The Two Cultures

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In early 2010, I was invited to give a talk at a conference organized by philosopher Rob Pennock at Michigan State University, celebrating the 50th anniversary of a famous lecture by British novelist C. P. Snow, titled “The Two Cultures.” In this lecture, and a subsequent book, Snow bemoaned the widening gulf between the sciences and the humanities. Pennock’s conference brought together a range of thinkers and philosophers, or, as he put it, “20 prominent scholars who have thought about the importance of Snow’s work in the context of higher education and culture today or who exemplify his ideal of bridging the two cultures.” Whooie, heady stuff.

As is not uncommon when I receive such invitations, my first reaction was something like, “are you sure you have the right Robert Lang? I’m the one who folds paper thingies.” I might have added (but didn’t), “and I’ve never heard of ‘The Two Cultures.'” But he assured me that yes, he really was looking for me, and that he thought that the connections between origami and mathematics (on which I lecture fairly regularly) would serve as a perfect example of a bridge between the two cultures of arts and science. And, as there were several months until the conference itself, I figured that I could read up on this essay and then find some way to relate it to origami. A considerable sweetener for me for attending was the distinguished company, which included both Pennock and philospher Barbara Forrest, two personal heroes of mine for their roles in the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial about whether creationism could be legally taught as science (verdict: no).

And so, in May, 2010, I headed to East Lansing, where I spent a most enjoyable day and half giving my lecture and listening to other lectures on a wide range of topics on science, culture, philosophy (sample: “The epistemological gulf between the empirical disciplines and supernaturalism” — which, despite the scariness of the title, turned out to be fascinating), and teaching. Professor Pennock had suggested that the conference would produce a book, and so all of us who gave lectures would be expected to write essays for the book, and he rather broadly hinted that if I were to create a special origami figure somehow representative of Snow or his writings, it might find a prominent place in said book (and dare I hope: the cover?).

Alas, said book never came together. Although I and several others submitted our essays, enough people dawdled that the 50th anniversary came and went, and then the 51st anniversary…and eventually, it was officially cancelled. I was disappointed, of course, not least because I was looking forward to having my essay rub elbows with those of the aforementioned Pennock and Forrest (and others), but also because I’d come up with a just dandy rendition of The Great One Himself, C. P. Snow, who was anything but a dandy, and had a face absolutely made for origami.

As it turns out, I’ll be able to recycle portions of my essay for an upcoming publication (which I will write more about later), but the origami Mr. Snow will go no further than my website. I’ll post an image here, though, and the crease pattern is here, if anyone would like to give it a go.

C. P. Snow
C. P. Snow, from a single uncut square of Korean hanji.