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Putting the "two cultures" debate to rest

STANFORD -- Is the gap between the two cultures of science and humanities dead or dying?

Diagnosing the current condition of this century-old rift, and determining whether the time has come to end this institutional separation, is the purpose of the conference "Beyond Dualism: Epistemological Convergences Between the Sciences and the Humanities," to be held at Stanford University March 11-12 in room 100, Cordura Hall.

Organized by the Stanford Humanities Center and the Department of Comparative Literature, the conference will bring together prominent scientists and humanities scholars to discuss the contributions that humanists can make in the sciences and those that scientists can make in the humanities. They also will address the question of whether the current institutional divisions between the two areas of scholarship still make sense.

Among those participating are the inventor of the birth control pill, chemist and author Carl Djerassi; contemporary philosopher Jean- Francois Lyotard, who launched the concept "postmodernity"; Nobel Prize- winning chemist Roald Hoffmann; Henry Louis Gates, a leading authority on Afro-American culture; and Christine von Weizsaecker, physicist, journalist and a leader in German Green politics.

"The conference is actually an experiment. I hope that it demonstrates that there are real advantages for both scientists and humanists in working together," said its organizer, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, professor of comparative literature and French and Italian.

The event will consist of a series of lectures given by alternating scientists and humanists. Lectures given by scientists will be accompanied by a response from a humanities scholar, and vice versa. The general topics that the lectures will address are "The History of an Intellectual and Institutional Divide"; "Exchanges of Thought Patterns and Methods"; and "Epistemological and Ethical Inseparability."

The meeting will conclude with a panel discussion of the question, "Does the relation between the sciences and humanities need a rethinking and an institutional remapping?"



Participant list

  • Gerhard Casper, President, Stanford University.
  • Niklas Luhmann, Bielefeld University, Lecce Institute; often regarded as the leading humanist in the German academic scene; creator of a new version of systems theory to serve as philosophical basis of sociology that ha s had a major impact on international law.
  • Carl Djerassi, chemistry professor, Stanford University; inventor of birth control pill and cortisone; in addition to scientific work has authored popular nonfiction books, novels and poetry.
  • Bernard Siegert, Humboldt University, Berlin; young Germanist who specializes in the historical relationships between technology and literature.
  • Jeffrey Schnapp, comparative literature professor, Stanford University; author of forthcoming book on culture and technology in Italian fascism.
  • Roald Hoffmann, chemistry professor, Cornell University; Nobel laureate; has written on the aesthetic value of molecular structures.
  • Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Paris; a humanist whose work bridges traditions of formal thinking (i.e., logic, mathematics) with softer philosophical traditions.
  • Henry Louis Gates, professor of Afro-American studies, Harvard University; leading specialist in Afro-American culture; only humanist mentioned in recent Newsweek survey of the 100 most prominent Americans.
  • Jean-Francois Lyotard, French and Italian professor, Emory University; one of the most important and most widely debated contemporary philosophers; inventor of the concept "postmodernity."
  • Loren Graham, professor, science, technology and society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; leading authority on the history of science in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
  • Friedrich Kittler, media research professor, Humboldt University, Berlin; in his book Discourse Networks created a new form of media and cultural history.
  • Terry Winograd, computer science professor, Stanford University; a leading authority on artificial intelligence.
  • Francisco Varela, Paris; expert in autoimmunology and candidate for Nobel Prize; also well known for his philosophical analyses of contemporary scientific research.
  • Hayden White, history professor, University of California-Santa Cruz; his book Metahistory has inspired a new form of history writing.
  • Christine von Weizsaecker, Bonn; physicist, well-known journalist on contemporary science and ecology; a leader in German Green politics.
  • Timothy Lenoir, history professor, Stanford University; historian of science who specializes in Germany from 1850 to 1940 and, more recently, in Silicon Valley.
  • John Etchemendy, philosophy professor, Stanford University; works at the intersections between logic, linguistics and artificial intelligence.
  • Morris Kaplan, fellow, Stanford Humanities Center; specialist on the legal questions regarding gender, particularly gay rights.
  • Wanda Corn, director, Stanford Humanities Center; specialist in early 20th-century American art.
  • Paul Watzlawick, Mental Research Institute; international authority on systemic psychiatry.


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