Open Eye: Bridging the 2C gap

It was back in the `50s that C P Snow spotlighted the two-culture gap. Crudely it meant that if you knew the second law of thermodynamics you were probably hazy about Shakespeare, and vice versa. At the end of the 1980s this nagged me into action. Everything I seemed to be involved with was word-based and verbal.

As a professional actor I was rehearsing Hamlet, for the sixth or seventh time in my life, at the National Theatre. And I'd been deeply involved in politics, standing as a Labour Parliamentary candidate in 1987. I was also writing what must have been my fourth crack at the Great British Novel. Words were everywhere, and I longed for something concrete and complimentary.

At the school I'd attended you chose between Ancient Greek and science at the age of fourteen and I'd taken Greek - plus French, Spanish, Latin and later Russian.

I kicked off with the OU science Foundation Course, got absorbed by biochemistry, then the immune system, the brain, evolution, animal physiology and calculus as a side-line. With the enormous encouragement the OU offered - one time I had to request late arrival for Summer School labwork because of two performances of Hamlet - I got a general degree and later, to my own delight and surprise, a First Class Honours BSc.

It took seven years. Of course I can never claim to be a hands-on cutting- edge scientist. But in terms of the "two-culture" argument it worked. Both sides of the GM dispute, for example, make their own appropriate sense - but neither has a monopoly of wisdom. And studies of brain, behaviour and biochemistry throw their own light on Hamlet or any other piece of literary imagination.

Best of all, reading science journals can be a particular pleasure and they have their own stillness and reality in the midst of political rhetoric and dramatic poetry. The OU is a pleasant bridge on which to cross the culture divide.

Ian Flintoff

Open Eye welcomes similar contributions from readers relating their OU experiences.