Jacob Bronowski:
The Ascent of Man, 1973

Jacob Bronowski was a Polish-Jewish-British, sometimes American, mathematician, biologist, historian of science, theatre author, poet, inventor, humanitarian, parent, lover. and a philosopher.
A work of remarkable scope and insight, The Ascent of Man was published in 1973 and first televised in 1974; in itself demonstrating the central thesis: that man does both art and science.
Bronowski's aim, to create a philosophy for the twentieth century, is prodigious, some could say outrageous- an alternative to all the established religions and philosophies.
This online edition of the Ascent of Man (2016) has been produced in respect of Jacob Bronowski's observation that cultural advancement has been conditional on the democratisation of knowledge (page ?).

Also see Notes and Notes on the Online Edition, 2016.

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Chapter 1 Lower than the Angels

Animal adaptation - The human alternative - Beginning in Africa - Fossil evidence - The gift of foresight - Evolution of the head - The mosaic of man - The cultures of the hunter - Across the ice ages - Transhumance cultures: the Lapps - Imagination in cave art.

Chapter 2 The Harvest of the Seasons

The pace of cultural evolution - Nomad cultures: the Bakhtiari - Beginnings of agriculture : wheat - Jericho - Earthquake country - Technology in the village - The wheel - Domestication of animals: the horse - War games: Buz Kashi - Settled civilisation.

Chapter 3 The Grain in the Stone                                                         
Coming to the New World - Blood group evidence of migrations - The actions of shaping and splitting - Structure and hierarchy - The city: Machu Picchu - Straight-edge architecture: Paestum - The Roman arch: Segovia - The Gothic adventure: Rheims - Science as architecture -The hidden figure: Michelangelo to Moore - Pleasure in construction - Below the visible.

Chapter 4 The Hidden Structure
Fire, the transforming element - Extraction of metals: copper - The structure of alloys - Bronze as a work of art - Iron to steel: the Japanese sword- Gold.—The incorruptible - Alchemical theory of man and nature - Paracelsus and the coming of chemistry - Fire and air: Joseph Priestley -Antoine Lavoisier: combination can be quantified - John Dalton's atomic theory.

Chapter 5 The Music of the Spheres
The language of numbers - The key to harmony: Pythagoras - The right-angled triangle - Euclid and Ptolemy at Alexandria - Rise of Islam - Arabic numbers - The Alhambra: patterns of space - Crystal symmetries - Perspective from Alhazen - Movement in time, the new dynamic -The mathematics of change.

Chapter 6 The Starry Messenger
The cycle of seasons - The unmapped sky: Easter Island - Ptolemy's system in the Dondi Clock -Copernicus: the sun as centre -r The telescope - Galileo opens the scientific method - Prohibition of the Copernican system - Dialogue on the two systems - The Inquisition - Galileo recants - The Scientific Revolution moves north.

Chapter 7 The Majestic Clockwork                                                
Kepler's laws - The centre of the world - Isaac Newton's innovations: fluxions - Unfolding the spectrum - Gravitation and the Principia - The intellectual dictator - Challenge in satire -Newton's absolute space - Absolute time - Albert Einstein - The traveller carries his own space and time - Relativity is proved - The new philosophy.









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Chapter 8 The Drive for Power
The English revolution - Everyday technology: James Brindley - The revolt against privilege: Figaro - Benjamin Franklin and the American revolution - The new men: masters of iron - The new outlook: Wedqwood and the Lunar society — The driving factory — The new preoccupation : energy - The cornucopia of invention — The unity of nature.

Chapter 9 The Ladder of Creation

The naturalists - Charles Darwin - Alfred Wallace - Impact of South America - The wealth of species - Wallace loses his collection - Natural selection conceived - The continuity of evolution -Louis Pasteur: right hand, left hand - Chemical constants in evolution - The origin of life - The four bases - Are other forms of life possible?

