Novelist Ian McEwan in a lively conversation with theoretical physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed in an exploration of the similarities, differences and connections between art and science. This discussion is part of the opening of the Large Hadron Collider exhibition at the Science Museum in London. Arkani-Hamed is a winner of the Fundamental Physics Prize.
[IAN MCEWAN:] ...That old two culture matter is still with us. Ever since Snow promulgated it back in the '50s, it still is possible to be a flourishing public intellectual with absolutely no reference to science. It still can go on but it's happening less and less and I think it's less a change of any decision in the culture at large, just a social reality pressing in on us.
It was touched on just briefly earlier this evening that bioethics is now a critical matter. We all carry around with us miraculous tiny machines that involve at least some passing admiration for the engineering that created them. It's true also that climate change forces those of us who have no interest in science to at least get a smattering of some idea of what it is to predict systems that have more than two or three variables and whether this is even possible. So, I think it's been borne in on us.
For example, the Internet has created in sites like John Brockman's wonderful site, edge.org, where it's possible for laymen to sit in on conversations between scientists and when scientists have to address each other out of their specialisms they have to speak a lingua franca of plain English. They have to abandon their jargons. And we're the beneficiaries of that. ...
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Related reading on Edge: "The Third Culture", 1991]