Jacob Bronowski

Jacob Bronowski

Overview
Jacob Bronowski was a Polish-Jewish
History of the Jews in Poland
The history of the Jews in Poland dates back over a millennium. For centuries, Poland was home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world. Poland was the centre of Jewish culture thanks to a long period of statutory religious tolerance and social autonomy. This ended with the...

 British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 mathematician
Mathematician
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....

, biologist
Biologist
A biologist is a scientist devoted to and producing results in biology through the study of life. Typically biologists study organisms and their relationship to their environment. Biologists involved in basic research attempt to discover underlying mechanisms that govern how organisms work...

, historian of science, theatre author, poet and inventor. He is best remembered as the presenter and writer of the 1973 BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 television
Television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

 documentary
Documentary film
Documentary films constitute a broad category of nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record...

 series, The Ascent of Man
The Ascent of Man
The Ascent of Man is a thirteen-part documentary television series produced by the BBC and Time-Life Films first transmitted in 1973, written and presented by Jacob Bronowski...

, and the accompanying book.

Jacob Bronowski was born in Łódź, Congress Poland
Congress Poland
The Kingdom of Poland , informally known as Congress Poland , created in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna, was a personal union of the Russian parcel of Poland with the Russian Empire...

, Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, in 1908. His family moved to Germany during the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, and then to England in 1920. Although, according to Bronowski, he knew only two English words on arriving in Great Britain, he gained admission to the Central Foundation Boys' School in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 and went on to study at the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

.

As a mathematics student at Jesus College, Cambridge
Jesus College, Cambridge
Jesus College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.The College was founded in 1496 on the site of a Benedictine nunnery by John Alcock, then Bishop of Ely...

, Bronowski co-edited—with William Empson
William Empson
Sir William Empson was an English literary critic and poet.He was known as "燕卜荪" in Chinese.He was widely influential for his practice of closely reading literary works, fundamental to the New Critics...

—the literary periodical Experiment, which first appeared in 1928.
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Quotations

These are the moments when the powerful mind or the forceful character feels the ferment of the times, when his thoughts quicken, and when he can inject into the uncertainties of others the creative ideas which will strengthen them with purpose. At such a moment the man who can direct others, in thought or in action, can remake the world.

The Common Sense of Science (1951), on the influence of Isaac Newton.

The discoveries of science, the works of art are explorations — more, are explosions, of a hidden likeness. The discoverer or the artist presents in them two aspects of nature and fuses them into one. This is the act of creation, in which an original thought is born, and it is the same act in original science and original art.

Part 1: "The Creative Mind", §9 (p. 19)

Science, like art, is not a copy of nature but a re-creation of her.

Part 1: "The Creative Mind", §9 (p. 20)

The symbol and the metaphor are as necessary to science as to poetry.

Part 2: "The Habit of Truth", §6 (p. 36)

No fact in the world is instant, infinitesimal and ultimate, a single mark. There are, I hold, no atomic facts. In the language of science, every fact is a field—a crisscross of implications, those that lead to it and those that lead from it. [...] We condense the laws around concepts. Science takes its coherence, its intellectual and imaginative strength together, from the concepts at which its laws cross, like knots in a mesh.

Part 3: "The Sense of Human Dignity", §1 (p. 52)

There is a social injunction implied in the positivist and analyst methods. This social axiom is that        We OUGHT to act in such a way that what IS true can be verified to be so.

Part 3: "The Sense of Human Dignity", §3 (p. 58) [emphasis in original]
Encyclopedia
Jacob Bronowski was a Polish-Jewish
History of the Jews in Poland
The history of the Jews in Poland dates back over a millennium. For centuries, Poland was home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world. Poland was the centre of Jewish culture thanks to a long period of statutory religious tolerance and social autonomy. This ended with the...

 British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 mathematician
Mathematician
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....

, biologist
Biologist
A biologist is a scientist devoted to and producing results in biology through the study of life. Typically biologists study organisms and their relationship to their environment. Biologists involved in basic research attempt to discover underlying mechanisms that govern how organisms work...

