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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index B > Jacob Bronowski Quotes

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Jacob Bronowski
(18 Jan 1908 - 22 Aug 1974)

Polish-British mathematician and science writer.


Science Quotes by Jacob Bronowski (15 quotes)

Among the multitude of animals which scamper, fly, burrow and swim around us, man is the only one who is not locked into his environment. His imagination, his reason, his emotional subtlety and toughness, make it possible for him not to accept the environment, but to change it. And that series of inventions, by which man from age to age has remade his environment, is a different kind of evolution—not biological, but cultural evolution. I call that brilliant sequence of cultural peaks The Ascent of Man. I use the word ascent with a precise meaning. Man is distinguished from other animals by his imaginative gifts. He makes plans, inventions, new discoveries, by putting different talents together; and his discoveries become more subtle and penetrating, as he learns to combine his talents in more complex and intimate ways. So the great discoveries of different ages and different cultures, in technique, in science, in the arts, express in their progression a richer and more intricate conjunction of human faculties, an ascending trellis of his gifts.
— Jacob Bronowski
The Ascent of Man (1973), 19-20.
Science quotes on:  |  Ascent Of Man (6)  |  Evolution (332)  |  Imagination (125)

Dissent is the mark of freedom.
— Jacob Bronowski
Science and Human Values (New York: Harper & Row, 1965)
Science quotes on:  |  Dissent (4)

Fifty years from now if an understanding of man's origins, his evolution, his history, his progress is not in the common place of the school books we shall not exist.
— Jacob Bronowski
The Long Childhood episode, The Ascent of Man, TV series
Science quotes on:  |  Ascent Of Man (6)  |  Evolution (332)  |  Progress (198)

I grew up to be indifferent to the distinction between literature and science, which in my teens were simply two languages for experience that I learned together.
— Jacob Bronowski
quoted in World Authors 1950 - 1970, by J. Wakeman (New York: H.W. Wilson, 1975) pp. 221-23
Science quotes on:  |  Experience (128)  |  Literature (32)  |  Science (850)

It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.
— Jacob Bronowski
The Ascent of Man (1973), 360.
Science quotes on:  |  Importance (98)  |  Knowledge (662)  |  Question (152)  |  Student (50)  |  Study (149)  |  Worship (10)

Man masters nature not by force but by understanding. That is why science has succeeded where magic failed: because it has looked for no spell to cast on nature.
— Jacob Bronowski
Science and Human Values (1961), 20.
Science quotes on:  |  Nature (524)  |  Philosophy Of Science (3)  |  Understanding (222)

No science is immune to the infection of politics and the corruption of power. … The time has come to consider how we might bring about a separation, as complete as possible, between Science and Government in all countries. I call this the disestablishment of science, in the same sense in which the churches have been disestablished and have become independent of the state.
— Jacob Bronowski
Encounter (Jul 1971), 15.
Science quotes on:  |  Church (16)  |  Complete (13)  |  Consider (11)  |  Corruption (5)  |  Country (42)  |  Government (48)  |  Independent (15)  |  Infection (15)  |  Politics (50)  |  Power (98)  |  Science (850)  |  Separation (23)  |  State (42)

Science has nothing to be ashamed of even in the ruins of Nagasaki. The shame is theirs who appeal to other values than the human imaginative values which science has evolved. The shame is ours if we do not make science part of our world...
— Jacob Bronowski
Science and Human Values (1961, 2nd Ed. 1965), 73. Three essays first given in lectures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1953).
Science quotes on:  |  Atomic Bomb (62)  |  Nagasaki (2)  |  Science (850)

Sooner or later every one of us breathes an atom that has been breathed before by anyone you can think of who has lived before us—Michelangelo or George Washington or Moses.
— Jacob Bronowski
From 'Biography of an Atom—and the Universe', New York Times Magazine (13 Oct 1963), 118.
Science quotes on:  |  Anyone (6)  |  Atom (164)  |  Breath (15)  |  Buonarroti_Michelangelo (2)

The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well and, having done it well, he loves to do it better. You see it in his science. You see it in the magnificence with which he carves and builds, the loving care, the gaiety, the effrontery. The monuments are supposed to commemorate kings and religions, heroes, dogmas, but in the end the man they commemorate is the builder.
— Jacob Bronowski
The Ascent of Man (1973), 116.
Science quotes on:  |  Ascent Of Man (6)  |  Monument (11)  |  Skill (25)

