December 30, 2008

The Ascent of Man - Jacob Bronowski

The Ascent of Man - Jacob Bronowski.

A very insightful book - highly recommend.


Chapter 1 - Lower than the Angels.

It is almost certain that man first evolved in Africa near the equator (stretches from Northern Kenya and south West Ethiopia near Lake Rudolf).

2 million years ago, the first certain ancestor of man walked with a foot, which is almost indistinguishable from the foot of modern man. Same mentioned in Darwin's 'Descent of man' published in 1871.

For human head is foramen magnum is upright.- the hole is in the skull that the spinal chord comes up through to the brain. For monkeys and apes, the head hangs forward from the spine and does not upright on top of it.

2 million years ago, Australopithecus made rudimentary stone tools where a simple blow has put an edge on the pebble, and for the next one million years, man in his further evolution did not change the tool.

The master invention - fire - was used back in 400,000 years. Man survived the Ice age, by invention of all - Fire.

Change in diet - from vegetarian to omnivorous - is important in a changing species over a time as long as 50million years. The consequence for the evolution of man was far reaching; he had more time free and could spend it more indirect ways to get food from sources (large animal).

Art and science are both uniquely human actions, outside the range of anything that an animal can do. There are many gifts that are unique to man; but at the centre of them all, the root from which all knowledge grows, lies the ability to draw conclusions from what we see to what we do not see, to move our minds through space and time and to recognize ourselves in the past on the steps to present. All over these caves the print of the hand says: " This is my mark. This is man.'

Chapter 2 - The harvest of the Seasons.

It is extraordinary to think that only in the last 12K years has civilization, as we understand it, taken off. It was the end of Ice age. That moved to agricultural revolution. (The beginning of agriculture world started in Middle East - Tigris and Euphrates - a famous city is Jericho - By BC 6000, Jericho was a large agricultural settlement- as mentioned in the Bible).

With that there comes an equally powerful social revolution - From nomad to villager.

J.B (author) believes civilization rest on that decision. During the nomad life, there is no room for innovation because there is not time on the move, between evening and morning, coming and going all their lives to develop a new device or a new thought - not even a new tune. The only habits that survive are the old habits. The only ambition of the son is to be like the father. The Bible was not written down until perhaps 700 BC; that is the account is about 2600 years old as a written record.

Bible is a curious history, part folklore and part record. History is , of course written by victors and Israelis, when they burst through here, became carriers of history. The Bible is their story: the history of a people who had to stop being nomad and pastoral and had to become an agricultural tribe.

The richness comes from the interplay of inventions; a culture is a multiplier of ideas, in which each new device quickness and enlarges the power of the rest.

The most powerful invention in all agriculture is, of course the plough. Archimedes explained the theory of level to the Greeks: 'Give me a lever and I will feed the earth".

Then comes the wheel, which becomes a model for all motions of rotation, a norm of explanation and a heavenly symbol of more than human powering science and in art like.

J.B says, the importance of horses in European history has always been underrated. The Greeks when they saw the Scythian riders believed the horse and the rider to be one; that is how they invented the legend of centaur. Mounting the horse was a more than human gesture, the symbolic act of dominance over the total creation. We know that this is so from the awe and fear that the horse created again in historical times, when the mounted Spaniards overwhelmed the armies of Peru in 1532.

The power of horses is comparable with the arrival of tanks in Poland in 1939, sweeping all before them. In a sense horse, as a nomad activity, created warfare. That is what Huns brought, that is what the Phrygians brought, that is what finally the Mongols brought and brought to climax under Genghis Khan much later.

It was the horse that gave the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan the power and the organization to conquer China and Muslim states and to reach the gates of central Europe.

War is not a human instinct. It is a highly planned and co-operative form of theft. And that form of theft began 10,000 years ago when the harvesters of wheat accumulated a surplus, and nomads rose out of the desert to rob them of what they themselves could not provide. That is the beginning of war.

