A Sense of the Future: Essays in Natural Philosophy

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MIT Press, 1977 - Philosophy - 286 pages
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Jacob Bronowski truly educated an enormous number of members of that diffuse population usually referred to, with a hint of condescension, as "educated laymen" through his widely shared television series on the concepts of science and through such highly regarded books as The Identity of Man and The Ascent of Man. This volume extends the process to a further level of insight, and it may be more than suggestive that its final essay is entitled "The Fulfillment of Man."

Bronowski was an extraordinary teacher precisely because he did not condescend to his audience. He did not talk down to them; he knew how to talk them up to something near his own level, however briefly. He felt that if human beings are taken seriously, they can be led to respond to serious and difficult subjects that relate to the deepest aspects of nature, both beyond and within themselves.

A Sense of the Future succeeds brilliantly in this respect, in part because it is a collection of essays that can be read independently as self-contained, delimited presentations; and in part because the book is more than the sum of these individual essays—it is a unified whole in which Bronowski's most abiding concerns are interrelated, juxtaposed, and tested for consistency in various intellectual contexts.

The major unifying theme of the work is the intensely creative and human nature of the scientific enterprise—its kinship, at the highest levels of individual achievement, with comparable manifestations of the artistic imagination, and its ethical imperatives, evolved within the community of scientists over the centuries, which both embody and forge the values of civilized life at large.

Still, the book's diversity of topics is as striking as the unity of its aim. Among the subjects within the realm of Bronowski's mind that are presented here are the limitations of formal logic and experimental methods, the epistemology of science, the distinctive nature of human language and the human mind, and the bases of biological and cultural evolution.

Bronowski also contrasts the findings of science as the "here and now" of man's understanding with the ongoing activity of science as the open-ended search for truth, and he undertakes to demonstrate that the factual, individual is and the ethical, societal ought can be derived each from the other.

A mathematician by training, Bronowski published poetry as well as books on literature and intellectual history. In addition to those mentioned above, The Common Sense of Science and Science and Human Values are among the most widely read of his books. Before his death in 1974, he was for many years a Senior Fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, where his formal area of research was concerned with the questions of human specificity and uniqueness. Clearly, his interests ranged far beyond this area, and in many directions.

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About the author (1977)

Born in Poland, Jacob Bronowski moved to England at the age of 12. He received a scholarship to study mathematics at Cambridge University, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1933. At Cambridge, Bronowski edited a literary magazine and wrote verse. He served as lecturer at University College in Hull before joining the government service in 1942. During World War II Bronowski participated in military research. He pioneered developments in operations research, which enhanced the effectiveness of Allied bombing raids. After viewing the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Bronowski refused to continue military research and became involved with the ethical and technological issues related to science. When he wrote a report on the devastating effects of the atomic bomb, the experience became critical to his career as an author. The report was eventually incorporated in his book Science and Human Values (1965). After World War II Bronowski joined the Ministry of Works, assuming several government posts concerned with research in power resources. In 1964 he came to the United States and served as senior fellow (1964-70) and then director (1970-74) of the Council for Biology in Human Affairs at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. He taught and lectured at several American universities, including MIT, Columbia University, and Yale. Until his death, Bronowski remained a resident fellow at the Salk Institute. Bronowski's writing career can be divided into two periods. Prior to World War II, he wrote mathematical papers, poetry, and literary criticism. After the war, Bronowski wrote mainly about scientific values, science as a humanistic enterprise, language, and creativity. In 1973 Bronowski's acclaimed 13-part BBC television series titled The Ascent of Man chronicled attempts to understand and control nature from antiquity to the present. The series called for a democracy of intellect in which "knowledge sits in the homes and heads of people with no ambition to control others, and not up in the isolated seats of power." Neither naive nor utopian, Bronowski remained a consistent optimist and defender of science. In A Sense of the Future (1977), Bronowski states that, as science becomes increasingly preoccupied with relations and arrangement, it too becomes engaged in the search for structure that typifies modern art. He believed that self-knowledge brings together the experience of the arts and the explanations of science.

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