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Mon May 21, 2012, 09:37 PM

An important lesson the world has apparently not yet learned

I recently purchased a copy of the 1974 production of the PBS series The Ascent of Man which is a very personal account of humankind's (not to use the 1970's sexist vernacular) cultural and intellectual advancement. It is one of the best series ever broadcast on PBS hosted by mathematician and humanist Jacob Bronowski. I watched this when it was first broadcast and had never forgotten it.

The eleventh episode covers quantum theory, but Bronowski delves much deeper. Since he speaks as much about culture as he does science, he ends the episode with, in my opinion, one if the best lessons on the confluence of science and philosophy, and is a lesson that this country seemingly, and sadly, has not learned.

I post the ending monologue here with no further comment other than that I think there are lessons we could all learn. Your opinions, of course, are welcome.

There are two parts to the human dilemma: one is the belief that the ends justify the means, that push-button philosophy, that deliberate deafness to suffering that has become the monster in the war machine. The other is the betrayal of the human spirit, the ascertion of dogma that closes the mind and turns a nation into a regiment of ghosts, obedient ghosts, or tortured ghosts.

It's said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That's false -- tragically false!

Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance; it was done by dogma; it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

Science is a very human form of knowledge. We're always at the brink of the known. We always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgement in science stands on the edge of error and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know, although we are fallible.

In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell, I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

I owe it as a scientist to my friend, Leo Szilard; I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died here, to stand here as a survivor and as a witness.

We have to cure ourselves of the itch of absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.


Jacob Bronowski, a mathematician, author, and humanist of some note.

I think that's it. We have to touch people.

Thank you, DU.


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Reply An important lesson the world has apparently not yet learned (Original post)
longship May 2012 OP
RobertEarl May 2012 #1
longship May 2012 #2
RobertEarl May 2012 #3
RobertEarl May 2012 #4
longship May 2012 #5
RobertEarl May 2012 #6
longship May 2012 #7
muriel_volestrangler May 2012 #8
GeorgeGist May 2012 #9

Response to longship (Original post)

Mon May 21, 2012, 10:30 PM

1. Touching, I'm sure

 

Am not sure what it all means. But I could be wrong. (grinning)

Science. Heard once that the word science comes from the idea of signs.
That when we take in signs, it is science or signs-in.

It seems today, that most of society doesn't care to take in the signs other people are showing?

Of course, the signs that most of see from other people are brake lights flashing red on the car in front of us. Which means "don't touch me!" Maybe that's what's wrong?




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Response to RobertEarl (Reply #1)

Mon May 21, 2012, 11:06 PM

2. Please, no rhetorical argument here :-)

Please read the Bronowski quote again and filter it through current politics.

I hate to trigger Godwin here but there are many historic parallels. The US is in big, big trouble. How can any rational person observe the political environment today without drawing parallels with history?

Dare I quote George Satanaya? I would hope people here would know better.

I think Bronowski's words here are prescient. If you don't get it, or you think the quote was just about science, I don't know what else to say.

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Response to longship (Reply #2)

Mon May 21, 2012, 11:19 PM

3. I get it, i think

 

Take my most pressing issue: Nuclear Power

It is a great source of electricity that each one of us enjoys.

But it is also a source of great destruction.

One the one hand each of us in our own individual use of the power is enriched, but on the other it could mean the end of life as we know it in a matter of days via man's losing control of the operation.

It is anti-human at it's worst use.

But we as a society carry on as if it is no-thing to be concerned about.

Nuclear power is the greatest example of how we are ultimately treating the world around us, but there are many lesser examples which we also deny and deny and deny.

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Response to RobertEarl (Reply #3)

Tue May 22, 2012, 12:07 AM

4. Or take global warming

 

I realize some think they know it all when it comes to nukes and so they don't want to hear anything different. So let us look at AGW.

AGW is a product of us taking all we can without regard for the consequences. And the consequences will be great suffering.

Sure, we are enriched and made comfortable via the operations that make AGW happen, but in the end it will cause many humans to suffer.

Talk about touching people! We are reaching into the future and really touching people's lives!

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Response to RobertEarl (Reply #3)

Tue May 22, 2012, 12:09 AM

5. This post was not about nuke power.

But about governments who claim absolute knowledge. I thought that the Bronowski quote painted that picture in words that anybody could understand. He uses science and politics as a metaphor. He's a passionate humanist, as am I. I thought people here would see things through the historic lens that Bronowski lays down.

Apparently, I was wrong. No wonder we're in so much trouble.

Thanks for responding.

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Response to longship (Reply #5)

Tue May 22, 2012, 12:23 AM

6. Right

 

Government, run by companies who are profiting from the stuff that makes AGW possible, have decreed that they have the absolute knowledge and we should all just stfu and let them do their thing.

Just like Hitler's cronies and Hirohito's and all the other despots throughout history told their citizens.

Anyone proposing they are humanist and who can't see the possible damage to humans from AGW is sorely mistaken.

If government followed Bronowski's advice it would have worked to avert AGW many years ago. It didn't then and it doesn't now.

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Response to RobertEarl (Reply #6)

Tue May 22, 2012, 12:38 AM

7. Which was precisely why I posted this thread

I don't post many OP's here for that very reason. At least you got the thrust. Apparently few did.

That makes me sad. People here are more worried about stuff, which if they don't vote for Obama in November, won't make a fucking difference. If the Republicans get back in power, drones and police actions against demonstrations will be the least of our problems, to say nothing about nuclear power issues.

The big picture was what I was attempting to paint. Maybe I should have posted a thread about a dead, washed-up disco star instead, or maybe about who's winning American Idol this week.

It's sad, really sad.

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Response to longship (Original post)

Tue May 22, 2012, 08:25 AM

8. Here it is on YouTube



Bronowski himself worked, as a mathematician, on bombing strategies in World War Two. His daughter, Lisa Jardine, a historian and broadcaster, made a documentary about finding his diaries about the work: http://www.theartsdesk.com/tv/my-father-bomb-and-me-bbc-four

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Response to longship (Original post)

Tue May 22, 2012, 11:19 PM

9. I think it is possible you are mistaken.

The phrase
'We have to touch people'
is vapid without qualification or context.

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