Chapter 10 World Within World
The cube of salt - Its elements - Mendeleev's game of patience - The periodic table - J. J. Thomson: the atom has parts - Structure in new art - Structure in the atom: Rutherford and Niels Bohr - The life cycle of a theory - The nucleus has parts - The neutron: Chadwick and Fermi - Evolution of the elements - The second law as statistics - Stratified stability - Copying the physics of nature - Ludwig Boltzmann: atoms are real.

Chapter 11 Knowledge or Certainty                                                  
There is no absolute knowledge - The spectrum of invisible radiations - The refinement of detail-Gauss and the idea of uncertainty - The sub-structure of reality: Max Born - Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty - The principle of tolerance: Leo Szilard - Science is human.

Chapter 12 Generation upon Generation
The voice of insurrection - The kitchen garden naturalist: Gregor Mendel - Genetics of the pea -Instant oblivion - An all-or-nothing model of inheritance - The magic number two: sex - Crick and Watson's model of DNA - Replication and growth - Cloning of identical forms - Sexual choice in human diversity.

Chapter 13 The Long Childhood
Man, the social solitary — Human specificity - Specific development of the brain - Precision of the hand — The speech areas - The postponement of decision - The mind as an instrument of preparation — The democracy of the intellect - The moral imagination - The brain and the computer: John von Neumann - The strategy of values - Knowledge is our destiny - The commitment of man.







Page 7 - Page 12.

[The credits have been relocated to the end of each relevant chapter]

Page 13


The first outline of The Ascent of Man was written in July 1969 and the last foot of film was shot in December 1972.
An undertaking as large as this, though wonderfully exhilarating, is not entered lightly.
It demands an unflagging intellectual and physical vigour, a total immersion, which I had to be sure that I could sustain with pleasure; for instance, I had to put off researches that I had already begun; and I ought to explain what moved me to do so.

There has been a deep change in the temper of science in the last twenty years: the focus of attention has shifted from the physical to the life sciences.
As a result, science is drawn more and more to the study of individuality.
But the interested spectator is hardly aware yet how far-reaching the effect is in changing the image of man that science moulds.
As a mathe­matician trained in physics, I too would have been unaware, had not a series of lucky chances taken me into the life sciences in middle age.
I owe a debt for the good fortune that carried me into two seminal fields of science in one lifetime; and though I do not know to whom the debt is due, I conceived The Ascent of Man in gratitude to repay it.

The invitation to me from the British Broadcasting Corpora­tion was to present the development of science in a series of television programmes to match those of Lord Clark on Civilisation.
Television is an admirable medium for exposition in several ways: powerful and immediate to the eye, able to take the spectator bodily into the places and processes that are described, and conversational enough to make him conscious that what he witnesses are not events but the actions of people.
The last of these merits is to my mind the most cogent, and it weighed most with me in agreeing to cast a personal biography of ideas in the form of television essays.
The point is that knowledge in general and science in particular does not consist of abstract but of man-made ideas, all the way from its beginnings to its modern and idiosyncratic models.
Therefore the underlying concepts that unlock nature must be shown to arise early and in the simplest cultures of man from his basic and specific faculties.
And the (page 14) development of science which joins them in more and more complex conjunctions must be seen to be equally human: dis­coveries are made by men, not merely by minds, so that they are alive and charged with individuality.
If television is not used to make these thoughts concrete, it is wasted.

The unravelling of ideas is, in any case, an intimate and per­sonal endeavour, and here we come to the common ground between television and the printed book.
Unlike a lecture or a cinema show, television is not directed to crowds.
It is addressed to two or three people in a room, as a conversation face to face - a one-sided conversation for the most part, as the book is, but homely and Socratic nevertheless.
To me, absorbed in the philo­sophic undercurrents of knowledge, this is the most attractive gift of television, by which it may yet become as persuasive an intellectual force as the book.