Genghis Khan and his Mongol dynasty brought that thieving way of life into our own millennium. From AD1200 to AD 1300, they made almost the last attempt to establish the supremacy of the robber who produces nothing and who in his feckless way, comes to take from the peasant (who has nowhere to flee) the surplus that agriculture accumulates.

In the end there was nothing for the Mongols to do except themselves to adopt the way of life of the people they had conquered and they became settlers. The fact is that agriculture and the settled way of life were established steps now in the ascent of man and had to set a new level for form of human harmony which was to bear fruit into the far future; the organization of the city.

Chapter 3 - The Grain in the stone.

The earth has existed for more than 4million years; through all this time it has been shaped and changed by 3 factors - the hidden forces within the earth and on the surface, the erosion of snow and rain and storm, of stream and ocean of sun and wind have carves out a natural architecture.

Man came to America from Asia to America not later than 10K years ago and not earlier than 30K years ago. There is blood group anywhere in America as there is in most part fo the world.

Romans always made the arch as a semicircle. The circle remained the basis of the arch still when it went into mass-production in Arab countries. A structural innovation to break the limitation of the Roman arch did come, probably from outside Europe and arrived almost by stealth at first. The invention is a new form of the arch based not on circle, but on the oval, Its effect on the architecture is spectacular. This Gothic arch makes it possible to hold the space in a new way. The load taken off from the walls, which can therefore be pierced with glass and the total effect5, is to hang the building like a cage from the arched roof. The inside of the building is open because Skelton is outside.

A popular cliché in philosophy says that science is pure analysis or reductionism, like taking the rainbow to pieces and art is pure synthesis, putting the rainbow together.

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.

Chapter 4 - The Hidden Structure

Sculpted gold salt-cellar, Bevenuto Cellini, 16th-century figures, made for King Francis I. Cellini recalled what his French patron said of it: "This is a 100 times more heavenly than I would ever have thought! What a marvel the man is!"

The ability of gold to resist what was called decay was singular and hence valuable. No acid or alkali known to those times would attack it.

Syphilis raged round Europe in 1500 and had not been known before, the new scourge syphilis. To this day, we do not know where syphilis came from. It may come from Columbus's ship or from the east with the Mongol conquests or it may simply not have been recognized before as a separate disease.

The cure for it turned out to depends on the use of the most powerful alchemical metal mercury. Paracelsus who made that cure work is a landmark in the change from the old alchemy to the new on the way towards modern chemistry.

A great change was blowing up in Europe, greater perhaps. Even than the religious and political upheaval that martin Luther had set going. In 1543, 3 books were published that changed the mind of Europe. The anatomical drawings of Andreas Vesalius, the first translation of the Greek mathematics and physics of Archimedes, and the book by Nicolaus Copernicus (distinguished churchman and a humanist intellectual from Poland born in 1473), The revolution of the heavenly orbs which put the sun at the center of the haven and the created what is now called the scientific revolution.

Joseph Priestly explained the nature of fire and took chemistry forward out of middle ages. Thomas Jefferson became president, he told Joseph Priestly," yours is one of the few lives precious to mankind'.

Ascent of man is not made by lovable people. It is made by people who have two qualities; an immense integrity and at least a little genius.

Chapter 5 - The music of the Spheres.

The first genius and founder of Greek mathematics is Pythagoras lived in about BC 580. Pythagoras provided that the world of music and vision are governed by exact numbers.

Babylonians (hanging garden) knew many perhaps 100s of formula for this by 2000 BC. Indians and Egyptians knew some. These cultures already knew in a practical sense that there is a builder's set square in which the numerical relations dictate and make the right angle.

To this day, the theorem of Pythagoras remains the most important single theorem in the whole of mathematics. That seems a bold and extraordinary thing to say, yet it is not extravagant; because what Pythagoras established is a fundamental characterization of the space in which we move and it is the first time that it is translated into numbers.

