Russell: The Divorce Between Science and Culture

This text is an address delivered by Bertrand Russell, on receiving the Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science, at UNESCO Headquarters on 28 January, 1958. His central idea here, that general science education is not optional in a democratic technocracy, is even more relevant now than it was in 1958. What has changed since then is the idea of a “cultural” education. In contemporary universities, the humanities are less likely to consist of reading Aeschylus and more likely to involve, say, Marxist or feminist readings of pop culture. The idea that the cultural elite of Western society are only familiar with pre-industrial poetry and art is a dated idea, but Russell’s ideas on scientific education could have been written this morning without losing any of their urgency. Follow me on Twitter:

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    25 Responses to Russell: The Divorce Between Science and Culture

    1. SCARREDMIND says:

      @hooloovoo1st government would never allow such a system of education to develop as it would undermine dependence upon the political elite as we question rather then accept the absolutly insane amounts on retardation they currently inflict upon us.

    2. McTaggStar says:

      @hooloovoo1st: It would certainly be nice if we could do that, but it is, in fact, impossible. It is not possible to arrive at new scientific information using methods of formal deduction, starting with basic postulates. In fact, we need to do the opposite – use induction. If we could axiomatize science, there would be no need for the scientific method in the first place. But like I said, that would be nice. It would certainly make life a lot easier.

    3. McTaggStar says:

      We need to be doing a lot more to educate the public in science. The wide-spread rejection of evolutionary theory – simultaneously the simplest and most important modern scientific theory, is due to ignorance. I blame the school systems, at least in part. It’s sad when public and high school teachers can’t even manage to teach students to have a basic understanding of evolution. C’mon folks, it’s not THAT hard.

    4. hxrtotally says:

      @AutodidacticPhd I just can’t see it checking out in terms of the economics. The privation of such a great deal of the population would lead to a privation of a great amount of the consumption options which are possible because the demand and labor is there to feed them. Not to mention the inability to sustain the current infrastructure. Unless this vastly smaller population lived on a vastly smaller world (which creates the same problem trying to be avoided), the lack of density is the problem.

    5. AutodidacticPhd says:

      @hxrtotally And what’s so great about current consumer culture? Demand is generated by the ad market and the available choices are artificially controlled, a simple feedback loop that serves as little more than a distraction… plastic crap and junk food are the new opiates of the masses. Current infrastructure wouldn’t be needed. What was useful would be adapted… nature can have the rest back. Why so keen on assuming things should stay as they are? Especially since change is the whole point?

    6. codebolt says:

      Great video! In my country (Norway) you can go through all of high school without learning a single formula of physics, but you still have to learn to recite a bunch of 16th century poetry! I really wish more people shared your view.

    7. Hofsteder says:



    8. zarkoff45 says:


      One example would a prediction of global cooling made in the 1970s. There is a quote from the first Earth Day in 1970 where Kenneth Watt of UC Davis said, “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder in 1990, but eleven degrees colder by the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us in an ice age.”

    9. hxrtotally says:

      @AutodidacticPhd I was thinking more about those things like the Internet, transportation, abundance of food, medicine, those things essential to the high standard of living we enjoy today. I’m merely arguing that the great wealth of options we enjoy today is possible because of our dense society. Less dense society, there would be less opportunity to live a life of the mind, which I’m assuming is what you want? A society of philosophers-I mean-scientists?

    10. Hofsteder says:


      Stephen Schneider was also famously wrong about this in the 70’s (he was thinking about aerosols). He corrected his views later on given new evidence of global warming, that’s how science works. What’s important to remember however, is that the scientific consensus of the climate science community in the 70’s was not one of an expected global cooling, quite the contrary: Peterson (2008) shows 62% of papers published in the 70’s predicted warming, only 10% predicted cooling.

    11. Wolfau5 says:

      I love it. Very important statements, and delivered in a much more clear and concise way than many of your previous references.
      I’d be interested to know how much of this you agree with, given many of your prior statements seem to be in conflict with it.

    12. ForYeensSake says:

      I’ve been thinking lately, and I really do believe we need a history of thought as well :/ But we need to know so much, and have so little time.

    13. rollsthepaul says:

      We must chart our course, without understanding the ramifications of our choices. Ultimately, we are throwing dice and if we get really unlucky, we disappear and the experiment starts over.

    14. AutodidacticPhd says:

      @hxrtotally To be perfectly honest, Russell has another essay which answers why most of your concerns are less significant than you seem to think. Medicine is stressed by population more than enriched, and the Internet is a kind of network, easily scaled down without loss of functionality. If the people left were the kind of worth while I’m thinking of, any of the remaining challenges would be their entertainment, and the problems would be more or less solved in far less than a generation.

    15. hxrtotally says:

      @AutodidacticPhd I think medicine is the other way, due to economy of scale. A larger population means a greater sum of those with a rare disease; the greater sum means there is more profit to investing in a cure; more motive = more likely for a cure to be found. My assumption is simply that any cure would require the same cost of investment no matter how many would benefit. So if you have 1 million suffering from a rare disease rather than 1,000, the likelihood of a cure is greater.

    16. AutodidacticPhd says:

      @hxrtotally Wrong… diseases of the rich are invested in first. That is why we have 5 different ways to treat erectile disfunction and no one seriously working of sleeping sickness or other ailments common to Africa. Mass medicine leads to a situation where medical professionals are either researchers or practitioners who treat patients on a production line basis where misdiagnosis is common due to an economy of numbers; losing a few percent because you can’t pay attention to every symptom…

    17. AutodidacticPhd says:

      …whereas in a smaller community where more people are qualified to do medicine and governance is organized around getting things done, these problems all but disappear. Cost of investment is due in large part to the inefficiency imposed by private organization, which is a stupid way to run any science. Again, you seem to be ignoring the point of the exercise. Of course, the fact that you are spending so much effort criticizing someone’s utopian pipe dream is a little suspicious anyway.

    18. hxrtotally says:

      @AutodidacticPhd Well I can’t educate you on economics, so I”ll stop.

    19. babylonoise says:

      in science hijacked by market, marketeers are sciencists

    20. AutodidacticPhd says:

      @hxrtotally Don’t flatter yourself, or the field. Modern economics is based on a linear prediction model that has little to do with how an economy actually works. Try picking up material on complex systems models before you go assuming you know enough to school anyone. Also, not once did you provide any reason to believe that the modern shape of constraints would have any relevance in a radically altered social landscape. Feel free to stop, but don’t pat yourself on the back for it.

    21. oilotnoM says:

      @hooloovoo1st “a few simple axioms that are self-evident, followed by unarguable logical deduction can derive ALL of mathematics.”

      You can’t bootstrap mathematics using nothing more than “common sense” logic. It’s certainly not possible in practise (lest the first mathematician would have put all later mathematicians out of jobs) and not even in principle due to phenomena such as Godel’s Incompleteness, or the Halting problem of Turing machines.

    22. oilotnoM says:

      @oilotnoM Math cannot be recursively generated from itself in a series of “obvious” applications of mechanistic rules. I’m not implying there’s necessarily anything magical about intelligence, but intelligence does things beyond strictly logical deduction.

    23. EyeLean5280 says:

      To my mind, things have changed quite a bit since this writing. At least where I live, one would indeed be considered uneducated and uncultured if one knew nothing of the contributions of Galileo, Descartes, et cetera.

    24. EyeLean5280 says:

      @oilotnoM – yes, indeed, it does many things beyond that!

    25. Niggeritarian says:

      What did Watts do i wonder… Off to wikipedia!

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