Two Cultures of Research

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Charles P. Snow published in 1959 an essay named Two Cultures where he discussed the segmentation of research into two disconnected branches. These are the humanistic sciences and the natural (or technological) ones. The main differences between them are:

Humanistic research: Research in natural sciences:
The researcher is interested in individual objects and the relations between them. The view is holistic and tries to note all the attributes of an object. The researcher is interested in the properties or attributes of the objects and in the laws that these follow.
The development of the objects often interests the researcher. The objects are normally not assumed to change.
You usually study "intensively" only one or a small number (<10) of objects. Whether your results are also valid outside of this group, often remains somewhat vague. You usually study "extensively" hundreds or thousands of specimens, which are often a sample of a still greater (perhaps infinite) population. Your goal is to get results which are valid in the whole population (or anywhere).
You prefer to study the objects in their natural surroundings. You often study the objects in an artificial setting, e.g. you observe them in a manipulated situation or in a laboratory experiment.
When you explain what is happening to the study object, you fetch the explanation from the future: from what people want or intend to accomplish. When you explain what is happening to the study object, you fetch the explanation from the past, from the reasons which caused the state of things. The object has no will of its own.
You mainly study qualities. You mainly study quantities.

Both the above described paradigms have their own, refined and efficient research methodologies, which facilitate starting a new research project as long as your project complies with either one of the above standard models.

Some of the listed differences in paradigm are justified by the obvious fact that the object of humanistic studies are people, and that of the natural sciences are animals and lifeless objects. Nevertheless, the division is regrettable from the viewpoint of the researcher of products, who normally deals both with inanimate objects and with people using the objects. The goals of the project quite often compel the researcher to invent unconventional combinations of methods. For example, it might be worth while to consider using other modelling languages for the theoretical presentation beside or instead of the traditional verbal and arithmetical presentations which are typical of the two paradigms above. Such alternative languages are, among others, icon, analogous and topological models.

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August 3, 2007.
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