Introduction 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,TheAscent 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,
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'sobservation that cultural advancement has been
conditional on the democratisation of knowledge (page ?).
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
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
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
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
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
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. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS [The credits
have been relocated to the end of each relevant chapter]
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
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
But the interested spectator is hardly aware yet how
far-reaching the effect is in changing the image of man that
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
(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
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
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
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
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.
ON THE ASCENT OF MAN, 1973. 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.
2. The 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
4. 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. 7. 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.
NOTES ON THE
ONLINE EDITION, 2016. 1.
Bronowski's text is transcribed in the
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 italics.
3. 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
the appropriate, or approximate,
Bronowski double-spaces his paragraphs, these
are indicated by an asterisk, *.
Obviously, these notes are also in ESR.
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 Boldgreen. 7. The
insertion of multiple links into the text (invariably
to wiki.org) 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 Resources dailymotion.com:
The Ascent of Man
Pages and Credits: Pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 17.
THE ASCENT OF MAN
Books by J. Bronowski:
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
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
BRONOWSKI THE ASCENT OF MAN British
THE ASCENT OF MAN
Series Editor: Adrian Malone
Producer: Richard Gilling
Production Team : Mick Jackson David John Kennard David
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