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The Common Sense of Science [Kindle Edition]

Jacob Bronowski
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jacob Bronowski was, with Kenneth Clarke, the greatest popularizer of serious ideas in Britain between the mid 1950s and the early 1970s. Trained as a mathematician, he was equally at home with painting and physics, and wrote a series of brilliant books that tried to break down the barriers between 'the two cultures'. He denounced 'the destructive modern prejudice that art and science are different and somehow incompatible interests'. He wrote a fine book on William Blake while running the National Coal Board's research establishment.

The Common Sense of Science, first published in 1951, is a vivid attempt to explain in ordinary language how science is done and how scientists think. He isolates three creative ideas that have been central to science: the idea of order, the idea of causes and the idea of chance. For Bronowski, these were common-sense ideas that became immensely powerful and productive when applied to a vision of the world that broke with the medieval notion of a world of things ordered according to their ideal natures. Instead, Galileo, Huyghens and Newton and their contemporaries imagined 'a world of events running in a steady mechanism of before and after'. We are still living with the consequences of this search for order and causality within the facts that the world presents to us.



Editorial Reviews

Review

ÝDr.Bronowski has packed more thought, more idealism, and more uncommon sense then have probably ever before appeared between book covers in anywhere near so small a compass. "The Common Sense of Science" is at once a brief history of science from the time of Isaac Newton to the time of Albert Einstein; a guide to the relation of science (pure as well as applied) to our thinking, our ordinary lives, and ourselves; and a moving appeal for mutual understanding between science and general culture.

About the Author

Jacob Bronowski was born in Poland in 1908. At the age of 12 he came to England, and within six years was a brilliant mathematics student at Cambridge. During the war he helped to forecast the economic effects of bombing Germany. After many years working for the National Coal Board, he moved to the Salk Institute in 1964 while developing his career as a broadcaster. In 1973, he presented for the BBC the ambitious 13-part series The Ascent of Man, which made him a household name. He died the following year.

Product Details

  • File Size: 351 KB
  • Print Length: 162 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0571241891
  • Publisher: Faber Finds (December 15, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007231D3Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #304,702 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Applied Heisenberg, or, Uncertainty 101 March 10, 2005
Format:Paperback
First of all, James McCall is right about one of the purposes of this book: to discuss how, in fact, nearly every action we take has a scientific basis in that we have learned from our previous experiences and, following any action we take, we will then evaluate the consequences and adjust our future actions accordingly, even if all this analysis is done unconsciously.

But this discussion is fully developed in only the last one-quarter to one-third of the book. In its entirety, The Common Sense of Science is looking at three critical steps in the development of science and scientific thinking: first, the union of logic and observation where the two had been separate and distinct activities; second, the rise of a new attitude about investigating the world: cause and effect; and, third and where we find ourselves today, the establishment of statistics and uncertainly as the criteria for developing new theories about how the world, and, indeed, the universe work.

A long time ago, a friend of mine who was a physics student explained uncertainty to me this way: if you know how fast something is going, you don't know where it is, and if you know where it is, you don't know how fast it's going. This is, of course, an oversimplification, but it serves to demonstrate a critical point of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: that observations, by definition, are not static, that the observer is part of the phenomenon he or she observes.

In addressing these three issues (the union of logic and observation, cause and effect, and uncertainty), Bronowski has given us a broad and deeply thoughtful analysis of the three most critical steps in the history of science. Although the book was written in 1951, its discussion is as pertinent today as the day it was written.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sense and Sensibility July 23, 2002
Format:Paperback
...P>This book was written in 1951. "The Ascent of Man" was still 20 years in the future; the richly humanistic outlook of that celebrated series of programs is the same, but here Bronowski restricts himself to examining science, and putting it in the context of other sorts of mental activities that people engage in.
Most of what people think about (or for that matter animals in a more rudimentary way) involves using their experiences to guide their actions, and then evaluating how well they did. "Learn from your mistakes" epitomizes much common sense. Science does the same sort of thing; what makes it difficult for people is the often technical language it is couched in, and the exactness of the conditions it specifies and predictions it calculates. Yet over time science tries to learn from its mistakes (in spite of the rearguard actions of many older scientists!) and revise its views of the world, just the way a sensible individual does. The only difference between the common sense of an individual and that of a scientist is this business of technical language and precise definition. In our ordinary lives we don't bother to define things very well, because we are talking to ourselves or a few others in our circumstances. Besides, we have only one life, and setting up controlled experiments is usually out of the question.
Still, people form theories of the world that they act upon in their personal affairs, and change those theories if they don't seem to work. In this way, Bronowski insists, we are all scientists. We may believe in angels and lucky numbers, but we know that boiling an egg or shooting a basketball well or getting a good seat in the movies requires the application of our intelligence to the world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Common Sense is Illuminating January 12, 2010
Format:Hardcover
This is a second run through Bronowski's little masterpiece in less than a year. I was writing a paper and wrote a sentence, but I "knew" it was from something I'd read. Googled the sentence and, presto. There isn't much to add to the already excellent reviews; I can offer as a nonscientist conducting research in cognition, Bronowski's take on the convergence/union of logic and observation and the role of uncertainty in science made this book even more informative after a second look. His observations on cause and effect and truth and value are enlighening. The book is also very quotable, for example:

"All living is action, and human living is thoughtful action." (btw, this is the quote that brought me back to the book)

"There is indeed no system of morality which does not set a high value on truth and on knowledge, above all on a conscious knowledge of oneself."

"Let us not be contemptuous of mistakes; they are the fulcrum on which the process of life moves."

"Human life is social life, and there is no science which is not part of some social science."

I bought a used original hardback, and it was once part of a high school library. While the style and content are accessible to a high school student, I wonder how much interest the book would draw today.

A great resource and highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science & common sense May 17, 2009
Format:Paperback
Its quite amazing how a book, particularly one about science, has stood the test of time so well.Bronowski's book originally writen is 1951 is still a good read.Apart from its style and ever present "the scientist" theme as well as the shaddow of the atomic bomb there are few clues to the vintage of this book.
Bronowski was mathematicien /scientist who was also at home in art and literature.His attempt to harmonise these two worlds is very modern As is the holistic aproch to all intellectual activity.
I get the feeling from both this book and his other works that Jacob Bronowski was not an easy man.His very high intellegence and extensive knowledge made him unwilling to suffer fools gladly.He was an elitst.But the values he tries to explain in this book are the values the world still aspires to.A rational scientific aproach based on both contemplation and empirisism.A love of all beauty both scientific or art.Above all the rejection of superstition and ancient traditions that have outlived their time.
Not everyone is able to aspire to Bronowski's values but this is surely the direction that we must move
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