The Two Cultures – Matt Pham

UCLA makes no effort to hide the fact that there are two different cultures on campus. It is openly acknowledged during campus tours, during orientation, and in lectures. The most obvious symptom of this disparity is a geographical one: the North and South campuses. South campus majors study the “hard” sciences, such as physics, mathematics, and biology. Those who go to the North campus, in contrast, study social sciences or arts.

However, this divide is not inherently bad. Specialization was, after all, one of the major steps to the development of human civilization. There are times when art and science can clash if brought together. For example, politics and turbulent emotions can get in the way of precise science, while strict rules and a lack of empathy can constrain the imagination. The main reason for the two cultures is that artists and scientists do not understand each other. An artist can show a painting or recite a poem that can be appreciated by anyone. On the other hand, a scientist’s work, for the most part, can only be appreciated by other scientists. A scientist might consider his or her work a piece of art, but an experiment can never really be regarded as beautiful. Nobel laureate Max Delbrück explains:

“The medium in which [the scientist] works does not lend itself to the delight of the listener’s ear. When he designs his experiments or executes them with devoted attention to the details he may say to himself. ‘This is my composition; the pipette is my clarinet’. And the orchestra may include instruments of the most subtle design. To others, however, his music is as silent as the music of the spheres.”

On campus, this misunderstanding becomes apparent. Electrical Engineering major Derek Wung describes North campus as “easy” compared to South campus’s “hell,” while History major Philip Ogden describes South campus to be “dull” and “incoherent.” Such thinking may foster pride in one’s own campus, but it also gives rise to a feeling of animosity between the two cultures. It rests on “misinterpretations which are dangerous,” (Snow, C.P.) and it can be abolished by bringing art and science together.

However different arts and sciences may be, they are both two parts of the same spectrum. A middle ground exists where art and science can exist together. Functionality and beauty need not be separate. The Pont du Gard of France is a result of the combination of Roman engineering and design. Ancient Greek pottery combined art and utility. Certainly, art and science can be combined. According to Vivek Shetty, the chair of UCLA’s academic senate, true knowledge “can only flourish in an environment of openness and free exchange of information. A great research institution cannot allow discovery to be defined and dictated by extremist fringes. … Our responsibility is to provide an open environment where scholarship can flourish.”

One place where the two cultures are consistently combined is the consumer world. Consumer technology, especially, is becoming more and more influenced by art. For example, part of the iPod’s success is its simple, minimalist design. Today’s cars seek to balance performance with aesthetics. The personal computer has transformed from a drab, number-crunching Apple II to a sleek, media-editing iMac.

Apple ][

Such images show that artists, scientists, and engineers can come together to create a single product of which the sum is greater than its parts.


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