The Principle of Uncertainty is a bad name. In science or outside of it we are not uncertain; our knowledge is merely confined, within a certain tolerance. We should call it the Principle of Tolerance. And I propose that name in two senses: First, in the engineering sense, science has progressed, step by step, the most successful enterprise in the ascent of man, because it has understood that the exchange of information between man and nature, and man and man, can only take place with a certain tolerance. But second, I also use the word, passionately, about the real world. All knowledge, all information between human beings, can only be exchanged within a play of tolerance. And that is true whether the exchange is in science, or in literature, or in religion, or in politics, or in any form of thought that aspires to dogma. It's a major tragedy of my lifetime and yours that scientists were refining, to the most exquisite precision, the Principle of Tolerance, and turning their backs on the fact that all around them, tolerance was crashing to the ground beyond repair. The Principle of Uncertainty or, in my phrase, the Principle of Tolerance, fixed once for all the realization that all knowledge is limited. It is an irony of history that at the very time when this was being worked out there should rise, under Hitler in Germany and other tyrants elsewhere, a counter-conception: a principle of monstrous certainty. When the future looks back on the 1930s it will think of them as a crucial confrontation of culture as I have been expounding it, the ascent of man, against the throwback to the despots' belief that they have absolute certainty. It is said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That is 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 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 realitythis is 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 are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment 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.' We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people. [Referring to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.]
— Jacob Bronowski
'Knowledge or Certainty,' episode 11, The Ascent of Man (1972), BBC TV series.
Science quotes on:  |  Ascent Of Man (6)  |  Engineering (59)  |  Knowledge (662)  |  Step By Step (7)  |  Uncertainty Principle (7)

The problem of values arises only when men try to fit together their need to be social animals with their need to be free men. There is no problem, and there are no values, until men want to do both. If an anarchist wants only freedom, whatever the cost, he will prefer the jungle of man at war with man. And if a tyrant wants only social order, he will create the totalitarian state.
— Jacob Bronowski
Science and Human Values (1961), 63.
Science quotes on:  |  Man (258)  |  War (74)

We have to understand that the world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is more important than the eye ... The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.
— Jacob Bronowski
The Ascent of Man (1973), 115-6.
Science quotes on:  |  Ascent Of Man (6)  |  Mind (266)  |  Understanding (222)

We receive experience from nature in a series of messages. From these messages we extract a content of information: that is, we decode the messages in some way. And from this code of information we then make a basic vocabulary of concepts and a basic grammar of laws, which jointly describe the inner organization that nature translates into the happenings and the appearances we meet.
— Jacob Bronowski
The Identity of Man. Quoted in Richard Dawkins, The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing (2008), 176-7.
Science quotes on:  |  Experience (128)  |  Law (269)  |  Nature (524)  |  Observation (256)

[John] Dalton was a man of regular habits. For fifty-seven years he walked out of Manchester every day; he measured the rainfall, the temperature—a singularly monotonous enterprise in this climate. Of all that mass of data, nothing whatever came. But of the one searching, almost childlike question about the weights that enter the construction of these simple molecules—out of that came modern atomic theory. That is the essence of science: ask an impertinent question, and you are on the way to the pertinent answer.
— Jacob Bronowski
The Ascent of Man (1973), 153.
Science quotes on:  |  Atomic Theory (11)  |  John Dalton (20)  |  Data (53)  |  Enquiry (71)  |  Impertinence (4)  |  Manchester (3)  |  Science (850)  |  Weather (9)


See also:
  • todayinsci icon 18 Jan - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Bronowski's birth.
  • book icon The Ascent of Man, by Jacob Bronowski. - book suggestion.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
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- 90 -
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Euclid
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- 80 -
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Bible
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Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
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- 70 -
Samuel Morse
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Robert Fulton
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- 60 -
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Martin Fischer
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Karl Popper
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- 50 -
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Richard Dawkins
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Alfred Wegener
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- 40 -
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Edward Wilson
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JJ Thomson
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- 30 -
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James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
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- 20 -
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Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
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