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The Common Sense of Science by [Bronowski, Jacob]
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The Common Sense of Science Kindle Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


This sensitive, searching book is concerned with the nature of science and the relation of its central creative ideas to other human activities… [The Common Sense of Science], like a fine glass of brandy, is a rich and satisfying distillment. (Scientific American)

[Dr. 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. (The Humanist)

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: 427 KB
  • Print Length: 162 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (December 15, 2011)
  • Publication Date: December 15, 2011
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007231D3Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #872,951 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Top Customer Reviews

By Robin Wolfson VINE VOICE on 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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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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
The point of the story of Newton coming up with universal gravitation after being hit in the head with an apple is his realizing that the same gravity that applies to apples also applies to the Moon. Of course it was known before Newton that apples fell, and according to Bronowski, Aristotle explained a particular apple falling at a particular time by it being the nature of apples, or heavy things in general, to fall down. This doesn't seem like a good explanation to us, but it's not nonsense: "The mere creation of a permanent class of apples, the mere generalisation of the concept of apples, is an act of the first importance…. What nature provides is a tree full of apples which are all recognisably alike and yet are not identical, small apples and large ones, red ones and pale ones, apples with maggots and apples without. To make a statement about all these apples together, and about crab-apples, Orange Pippins, and Beauties of Bath, is the whole basis of reasoning." (chapter II, section 4)

In chapter V, Bronowski talks about machines and models. He says that science demands that what it studies be a machine. The closest he comes to defining machine is that "A machine in science is a concept with definite properties which can be isolated, can be reproduced in space and in time, and whose behaviour can be predicted." He seems to be asserting that the world really is mechanical, although it's not clear to me if he means that the world would be mechanical without people to think about it or if we people come up with a mechanical order for the world; in the latter case, I don't see how this is different from models. He says that we make models that tell us how this machinery works: "The model sets up behind the machine a hypothetical world which yields the same ends. In the model, the steps by which these ends are reached from these beginnings are exhibited."
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