, historian of science, theatre author, poet and inventor. He is best remembered as the presenter and writer of the 1973 BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 television
Television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

 documentary
Documentary film
Documentary films constitute a broad category of nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record...

 series, The Ascent of Man
The Ascent of Man
The Ascent of Man is a thirteen-part documentary television series produced by the BBC and Time-Life Films first transmitted in 1973, written and presented by Jacob Bronowski...

, and the accompanying book.

Life and work


Jacob Bronowski was born in Łódź, Congress Poland
Congress Poland
The Kingdom of Poland , informally known as Congress Poland , created in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna, was a personal union of the Russian parcel of Poland with the Russian Empire...

, Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, in 1908. His family moved to Germany during the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, and then to England in 1920. Although, according to Bronowski, he knew only two English words on arriving in Great Britain, he gained admission to the Central Foundation Boys' School in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 and went on to study at the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

.

As a mathematics student at Jesus College, Cambridge
Jesus College, Cambridge
Jesus College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.The College was founded in 1496 on the site of a Benedictine nunnery by John Alcock, then Bishop of Ely...

, Bronowski co-edited—with William Empson
William Empson
Sir William Empson was an English literary critic and poet.He was known as "燕卜荪" in Chinese.He was widely influential for his practice of closely reading literary works, fundamental to the New Critics...

—the literary periodical Experiment, which first appeared in 1928. Bronowski would pursue this sort of dual activity, in both the mathematical and literary worlds, throughout his professional life. He was also a strong chess player, earning a half-blue while at Cambridge and composing numerous chess problems for the British Chess Magazine
British Chess Magazine
British Chess Magazine is the world's oldest chess magazine in continuous publication. First published in January 1881, it has appeared at monthly intervals ever since. It is frequently known in the chess world as BCM....

 between 1926 and 1970. He received a Ph.D. in mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 in 1935, writing a dissertation in algebraic geometry
Algebraic geometry
Algebraic geometry is a branch of mathematics which combines techniques of abstract algebra, especially commutative algebra, with the language and the problems of geometry. It occupies a central place in modern mathematics and has multiple conceptual connections with such diverse fields as complex...

. For a time in the 1930s he lived near Laura Riding
Laura Riding
Laura Jackson was an American poet, critic, novelist, essayist and short story writer.- Early life :...

 and Robert Graves
Robert Graves
Robert von Ranke Graves 24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985 was an English poet, translator and novelist. During his long life he produced more than 140 works...

 in Majorca. From 1934 to 1942 he taught mathematics at the University College of Hull
University of Hull
The University of Hull, known informally as Hull University, is an English university, founded in 1927, located in Hull, a city in the East Riding of Yorkshire...

. Beginning in this period, the British secret service MI5
MI5
The Security Service, commonly known as MI5 , is the United Kingdom's internal counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its core intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service focused on foreign threats, Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence...

 kept Bronowski under surveillance believing he was a security risk, which is thought to have restricted his access to senior posts in the UK.

During the Second World War Bronowski worked in operations research
Operations research
Operations research is an interdisciplinary mathematical science that focuses on the effective use of technology by organizations...

 for the UK's Department of Home Security, where he developed mathematical approaches to bombing strategy for RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s stood at the peak of its postwar military power with the V bombers and a supplemental...

. At the end of the war, Bronowski was part of a British team which visited Japan to document the effects of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

. Subsequently, he became Director of Research for the National Coal Board
National Coal Board
The National Coal Board was the statutory corporation created to run the nationalised coal mining industry in the United Kingdom. Set up under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946, it took over the mines on "vesting day", 1 January 1947...

 in the UK, but following his experiences of the after-effects of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings, he turned to biology
Biology
Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Biology is a vast subject containing many subdivisions, topics, and disciplines...

, as did his friend Leó Szilárd
Leó Szilárd
Leó Szilárd was an Austro-Hungarian physicist and inventor who conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, patented the idea of a nuclear reactor with Enrico Fermi, and in late 1939 wrote the letter for Albert Einstein's signature that resulted in the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb...

 and many other physicists of that time, to better understand the nature of violence. Bronowski was an associate director of the Salk Institute from 1964.