We tend to think of Greece part of the west; but Samos (where Pythagoras lived), the edge of classical Greece stands one mile from the coast of Asia Minor. From they're much of the thought that inspired Greece first flowed and unexpectedly, it flowed back to Asia in the centuries after, before ever it reached Western Europe.

The place where the Pythagoras theorem formed into an orderly system was the Nile City, Egypt and Euclid who belonged to the Pythagoras tradition did it.

When a listener asked him what was the practical use of some theorem, Euclid is responded to have said contemptuously to his slave" He wants to profit from learning - give him a penny. The reproof was probably adapted from the motto of the Pythagorean brotherhood, which translates as "a diagram and a step, not a diagram and a penny - a step being a step in knowledge or the Ascent of Man.

Euclid's book Elements of geometry was translated more than any other book except Bible right into modern times.

Islam started as a local event, uncertain in its outcome, but when Mahomet conquered Mecca in AD 630, it took southern world by storm. In 100 years, Islam captured Alexandria and by AD 730 the Moslem empire reached Spain and southern France to borders of China and India while Europe lapse din Dark Ages. The most important single innovation that the eager, inquisitive and tolerant Arab scholars brought from Afar was in writing numbers. Arabs brought the decimal system from India about AD 750, but it did not take hold in Europe for another 500 years after that.

Alhambra is the last and most exquisite monument of Arab civilization in Europe and the last Moorish king reigned here until 1492 when Queen Isabella of Spain was already backing the adventure of Columbus.

Christianity began surge back in northern Spain about AD 1000. When Christian came to win back Spain, the excitement of the struggle was on the frontier. Here Moors, Christians and Jews too mingled and made an extra ordinary culture of different faiths. In 1085, the centre of this mixed culture was fixed for a time in the city of Toledo. Toledo was the intellectual port of entry into Christian Europe of all classics that the Arabs has brought together from Greece, from Middle East, from Asia.

Mathematics of instantaneous motion was invented by 2 superb minds of the late 17th century - Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. It was they who brought in the idea of a tangent, the idea of acceleration, the idea of slope, the idea of infinitesimal, of differential calculus.

The laws of nature had always been made of numbers since Pythagoras said that was the language of nature. The laws of nature become law of motion and nature herself becomes not a series of static frames, but a moving process.

Chapter 6 - The Starry Messenger.

The first science in the modern sense that grew in the Mediterranean civilization was astronomy. An example is the civilization of the Mayans that flourished before AD 1000 in the isthmus of America between Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.

2 great men born in 1564 - William Shakespeare in England and Galileo Galilee in Italy.

Galileo is the creator of the modern scientific method. He stepped up the magnification of the telescope; build the apparatus, do the experiment, publish results. His telescope and new planets was quite sensational. And yet it was not altogether welcome, because what Galileo saw in the sky and revealed to everyone who was willing to look, was that the Ptolemaic heaven simply would not work. Galileo thought that all he and to do was to show that Copernicus was right and everyone would listen. That was a big mistake.

The success of the Protestant Reformation in 16th century had caused Roman Catholic to mount a fierce Counter_Reformation. The reaction against Martin Luther was in full cry and the struggle in Europe for authority. In 1618, 30-year war began. In 1622, Rome created institution for the propagation of the faith from which word 'propaganda' derived. Cold war embattled between Roman Catholic and Protestants., in which judgment was very simple on both sides; whoever is not for us is a heretic.

Roman Catholic council confined Galileo for the rest of his life in his villa and his forbidden doctrine was not to be discussed and Galileo was nto even to talk to Protestants. While in his house arrest, he wrote another book on the New Science and some Protestants in Netherland printed it after 2 years of writing.

The effect of the trial and of the imprisonment was to put a total stop tp the scientific tradition in Mediterranean. From now on the Scientific Revolution moved to Northern Europe. Galileo died in 1624 and in the same year Isaac Newton born in England.

Chapter 7 - The majestic Clockwork.

