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This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas.

It was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how the "It's said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave.

This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods. Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible.

The Ascent Of Man | Folio Society

In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people. View all 7 comments. Mar 20, Roy Lotz rated it it was amazing Shelves: history-of-science. The Ascent of Man is a remarkable program. I had doubts that anyone could produce a series to match Civilisation , but Bronowski made something that might even be better.

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Bronowski was a polymath: he did work in mathematics, biology, physics, history, and even poetry. In this program, his topic is the history of science. We thus begin with Homo erectus , learning how to chip away stone to make tools.

JACOB BRONOWSKI - The Ascent of Man

As Bronowski notes, this simple ability, to chip away at a stone until a cutting edge is left, is a remarkable indication of human uniqueness. Since the behavior is learned and is not an instinct, it requires a preconception of what the toolmaker wants to create, a certain amount of imagination is required to picture the goal before it is realized. Even with an archaeologist giving me advice, I was only able to create stone tools of the sophistication of an Australopithecus—randomly beating the stone until a sharp edge was created.

Thus both our creative drive and our knowledge are involved in this quintessentially human activity. Man alone leaves traces of what he created. What is this human spirit? Indeed, these can be pithily described by saying that humans retain many childlike characteristics throughout their lives. Each of these structures, he explains, is a more sophisticated solution to this problem: how do you create a covered space out of stone? The lintel and post system used by the Greeks leads to a forest of columns, and the Mezquita, although less crowded, is still filled with arches.

The Medieval Christians achieved a magnificent solution by placing the buttresses on the outside, thus leading to the towering, open interior of Reims. This progression represents better and better understandings of the structural properties of stone, of the force of gravity, and of the distribution of weight. Bronowski wants to talk about how humanity has come to understand space, and how this understanding of space underpins our knowledge of structure.

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How does he do it? He goes to the Alhambra, and analyzes the symmetry in the tiles of the Moorish Palace. Then, he bends down and spreads a bunch of crystals on the ground, and begins to talk about the molecular symmetry that gave rise to them. How many people would think to compare Moorish architecture with modern chemistry?

As the title suggests, this series is not simply about science or art , but about science through history. Bronowski aims to show how humanity, once freed from the constraints of instinct, used a combination of logic and imagination to achieve ever-deeper conceptions of our place in the universe. This is the Ascent of Man: a quest for self knowledge.

Imagine not knowing any of that. This means spreading a understanding and an appreciation of science, as his programs tries to do. This strikes me as terribly important. Science can solve some problems, and can do so very well. And science, as Bronowski points out, is the very opposite of dehumanizing and arrogant. Science is a most human form of knowledge, born of humility of our intellectual powers, based on repeated mistakes and guesses, always pressing forward into the unknown, always revising its opinions based on evidence. Atrocities are committed, not by people who are trained to question their own beliefs, but by ideologues who are convinced they are right.

But like in any good story, the telling is half of it. This not only gives him a knack for similes, but helps him to explain how science is fundamentally creative. As he explains, both the portrait and these readings are interpretations of their subjects. The cinematography is also excellent.

There are some sequences in this documentary that are still impressive, saturated as we are with CGI. There are even some quite psychedelic sections. One of my favorite of these was a sequence of microscopic shots of human cells with Pink Floyd who contributed music jamming chaotically in the background. Yes, there are some parts of this that are outdated.


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Most obviously, much of the scientific information is no longer accurate—particularly the information on human evolution in the first episode. This is unavoidable, and is in fact a tribute to the ideals Bronowski championed. Less controversially, he also has some negative words to say about Hegel. Did you know Hegel published an absurd thesis when he was young about how the distance of the orbits of the planets had to conform to a number series?

This would never fly on television today, at least not in the States. But these flaws are minor in such a tremendous program. The Ascent of Man is a landmark in the history of science education and of documentary making, and a stirring vision of the progress of humanity by an brilliant and sympathetic man. I hope you get a chance to watch it. View all 20 comments. Aug 22, Jason Estrin rated it it was amazing. This book inspired me in a way that I've never been before.

What is explained by the man, is nothing short of crystal clear descriptions of Humankind's physical, scientific, sociological and theological discoveries from the very first roaming tribes to our modern era. It is presented, stripped of the wordy, overly philosophical ramblings and data heavy meanderings found in other books that cover similar subject matter. Concise, endearing, earthy, genius. A must for anybody who needs a Brilliant. A must for anybody who needs a refresher course on general science, anthropology, physics etc. Aug 31, Paul Brogan rated it it was ok Shelves: science. There are two things to remember about this book.

First, it was published in it is surprising how, in the course of only 40 years, our knowledge of our evolutionary history has advanced. Second, it was originally a TV series made by the BBC: the book is arranged into 13 essays, I assume based on the original episodes. The book starts logically enough at our roots in east Africa five million years ago. I think this is mainly because much of what we have learned about the tenuousness of our evolution we have done so quite recently.

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He does make the valid point that our weakness, as well as our strength, lay in the fact that we were not nearly as shaped by our environment as other animals were, honed over time into a perfect fit with those things we ate and those that would eat us. Rather, it is the brain-hand relationship of the human that caused us rather to shape our environment.

While this was an eventual advantage, is was not always so; things like climate change forced us to migrate or face annihilation. It is also interesting how in the main source of our information concerning how both Homo erectus and Homo sapiens migrated across the globe was blood groups. DNA analysis was then still a young science, but blood groups allowed us a very good guess at the process.