In 1950, Bronowski was given the Taung child's
Taung Child
The Taung Child — or Taung Baby — is the fossilized skull of a young Australopithecus africanus individual. It was discovered in 1924 by quarrymen working for the Northern Lime Company in Taung, South Africa...

 fossilized skull and asked to try, using his statistical skills, to combine a measure of the size of the skull's teeth with their shape in order to discriminate them from the teeth of apes. Work on this turned his interests towards the human biology of humanity's intellectual products.

In 1967 Bronowski delivered the six Silliman Memorial Lectures
Silliman Memorial Lectures
The Silliman Memorial lecture series was established in 1888 in memory of Mrs. Hepsa Ely Silliman, the wife of Gold S. Silliman, the mother of Benjamin Silliman, one of the first professors of science at Yale University and the first person to fractionate petroleum...

 at Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

 and chose as his subject the role of imagination and symbolic language in the progress of scientific knowledge. Transcripts of the lectures were published posthumously in 1978 as The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination and remain in print.

He first became familiar to the British public through appearances on the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 television version of The Brains Trust
The Brains Trust
The Brains Trust was a popular informational BBC radio and later television programme in the United Kingdom during the 1940s and 50s.- History :...

in the late 1950s. His ability to answer questions on many varied subjects led to an offhand reference in an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus
Monty Python's Flying Circus
Monty Python’s Flying Circus is a BBC TV sketch comedy series. The shows were composed of surreality, risqué or innuendo-laden humour, sight gags and observational sketches without punchlines...

where one character states that "He knows everything." However Bronowski is best remembered for his thirteen part series The Ascent of Man
The Ascent of Man
The Ascent of Man is a thirteen-part documentary television series produced by the BBC and Time-Life Films first transmitted in 1973, written and presented by Jacob Bronowski...

(1973), a documentary about the history of human beings through scientific endeavour. This project was intended to parallel art historian Kenneth Clark
Kenneth Clark
Kenneth McKenzie Clark, Baron Clark, OM, CH, KCB, FBA was a British author, museum director, broadcaster, and one of the best-known art historians of his generation...

's earlier "personal view" series Civilisation (1969) which had covered cultural history.

During the making of The Ascent of Man, Bronowski was interviewed by the popular British chat show host Michael Parkinson
Michael Parkinson
Sir Michael Parkinson, CBE is an English broadcaster, journalist and author. He presented his interview programme, Parkinson, from 1971 to 1982 and from 1998 to 2007.- Early life :...

. Parkinson later recounted that Bronowski's description of a visit to Auschwitz—Bronowski had lost many family members during the Nazi era—was one of Parkinson's most memorable interviews.

Jacob Bronowski married Rita Coblentz in 1941. The couple had four children, all daughters, the eldest being the British academic Lisa Jardine
Lisa Jardine
Lisa Anne Jardine CBE , née Lisa Anne Bronowski, is a British historian of the early modern period. She is professor of Renaissance Studies and Director of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters at Queen Mary, University of London, and is Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority...

 and another being the filmmaker Judith Bronowski. He died in 1974 of a heart attack in East Hampton
East Hampton (town), New York
The Town of East Hampton is located in southeastern Suffolk County, New York, at the eastern end of the South Shore of Long Island. It is the easternmost town in the state of New York...

, New York a year after The Ascent of Man was completed, and was buried in the western side of London's Highgate Cemetery
Highgate Cemetery
Highgate Cemetery is a cemetery located in north London, England. It is designated Grade I on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England. It is divided into two parts, named the East and West cemetery....

, near the entrance.

Books


  • The Poet's Defence (1939)
  • William Blake: A Man Without a Mask (1943)
  • The Common Sense of Science (1951)
  • The Face of Violence (1954)
  • William Blake: The Penguin Poets Series (1958)
  • The Western Intellectual Tradition, From Leonardo to Hegel (1960) - with Bruce Mazlish
  • Biography of an Atom (1963) - with Millicent Selsam
  • Insight (1964)
  • Nature and Knowledge: The Philosophy of Contemporary Science (1969)
  • William Blake and the Age of Revolution (1972)
  • The Ascent of Man (1974)
  • A Sense of the Future (1977)
  • Magic, Science & Civilization (1978)
  • The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination (1978)
  • The Visionary Eye: Essays in the Arts, Literature and Science (1979) - edited by Piero Ariotti and Rita Bronowski.

External links


Has biography, pictures, and obituary.