The printed book has one added freedom beyond this: it is not remorselessly bound to the forward direction of time, as any spoken discourse is.
The reader can do what the viewer and the listener cannot, which is to pause and reflect, turn the pages back and the argument over, compare one fact with another and, in general, appreciate the detail of evidence without being dis­tracted by it.
I have taken advantage of this more leisurely march of mind whenever I could, in putting on paper now what was first said on the television screen.
What was said had required a great volume of research, which turned up many unexpected links and oddities, and it would have been sad not to capture some of that richness in this book.
Indeed, I should have liked to do more, and to interleave the text in detail with the source material and quotations on which it rests.
But that would have turned the book into a work for students instead of the general reader.

In rendering the text used on the screen, I have followed the spoken word closely, for two reasons.
First, I wanted to preserve the spontaneity of thought in speech, which I had done all I could to foster wherever I went.
(For the same reason, I had chosen whenever possible to go to places that were as fresh to me as to the viewer.)
Second and more important, I wanted equally to guard the spontaneity of the argument.
A spoken argument is (page 15) informal and heuristic; it singles out the heart of the matter and shows in what way it is crucial and new; and it gives the direc­tion and line of the solution so that, simplified as it is, still the logic is right.
For me, this philosophic form of argument is the foundation of science, and nothing should be allowed to obscure it.

The content of these essays is in fact wider than the field of science, and I should not have called them The Ascent of Man had I not had in mind other steps in our cultural evolution too.
My ambition here has been the same as in my other books, whether in literature or in science: to create a philosophy for the twentieth century which shall be all of one piece.
Like them, this series presents a philosophy rather than a history, and a philosophy of nature rather than of science.
Its subject is a contemporary version of what used to be called Natural Philosophy.
In my view, we are in a better frame of mind today to conceive a natural philosophy than at any time in the last three hundred years.
This is because the recent findings in human biology have given a new direction to scientific thought, a shift from the general to the individual, for the first time since the Renaissance opened the door into the natural world.

There cannot be a philosophy, there cannot even be a decent science, without humanity.
I hope that sense of affirmation is manifest in this book.
For me, the understanding of nature has as its goal the understanding of human nature, and of the human condition within nature.

To present a view of nature on the scale of this series is as much an experiment as an adventure, and I am grateful to those who made both possible.
My first debt is to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies which has long supported my work on the subject of human specificity, and which gave me a year of sabbatical leave to film the programmes.
I am greatly indebted also to the British Broadcasting Corporation and its associates, and very particuarly (sic) there to Aubrey Singer who invented the massive theme and urged it on me for two years before I was persuaded.

The list of those who helped to make the programmes is so long that I must put it on a page of its own, and thank them in a (page 16) body; it was a pleasure to work with them.
However, I cannot pass over the names of the producers that stand at the head of the list, and particularly Adrian Malone and Dick Gilling, whose imaginative ideas transubstantiated the word into flesh and blood.

Two people worked with me on this book, Josephine Glad­stone and Sylvia Fitzgerald, and did much more; I am happy to be able to thank them here for their long task.
Josephine Gladstone had charge of all the research for the series since 1969, and Sylvia Fitzgerald helped me plan and prepare the script at each successive stage.
I could not have had more stimulating colleagues.

J. B.
La Jolla, California August 1973
                                                                                                                               Page 17

Chapter 1: Lower than the Angels

1. The work is a expertly developed and expounded philosophical treatise, and its usual cataloguing as a science documentary does not sufficiently reflect its status.
book (or script) was published in 1973, meant to coincide with broadcast of the 13 part series on BBC television, which did not air until 1974.
Bronowski compares and contrasts the limitations and possibilities of the two mediums in the Foreward.
3.The book is virtually a transcript of the television episodes, diverging where the lack of images might make Bronowski's meaning unclear, notably in Chapter 11: Knowledge or Certainty.
The title alludes to The Descent of Man (1871),
Charles Darwin's second book on evolution, following On the Origins of Species published in 1859.
5. The series was commissioned for the BBC by David Attenborough 1969, following the broadcast of Kenneth Clark's series Civilisation.
Whereas Clarke's "personal view" could be said to be elitist and art-centred, Bronowski is egalitarian and inclusive, insisting that man does both art and science and that cultural advancement has been conditional on the democratisation of knowledge.
6. For Bronowski, as a scientist, the word man is strictly not gender specific.
For the initial broadcast, each segment had an epilogue by a very young Anthony Hopkins, who once was a student of Dr. Bronowski's.
8. The series featured extremely advanced computer graphics for 1973, largely re-filmed from computer monitors,
9. The soundtrack  includes Voyage  by The Moody Blues

