Third Culture

John Mcreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Sun, 3 Sep 1995 13:07:03 +0900

Dear Colleagues,

For those who would like to pursue this thread, here is a proper

John Brockman (1995) The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific
Revolution. New York: Simon and Schuster.

The interview I mentioned is in the August 1995 issue of WIRED
and starts on page 118.

Some quotes from the interview to get things started:

"Wired: You write in your introduction to _The Third Culture_
that literary intellectuals are 'reactionary' and quite often
proudly (and perversely) ignorant' of science, an attitude that
has pushed science into cultural invisibility in the last few
generations. How does the smug, anti-science, anti-technology
attitude you write of manage to dominate American culture?

"Brockman: The literary culture I talk about is pretty well
finished. Let me emphasize that I'm not talking about all
literature but about a specific culture of literary commentators
that became dominant about 50 years ago, in periodicals like
_The Partisan Review, Commentary_ and _Encounter_. It was an
establishment that dictated fashionable discourse and prided
itself on its indifference to science. I favored opinions and
ideology over empirical testing of ideas --commentary spiraling
upon commentary. As a cultural force it's a dead end....

"Wired: What makes the rise of the Third Culture intellectually

"Brockman: We're going through a rapidly accelerating
epistemological sea change. We're using tools with unprecedented
power, and in the process, as the scientist J.Z. Young wrote, we're
_becoming_ those tools. What we've lacked is an intellectual
culture able to transform its own premises as fast as our
technologies are transforming us. The only place you're going to
find that is in sciences where empiricism and epistemology
collide, and everything becomes different. That synergy exists,
for example, in the work of biologists Richard Dawkins and
Stephen Jay Gould; physicists Roger Penrose, Stephen Hawking,
and Freeman Dyson; astronomer Sir Martin Rees; computer
scientists Danny Hillis and Marving Minsky; as well as others
discussed in the book."

McCreery adds: It seems to me that anthropology should be a
superb example of one of those "sciences where empiricism and
epistemology collide." But having seen that anthropology (and
here I refer narrowly to social and cultural anthropology) is not
so much a matter of cooly assembled facts and logic as it is a
struggle to pry generalizations from the personal experience of
fieldwork, too many of us have decided that it's not a science at
all. This reflects, I suggest, a very narrow and now largely
outmoded vision of what science should be which has never, in
fact, had much to do with the way science is actually practiced. It
also tempts us to see anthropology as the sort of literary
enterprise that Brockman is so scathing about. Which, I say
tongue-in-cheek, might not be so bad if more of us were better

John McCreery
Yokohama, Sept. 3, 1995