scientists seem to think that social scientists are not really scientists at all - does that mean that we have THREE cultures?

Sarah Firmin
I am an artist by trade and was immensely fascinated by the proramme mainly because at the moment I am involved with the two cultures; the use of science for positive health (psychology) and art concerned with cosmic energy (Space). Some kinds of art incorporte maths and geometry - the stuff of science. Some science incorporates an imaginary proposition. What is really interesting in this debate is - why are we in this stage of human history contemplating the divide?

Chris Scognamiglio, Italy
I find it a continual, nagging annoyance that people try to categorize things as one or the other. For example, Dr. Lythgoe, despite admitting to liking both science and the arts in the first programme states that he feels we are born with a predisposition to one or the other. Nature and not nurture. I have, from a layman's point of view, observed various pets we've had (mostly dogs) and noticed that the environment is always the same but each dog has a different character. It is my own opinion that human, as with animal, behaviour is a product of nature as well as nurture.

Lizz Tuckerman, Sheffield
I really enjoyed this so thanks very much. I do both subjects 2 days a week I'm a senior research associate investigating the mechanisms underlying recurrent miscarriage, and for the remaining time I am a self employed fine artist. My first degree was in Zoology, my next an MSc in Clinical Genetics and finally a degree in Fine Art. Apart from being addicted to further education and vastly overqualified - was there a blip in my innate progamming?

Joanne, Liverpool (scientist)
Very interesting debate, we could probably achieve much more in society if the 2 groups did work more closely together. I think it's more likely to be a mixture of genes with environmental effects during development, rather than just one or the other.

Mike Brown, Northumberland
There was no mention last night of the polymath. I don't think you can split people on the basis the programme did as you need to exclude those equally adept in both areas.

Richard Dobson, Frome,Somerset
I have always (since early schooldays in the 1970s) been baffled by this much-vaunted "divide", which I am convinced is not only not innate, but an unnatural consequence of our educational system. At school I was equally interested in music and electronics. The defining moment was when my highly respected London public school refused to allow me to take both music and maths at A level. It is (I hope) inconceivable today; but it demonstrated that the whole school mentality was that arts and sciences were separate, and combining them was not reasonable. Both "artists" and "scientists" are, it seems to me, a little too ready to accept the labels attached to them by others.

SV, London
As a working scientist I find that among my research colleagues there is a wide spectrum of different people, some who empathise well, some who don't, some who systemise well, some who don't. Science is broad, and is nowhere near as matter-of-fact as it comes across in school, so I think that any attempt to simplify scientific traits is doomed to fail.

Nick, London
I think kids are first divided up in school because of the way we decide university courses and careers. The system demands specialisation. Aspiring polymaths simply aren't catered for. From then on, kids are separated from the "other" disciplines and they become more and more alien as the concepts studied in each world become increasingly complex.

David Bryden - Dorset
This idea of the two cultures infected me when I was about 11. I decided about then that I was more of an "Arts" person than a "Science" person. My attitude changed when I began meeting people with science backgrounds. I was introduced to writers such as Stephen J. Gould and Richard Feynman. Suddenly, I experienced the wonder of a whole new world as well as the depressing realisation that in dismissing science I had stunted myself intellectually. Science is a far superior intellectual pursuit than the arts. Science requires a huge intellectual effort often demanding that you think in counter-intuitive ways. The scientist has to test the truth of his ideas objectively whereas the artist just presents an interpretation which is often arrogantly claimed as being "The Truth". Scientists go out of their way to make their ideas accessible. Artists often seek to obscure their message as much as possible in the belief that the more obscure and inaccessible it is, the better. The Arts are there to be enjoyed and, yes, it is fun and interesting to analyse and discuss them - but it all too often takes itself too seriously and swans around as if it matters. It only matters to those who are in some way involved with the Arts.

Julius Guzy, Derry, Northern Ireland
I am a painter who has a degree in computer science and a Ph.D. in Automatic Speech Recognition. I think your programme missed an opportunity to be really interesting and informative. The main reason for this is that you failed to make sufficient distinction between different types "artists" and between different types of "scientists" or between different subject matter in art and different subject matters in science. If you had attempted to make such a distinction in even one of these areas I am sure that you would have found that the variety of personality types was as wide amongst "artists" as among "scientists". For example one of the most analytically rigorous people I ever met was a painter and if one is to believe the BBC TV film "the double helix" then some "sloppy thinkers" are scientists. I can only think that this was one of those "lets have a bit of fun reinforcing stereotypes" programmes.

Jolyon de Fossard. Bath, UK.
I enjoyed this programme but felt that the point about art and science being worlds apart was reinforced by reverting to sterotypical views. Attists were the "creative" ones who thought freely whereas scientists liked lists and ordering their (obviously limited and poor taste) CD commection. Well; Please! Scientists are tremendously creative. They have to be. For progress in their field is to be made scientists have to question the accepted norms of the world, reject them, even, and propose alternatives based upon evidence and a leap of faith. That is creativity by any standard. Maybe it stems from how science is taught at school - we repeat experiments by following instructions from a book that reveal nothing new. That'd be like teaching art by taking a famous painting resolving it to a pattern of shapes and colours and getting pupils to replicate it by painting by numbers.

Peter Parker (Brussels)
Enjoyed Mark's investigation into the apparent clash between art and science. Science and art complement one another and the yin yang analogy is good here. That is not to say that the two cultures don't overlap as they certainly do. The quantum physicist can enlighten us to the inevitable interaction between the observer and the observed in high level experimental physics. A good novel enables one to see the same phenomena with our imagination. On a personal level when I was at school I saw no point in literature,I just wanted the hard facts. Now I appreciate that even in science the facts are not quite what they seem. Literature of course is replete with such a notion. Thankfully there are many good scientific and literary authors about today who are bringing about a fusion of these two cultures.

Julie Webb Cambridgeshire
While listening to this programme I could not help wondering how an arts graduate would have presented it. One of the big differences I see between scientists and artists is that artists know how to express concepts and feelings in a way that will engage the audience emotionally.

Catriona Mitchell-Hynd
I listened to this on my way back from a busy on call shift in the hospital and really enjoyed the programme! Where would Drs fit in? Are we more empathists or scientists? Would there be a divide if you set your questionnaire to surgeons and physicians...I would be very interested to find out!

Jo, Bristol
Hi, interesting program (esp as i started doig a science degree and came out with an MA) where can the online questionnaires be fonund that were mentioned?

As humans, we are all artists. We react to the art that has gone before us and allow it inspire us to redefine ourselves. Science is the art of understanding the universe (or multiverse) in a form that we can can comprehend. It takes the artist in us to be able analise the observations and put it into a comprahensible form.

Ian H Thain, Banbury, Oxon.
Of course some of us were born with a pre-disposition to science. I had worked out Ohm's Law for myself by the age of six without ever having heard of Ohm or read a book on Physics. By contrast I have never been able to draw, and to this day (I am now 63) even my stick-men are out of proportion. Your contributors were doing nothing but regurgitating the currently fashionable codswallop.

Nick, Oxford
Having done the EQ/SQ tests, I find I am as mechanical as Brunel, and as empathetic as Hannibal Lecter. I did Classics at University, and have no grasp whatsoever of mathematics. How does that work??

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