By the year 1650, the centre of the gravity of the civilized world had shifted from Italy to Northern Europe. The obvious reason is that trade routes to the world were different since the discovery and exploitation of America. No longer the Mediterranean what it name implies the middle of the world.

Newton had conceived the idea of universal gravitation in the Plague year 1666 and had used it very successfully to describe the motion of the moon round the earth.

Time is the other absolute in Newton's system. Time is crucial to mapping the heavens. Mariner's world called for perfection of 2 sets of instruments: telescope and clocks.

The first was telescope, which was now centered in the new Royal Observatory at Greenwich. The sailor trying to fix his position - longitude and latitude- off a remote shore from now on would compare his readings of the stars with those at Greenwich. The meridian of Greenwich became the fixed mark in every sailor's storm-tossed world: the meridian and the Greenwich Mean Time.

Second as an essential aid to fixing a position was the improvement of the clock. The clock became the symbol and the central problem of age. As per Newton principle is simple enough - since the sun rounds the earth in 24 hours, each of the 360 degrees of longitude occupies 4 min of time. Gov offered a prize of Ł20,000 "FOR A TIME KEEPER THAT WOULD PROVIE ITSELF ACCURATE TO HALF A DEGREE ON A VOYAGE OF 6 WEEKS". In those days the early clock-makers wanted, not to know the time of the day, but to reproduce the motions of the starry heavens.

Newton wrote-out the proof in Principia in 1687. When Newton was challenged on such questions as " You have not explained why gravity acts, "You have not explained why rays of light behave the way they do", He always answered in the same terms " I do not make hypothesis' I lay down a law and derive the phenomena from it'.

The universe of Newton ticked without a hitch for about 200 years. Till in the early 1900s before Einstein's Principle of Relativity, there was no universal time. The core of Principle of Relativity: the passage of light: light is the carrier of information that binds us. Evidently that is an altogether different picture of the world from that which Newton had. For Newton, time and space formed an absolute framework within which the material events of the world ran their course in imperturbable order. His is a God's eye view of the world. By contrast, Einstein's is a man's eye in which what you see and what I see is relative to each of us, that is, to our place and speed. And this relativity cannot be removed.

The hardest part if not to answer, but to conceive the question. The genius of men like Newton & Einstein lies in that: they ask transparent innocent questions which turns out to have catastrophic answers.

In a lifetime Einstein joined light to time, and time to space, energy to matter, matter to space and space to gravitation. And that is the crux of all his papers, this unfolding of the heart of knowledge, almost petal by petal. Einstein died in 1955, 50 years after the great 1905 paper. By then one could measure time to a 1000 millionth of a sec. He did not look at nature like a God but like a pathfinder " The World as I see it".

It is almost impertinent to talk of the ascent of man in the presence of two men, Newton & Einstein who stride like gods. Of the two, Newton is the Old Testament god; it is Einstein who is the New Testament figure. Einstein was a man who could ask immensely simple questions and what his life showed, and his work is that when the answers are simple too, and then you hear God thinking.

Chapter 8 - The drive for power.

Revolutions are not made by fate by men. Industrial revolution is a long train of changes starting about 1760. It is not alone: it forms one of a triad of revolutions of which the other two were the American revolution that started in 1775 and the French revolution that started in 1789.

What makes the industrial revolution so peculiarly is that it is rooted in the countryside The men who make it are craftsmen, the millwright, the watchmaker, the canal builder, and the blacksmith.

Freemasonry was the rising and secret society whose undertone was anti-establishment and anti-clerical and because Mozart was known to be a member it was difficult to get a priest to come to his deathbed in 1791. Greatest Freemason of them all in that age, the printer Benjamin Franklin who was American emissary in France at the court of Louis XVI. He more than anyone else represents those forward looking, forceful, confident, thrusting, marching men who made the new age. Men like Franklin had a passion for rational knowledge. He and his friends lived science: it was constantly in their thoughts and just as constantly in their hands. The understanding of nature to them was an intensely practical pleasure.