1. Bronowski's text is transcribed in the original  Times New Roman Bold
black, all the additional notes and comments are in Arial green.
3. The image captions and the quotations, printed in a smaller font in the book, are transcribed in the same size as the text, the quotations now in
The text has been reformatted for easy screen reading (ESR), where each sentence takes a new line and each paragraph is separated by a blank line.

Where the the change in the page number appears mid-sentence, this is indicated in brackets, for example:

And the (page 14) development of science
The chapter summary headings have been reproduced and at included in the text
with links at the appropriate, or approximate, place. 
Occasionally, Bronowski double-spaces his paragraphs, these are indicated by an asterisk, *.
Obviously, these notes are also in ESR.

4. No attempt has been made to reproduce the book's design; the images have been extensively reformatted and their relationship to the text has often been adjusted.
5. All the images are at low resolution, compressed, often severely cropped, and at the minimal size to effectively illustrate the text.
6. Some images have been replaced, where possible with colour reproductions, with any additional notes added to the List of Illustrations for each chapter, and in Times New Roman Bold green.
7. The insertion of multiple links into the text (invariably to has been resisted, and these are to be located in the footnotes for each chapter.

Some Comments
1. Bronowski appears to is an endorse atheism; we may not know the answer, but we know it can never be It was the will God.

Online Res
ources The Ascent of Man
1. Lower than the Angels 2. Harvest of the Seasons
Jacob Bronowski.
Civilisation Kenneth Clark
The Descent of Man
Charles Darwin.
On the Origin of Species Alfred Russel Wallace
David Attenborough

Internet Movie Base: The Ascent of Man

British Film Institute Screen Online: The Ascent of Man

Encyclopedia of Television: The Ascent of Man

Guardian Review:
Richard Dawkins Edition, 2011

Top Documentary Films: The Ascent of Man

John Lienhard: Clarke and Bronowski, University of Houston, 2003.

Title, Verso Pages and Credits: Pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 17.
Page 1

THE ASCENT OF MAN           
Page 2

Other Books by J. Bronowski:
The Poet's Defence 1939 & 1966
William Blake and The Age of Revolution 1944 & 1965
The Common Sense of Science 1951
The Face of Violence 1954 & 1967
Science and Human Values 1958

with The Abacus and The Rose
: A New Dialogue on Two World Systems 1965
Selections from William Blake 1958
The Western Intellectual Tradition (with Prof. Bruce Mazlish) 1960
Insight 1964
The Identity of Man 1965 & 1972
Nature and Knowledge: The Philosophy of Contemporary Science 1969
Page 3
British Broadcasting Corporation   
Page 4

Published by the British Broadcasting Corporation,
35 Marylebone High Street, London W 1 M 4 AA
Published in Australia by Angus & Robertson (Publishers) Pty Ltd
Published in the United States of America by Little, Brown and Company
ISBN 0 563 104988
First published 1973
Reprinted 1974 (three times), 1975 (twice), 1976 © Science Horizons Inc. 1973
Printed in England by Sir Joseph Causton & Sons Ltd, London and Eastleigh

Page 17

Series Editor: Adrian Malone
Producer: Richard Gilling
Production Team : Mick Jackson David John Kennard David Paterson
Production Assistants: Jane Callander Betty Jowitt Lucy Castley Philippa Copp
Photography: Nat Crosby John Else John McGlashan
Sound: Dave Brinicombe Mike Billing John Tellick Patrick Jeffery John Gatland Peter Rann
Film Editors: Roy Fry Paul Carter Jim Latham John Campbell

Chapter 1: Lower than the Angels

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Geoff Cater (2016) : Jacob Bronowski : The Ascent of Man, 1973.