The concept of third culture aims to overcome the separation, which is strongly exclusive and non-communicative at times, between the fields of “ letters” and the “sciences,” between the world of culture and the technical world, as is erroneously stated at times.
Third culture implies a necessary dialogue, an obligatory dialogue, between the experimental sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. The two traditional cultures should converge, in fact, not into a third culture, but rather into culture, that is, into a single culture, diverse and broad, based in critical thought, the only thing that allows us to aim to be competent citizens in cohesive and more just societies.
Supporters of this “third culture,” of this whole and broad culture to which I’ve alluded to, sustain that we can’t see the full picture of our industrial societies without understanding how science is created, without understanding and evaluating, to the extent of our abilities and without aiming to an impossible specialization in all fields, the impact of technology on our daily lives, without valuing the promises and dangers of science and technology (what sociologists call “technoscience”).
Similarly, we do not accept that researchers, scientists and technicians are unable to look beyond the microscope or their instruments, clinging to the false idea of the neutrality of science, and are not aware of the complexity and depth of the polyethical problems attached to their activity. The more capacity to influence and transform nature and society, the greater the responsibility of those who generate knowledge and turn it into technology. We should learn from the “Manhattan Project” and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The above indicates the imperative and urgent need for dialogue between the sciences (experimental, social) and the humanities as different perspectives of human knowledge and universal knowledge. To not know that Picasso painted Guernica is unforgivable, the poet, philosopher and scientist Jorge Riechmann pointed out, but believing, asserting or writing that we owe Galileo the proof of the Earth’s roundness, or to not know who Copernicus, Kepler or Pasteur were, would be no less grave of mistakes.
The humanist of our time, Francisco Fernández Buey pointed out, does not have to be a scientist in the strictest sense (and surely cannot be), but neither does she necessarily have to be the opposite of the natural scientist, or be the turn-of-the-century representative of the spirit of the prophet Jeremiah, always complaining about the potential negative implications of any scientific discovery or any technological innovation.
If the humanist of our time limits themself to being the person of letters, the philosopher, the traditional intellectual (the humanist, in short), they have everything to lose. One can, of course, choose to be silent about contemporary scientific discoveries and refrain from intervening in public controversies about the implications of these discoveries. If one did this, they’d no longer be a contemporary. This would lead to an increasingly common paradox: the paradox of the contemporary postmodern philosopher or humanist, in fact, the paradox of pre-modernity (european or Eastern).
P. Snow, The Two cultures and theSscientific Revolution, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1959.
John Brockman (ed.), La tercera cultura. Más allá de la revolución científica. Tusquets, Barcelona, 1996.
Lepenies, Las tres culturas. La sociología entre la literatura y la ciencia (1985), FCE, México, 1994, traducción de Julio Colón
Francisco Fernández Buey, Para la tercera cultura. Ensayos sobre ciencia y humanidades, Vilassar de Mar, 2013