The Evolution of Man
Darwin for Today
The Tangled Bank: Darwin, Marx, Frazier, Freud as Imaginative Writers
A recent issue of the Times Literary Supplement has excited considerable attention because of a long article by C.P. Snow, a rebuttal to the critics of Two Cultures. The article is dignified, reasonable, and entirely predictable, essentially a pièce justificative, adding nothing new to the controversy or to the original essay apart from the substitution of DNA for the Second Law of Thermodynamics as a test of scientific literacy. The rest of the issue, however, is more noteworthy. Entitled “The Art of Science,” it may be taken as a subtle rebuke to Sir Charles and a corrective to the popular image of the Two Cultures—a scientific culture that is essentially rational, logical, and evidential, and a literary culture that is essentially intuitive, emotive, and imaginative. What the TLS is now suggesting is that the scientific enterprise itself is, at its best, a kind of art, and that the two cultures have more in common than is generally thought.
The theme is best stated in the article “Imagination and Hypothesis” by Dr. P.B. Medawar, the distinguished English biologist, Nobel Prize winner, and director of the National Institute for Medical Research. Dr. Medawar refutes five of the most commonly accepted myths about science: the myth of a “scientific mind,” of “the scientific method,” of observation and deduction à la Bacon, of induction à la Mill, and of a “natural law” arrived at by rational, objective processes. Dr. Medawar concludes:
Scientists and laymen should become aware of the inspirational character of scientific discovery and of the hypothetico-deductive foundation upon which scientific understanding rests…. At every level of endeavor scientific research is a passionate undertaking, and the Promotion of Natural Knowledge depends above all else upon a sortie into what can be imagined but is not yet known.
The following article, “Portrait of the Scientist as Artist,” makes much the same point. The Professor of Chemistry at Cambridge, H.C. Longuet-Higgins, agrees that “the scientist is by nature an artist,” that “his ways of thought are primarily intuitive and imaginative,” and that the fiction of a “scientific method” was invented to “account for the unaccountable: the demonstrable capacity of the human mind to create ideas out of the void and to discriminate between the significant and the trivial.”
There should be no need to remind us, as Dr. Medawar does, that “hypothesis” and “imagination” are not pejorative words. We do, however, have to be reminded that they introduce a problematic quality into science. Science does not merely accumulate certainties; it also accumulates uncertainties. The more science knows, the more it knows how little it knows. Yet the desire for certainty is so pervasive that even scientists succumb to the popular superstitions of science.
As if to dramatize this point, the same issue of the TLS contains a perfect specimen of the pseudo-scientific mentality, in which hypothesis and imagination of a not particularly distinguished order are given far more authority than they merit. The example is the more egregious because it occurs …