Jacob Bronowski - Jacob Bronowski: "Knowledge or...

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Jacob Bronowski: "Knowledge or Certainty" Study Guide The Videotape "Knowledge or Certainty" is an episode in the 1973 BBC series "The Ascent of Man," a history of science from the prehistoric period to modern times. Although it shows its age a bit (smaller particles than that shown have been "photographed" since and the sexist title of the original series would probably be changed to something like "The Ascent of Humanity" today), most of it is still scientifically valid. Jacob Bronowski (born 1908) emigrated with his family from Poland to Germany to England, where he studied mathematics at Cambridge University. During World War II, his work helped to increase the effectiveness of bombing raids. This connection led him to Nagasaki after the war to study the effects of the atomic bombing there, but he came away convinced that scientists needed to pay more attention to the ethics of science, and in particular the danger that their discoveries would be misused. This episode of "The Ascent of Man" concentrates on two catastrophic events of the 20th century for which scientists have often been blamed: the Nazi genocide of the Jews and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, we are viewing this film for a slightly different reason. The defence of science which Bronowski mounts depends on the "uncertainty principle," or "indeterminacy" or--as he prefers--"the principle of tolerance." His insistence that there is no absolute truth, not even in science, descends from the same line of reasoning as Voltaire's insistence on the limits of knowledge. Both argue that the logical result of human limitations should be tolerance. The Science You do not have to understand modern atomic physics to follow his argument, but it helps. He begins the film by focussing a number of devices on the face of an unnamed elderly man to see how much detail each can produce. The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that all perception, including that provided by scientific investigation, is necessarily imperfect, limited. Some aspects of our knowledge of this man which cannot be conveyed by scientific instruments can be conveyed instead by an artist trying to convey the man's spirit or by a blind woman actually touching the man's face. Watch for this man's face to return at the very end of the film in the context of another reference to "touch." It is crucial to understand that he is not saying that there is no such thing as knowledge, or that
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Jacob Bronowski - Jacob Bronowski: "Knowledge or...

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