I was introduced to “The Two Cultures” during the first lecture of my scicomm MSc. When we were talking about scicomm history, “The Two Cultures” stood proudly on our timeline alongside documents which were fundamental to the field. So I wanted to read it for myself.
Originally “The Two Cultures” was a lecture, presented by scientist-turned-fiction-author C. P. Snow in 1959. Snow’s titular cultures were “people of the humanities and literature” and “people of the sciences”. In the lecture, Snow sketched out divisions between these cultures, with anecdotes from his experiences as a novelist amongst scientists and a scientist amongst literary intellectuals. He blamed this cultural divide on Britain’s education system, which forced people to specialise in one subject too early and prioritised humanities at the expense of science and engineering.
Books that ask “what’s wrong with our brains?” are a current pop-psychology staple. Cordelia Fine’s A Mind of Its Own was ahead of this trend, as it was first published in 2005.
A Mind of Its Own explores ways in which our brains don’t make sense and cognitive biases that funnel us down faulty mental shortcuts. The book starts with the bias equivalent of little white lies, detailing how almost all of us are biased to see things as a little easier, happier, and less flawed than they really are. From this gentle introduction, Fine talks us through the progressively larger mental failings discovered through social psychology studies.
I first became interested in reading Sapiens because of its polarising reviews; readers seemed divided over whether it was one of the greatest books in existence or one of the most pretentious. With my curiosity piqued, Sapiens jumped to the top of my to-buy list.
As I haven’t studied much biology or early history, I expected that Sapiens might be a challenging read. However, I was surprised by Yuval Harari’s clear writing style- Harari generally restricts his use of jargon, and uses conversational language rather than adding unnecessary complexity. The challenge in reading Sapiens comes from its ideas , not its communication.
“imagined orders are not evil conspiracies or useless mirages. Rather, they are the only way large numbers of humans can cooperate effectively”
“This is why today monogamous relationships and nuclear familes are the norm in the vast majority of cultures, why men and women tend to be possessive of their partners and children, and why even in modern states such as North Korea and Syria political authority passes from father to son” .
Although I’m both a science nerd and a video game fan, those interests don’t intersect often. Scientist characters in video games are often feared (or laughed at) from a distance, rather than being understandable or sympathetic. Worse, they are usually locked into two narrow roles:
The “Mad scientist” – a friendly yet distant and absent-minded tinkerer, whose inventions take on a life of their own or wind up as destructive rather than helpful.
The “Bad scientist”- a character who focuses entirely on their intellect and considers themselves superior to non-scientists. They can be obsessed with finishing their research or completing their next latest invention, regardless of its use or consequences. Many take utiliarianism to an extreme, seeing no problem with immoral or hurtful acts if they might achieve a greater good.
When I first became interested in video essays I noticed there were very few science-based video essays on YouTube, especially from academics or scientists. I wanted to figure out why. I started with two underlying questions: Do other academic fields use video essays? And can video essays can be used appropriately in science?
For me, the answer to both questions was yes. Continue reading
Over the last few years, a new genre of video has gathered momentum on YouTube; the analytic video essay. Today’s question is; what characterises a video essay?
The phrase “video essay” has two main meanings; the concept currently used by YouTubers (and the internet in general), and the original meaning used in filmmaking communities. For filmmakers, a video essay is a compilation of clips from a film which demonstrates a point about that film. In this definition, the video takes priority- many video essays make their point solely through the chosen clips.
However, other communities use the phrase differently. Reddit’s dedicated subreddit /r/videoessays describes them as:
“a written essay that is read aloud over video accompaniment which seeks to analyze some media text (tv, film, music, art, speech, etc)”.
I’ve previously read Kean’s third book, The Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons, which I found very informative and fun to read, so I was looking forward to reading The Disappearing Spoon.
Initially, The Disappearing Spoon was a more difficult read than Duelling Neurosurgeons, although that’s partly because I have less background knowledge about chemistry than I do about psychiatry or neurology. In comparison to Duelling Neurosurgeons, TDS is denser and more complex. While I could read a chapter of Neurosurgeons in one go and follow its major ideas and mechanics, I couldn’t do the same with TDS. Instead, I needed to stop and retrace my steps frequently to ensure I was keeping track of how new details related to previous information. (This applies most to the early chapters, which focused on the chemicial knowledge required to make sense of featured elements.)