The men who made industrial revolution are usually pictured as hard faced businessmen with no other motive than self-interest. That is certainly wrong. Majority of them were not members of Church of England but belonged to a puritan tradition in the Unitarian and similar movements.

It is comic to think that cotton underwear and soap could work as a transformation in the lives of the poor. Yet these simple things - cal in the iron range, glass in the windows, a choice of food - were wonderful rise in the standard of life and health.

Power is a new preoccupation, in a sense a new idea, in science. The industrial revolution turned out to be the great discoverer of power. Sources of energy were sought in nature: wind, sun, water, and coal.

Joule said: " the grand agents of nature are indestructible".

Chapter 9 - The ladder of Creation.

The theory of evolution by natural selection was put forward in the 1850s independently by 2 men. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.

As per Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, all species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors through the process he called natural selection.

The fact is that there are two traditions of explanations that march side by side in the ascent of man. One is the analysis of the physical structure of the world and the other is the study of the process of life; their delicacy, their diversity, the wavering cycles from life to death in the individual and in the species.

The creation is not static but changes in time in a way that physical processes do not. Unlike physics, every generalization about biology is a slice in time and it is evolution that is the real creator of originality and novelty in the universe.

When the theory of evolution implied that some animal species came into being more recently than others, critics most often replied by quoting Bible.

We have to ask a historical question. Four thousand million years ago, before the life began, when the earth was young, what was the surface of the earth and what was the atmosphere like? We know rough answer that atmosphere was expelled from the interior of earth and was therefore somewhat like volcanic neighborhood anywhere - a cauldron of steam, nitrogen, methane, ammonia and other reducing gases as well as carbon dioxide. One gas was absent - Oxygen - That is crucial because oxygen is produced by the plants and did not exist in a free state before life existed.

These gases and their products dissolved weakly in oceans formed a reducing atmosphere. How would they react next under the action of lightening eclectic charges and [particularly under the action of ultra-violet light? Which is very important in every theory of life. When Stanley Miller in American experimented in 1950 - he put the atmosphere in a flask (these gases) and for day after day, and boiled and bubbled them up and put an electric discharge through them to simulate lightening and other violent forces. Because of the testing it was found that amino acid had been formed init and that is a crucial step forward since amino acid are the building blocks of life. From them proteins mare made and proteins are the constituents of all living things.

Biology has been fortunate in discovering 2 great and seminal ideas with the span of one 100 years. One was Darwin and Wallace's theory of evolution by natural selection. The other was the discovery of how to express the cycles of life in a chemical form that links them with nature as a whole.

Chapter 10 - World within the world.

Salt was essential to life and like the roman soldiers we still say salary for what we pay a man through it means salt money. Young Russian called Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev created the elements table. His table and forecast for new elements famous everywhere - except in Russia. Tsar did not like his liberal politics and he did not elected to Russian academy of science but in the rest of the world, his name was magic.

Niel Bohr's paper 'On the Constitution of Atoms and Molecules became a classic at once. The structure of the atom was now as mathematical as Newton's universe. But it contained the additional principle of quantum. Bohr had built a world inside the atom by going beyond the laws of physics as they had stood for two centauries after Newton.

In 1850 Rudolf Clauses put that thought into basic principle. He said that there is energy, which is available, and there is also a residue of energy, which is not accessible. It was James Chadwick who broke with that deeply rooted idea and proved in 1932 that nucleus consists of 2 kinds of particles electron and neutron.

The atoms form molecules, the molecules form bases, the bases direct the formation of amino acids, the amino acids form proteins, and proteins work in cell. The cells make up first of all the simple animals and then sophisticated ones, climbing step by step. Evolution is the climbing of a ladder from simple to complex by steps, each of which is stable in itself.

Chapter 11 - Knowledge of Certainty.

