The Ascent of Man

The Ascent of Man

“The Ascent of Man” is a book and a documentary series by Jacob Bronowski about the history of technology and science. Through the understanding of the science the author tried to track the evolution of human society. For that time the series and the book were stunning and groundbreaking. The author showed the history of mankind from the proto-ape to our days. He considered the science as the main locomotive force in the humankind development.

The title

The title of Bronowski’s book refers to the Descent of Man by Charles Darwin; however, it is more pathetic. Bronowski considered the development of the science as the move up and forward and thought that the man ascends by the stages of scientific discoveries. He wrote that the discoveries were the act of creative activity; that is why the science and the art were two sides of the same coin. This explained the importance of scientific development for the history of the western civilization.

Comparing the books of Bronowski and Connor, the reader can find many common ideas. Thus, both authors praise the science and claim about its importance for mankind. However, Bronowski provides the short descriptions of the canonical figures in the history of the science, for example, Galileo and Pythagoras. Connor avoids such descriptions, making the ascent on the inventions of the unknown authors. Bronowski compares the science and the art, considering both as the acts of creative activity. Connor pays much attention to the economic side of the inventions, claiming that the everyday economic activity of common people gave birth for the most of important inventions. Bronowski’s attitude to the science allows supposition that the most intelligent men are the intellectual elite of human society. Connor demonstrates the democratic approach to the intelligence and tells that the science always was “collective endeavor”. At least, Bronowski thinks that Industrial age and contemporary inventions are the most important and progressive for the mankind. Connor claims the ancient invention - like the numerological system – are the most important because they are the basis.

The first episode

The first episode "Lower than the Angels "refers to Bible. The author analyses the origin of the mankind and tries to connect the evolution theory and Genesis. Thus, he makes an attempt to calculate the location of Eden garden. Besides, this name is also pathetic; it reflects the author’s attitude to the humankind. Though he speaks about the evolution from the Australopithecus to Homo Sapience, in this way he compares humanity with angels, not with animals.

This episode starts with the picture of grunion run – the unique fish spawn on a beach in Southern California. The author speaks about the numerous adaptations among the living creatures on the earth – and goes from fishes to Homo sapiens.

Probably the idea that the existence of Eden garden doesn’t contradict the evolutionary theory (though that garden could something different from the Bible description) was the most unusual in this episode for me.

The author’s approach

Sure, the Bronowski's approach to the history of mankind is rather narrow. Speaking about the history of mankind he concentrates on the scientific and biological evolution. He almost ignores the economic development, the social changes and many other important factors. It isn’t the old-fashioned manner of speaking; it is author’s deep belief in the supremacy of the science.

The difference between the empirical and theoretical approaches to science is that the first approach is based on the information received and found out, and the second – on the information that is set.

Reference Books:

1) Jacob Bronowski: The Ascent of Man, Little Brown & Company, 1976. ISBN: 0316109339
2) Clifford D. Conner: A People's History of Science, Nation Books, 2005. ISBN: 1-56025-748-2

The Ascent of Man 8.4 of 10 on the basis of 1230 Review.