MAGIC, SCIENCE, AND CIVILIZATION by Jacob Bronowski

MAGIC, SCIENCE, AND CIVILIZATION

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KIRKUS REVIEW

More posthumous Bronowski, in the form of four lectures delivered as Number 20 in the celebrated Bampton series. Bronowski deals with pet themes here--the nature of science, values, truth--painting them in broader, bolder strokes than in the Silliman lectures recently published by Yale (p. 143). While the Silliman lectures dealt with specific mathematical proofs and linguistic analogies which pointed to the finite and incomplete nature of scientific knowledge of the natural world, Bronowski dwells in the Bampton lectures on the distinction between science and magic. For him, human culture took a decisive and irreversible turn around 1500 when a growing body of thought established the scientific attitude as a way of arriving at a unified world view. Science is, among other things, ""the expression in a very precise form of the species-specific human behavior which centers on making plans."" It is distinguished from magic because magic sets up dichotomies--mind-body, man-against-nature--and involves a power struggle in which an elect or initiated group seeks to dominate or control nature against its will, so to speak. This is a radical stance. Bronowski disagrees with eminent historians of science who see the roots of chemistry in alchemy, for example, or astronomy in astrology. Moreover, implicit in his vision of science as human planning is a code of ethics, a test of truth. One cannot plan without hindsight, judgment. It is a heroic vision of the world the reader finds here. Bronowski absolutely exulted in the pursuit of truth as he found it in science. And even those who quibble with his theories may find it hard not to ride with him on the crest of that exuberance.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1978
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press