Leo Szilard was a Hungarian whose university life was spent in Germany. In 1929 he published an important and pioneer paper on what would now be called Information Theory; the relation between knowledge, nature and man. But by then he was certain that Hitler would come to power and that war was inevitable and he packed his bag and left for England in 1933.

It happened in Sept. of 1933 and he was walking to work and he was stopped by a red traffic light. However before the light turned green, he had realized that if you hit an atom with one neutron and it happens to break up and release two, then you would have a chain reaction. He wrote a specification for a patent which contains the word 'chain reaction which was filed in 1934.

In August 1939, Szilard wrote to Einstein that Einstein signed and send to President Roosevelt saying, " Nuclear energy is here. War is inevitable. It is for the president to decide what scientist should do about it."

But Szilard did not stop. When in 1945 the European war had been won, and he realized that the bomb was now about to be made and used on Japanese, Szilard marshaled protest everywhere he could. He wrote memorandum after memorandum. One memorandum to President Roosevelt only failed because Roosevelt died during the very days that Szilard was transmitting to him. Always Szilard wanted the bomb to be tested openly before the Japanese and an international audience so that Japanese should know its power and should surrender before people died.

When the tragedy happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he replied, " it is the tragedy of mankind. He gave up physics and turned to biology.

Chapter 12 - Generation Upon Generation

Emperors go but empires remain.

In the nineteenth century the city of Vienna was the capital of an Empire that held together a multitude of nations and languages. As the old university of Vienna the founder of Genetics and therefore of all the modern life science, Gregor Mendel got such little university education as he had. He had guessed that a simple character is regulated by two particles (we now call them genes).

Life on earth has been going on for 3 thousand million years or more. For two third of that time organisms reproduced themselves by cell division. Division produces identical offspring as a rule and new forms appear only rarely. For all that time, therefore evolution was very slow. The first organisms to reproduce sexually were it now seems, a kind of blue-green algae. That was less than a 1000 million years ago. Sexual reproduction begins there, first in plants then in animals. Since then its success has made it the biological norm, so that for instance, we define 2 species as different if their members cannot breed with one another.

Sex produces diversity and diversity is the propeller of evolution. The acceleration in evolution is responsible for the existence now if the dazzling variety of shape color, and behaviors in species.

Most of the world's literature, most of the world's art is preoccupied with the theme of boy meets girl. We tend to think of this as being sexual preoccupation that needs no explanation. But I think, that is a mistake. On the contrary it express the deeper fact that we are uncommonly careful in the choice, not of whom we take to bed, but by whom we are to beget children. Sex was invented as a biological instrument by the blue-green algae. But as an instrument, in the ascent of man that is basic to his cultural evolution, it was invented by man himself.

Spiritual and carnal love are inseparable.

Chapter 13 - the Long Childhood.

Consider the hand first. The recent evolution of man certainly begins with advancing development of the hand and the selection for a brain that is particularly adept at manipulating the hand. We feel the pleasure of that in our actions so that for the artist the hand remains a major symbol.

Theory of games : the finger game called Morra.

Our actions as adults as decision makers, as human beings, are mediated by values that I interpret as general strategies in which we balance opposing impulses. The problems of life are insoluble in this sense. Instead we shape our conduct by finding principle to guide it. We decide ethical strategies or systems of values to ensure that what is attractive in the short term are weighed in the balance of the ultimate, long-term satisfactions.

We are a scientific civilization: that means a civilization in which knowledge and its integrity are crucial. Science is only a Latin word for knowledge. If we do not take the next step in the ascent of man, it will be taken by people elsewhere, in Africa, in China. Should I feel that to be sad? No, not in itself. Humanity has a right to change its color.

History is the pilot's instant act of decision that crystallizes all the knowledge, all science, all that has been learned since man began. We are all afraid- for our confidence, for the future, for the world. That is the nature of the human imagination. Yet every man, every civilization has gone forward because of its engagement with what it has set itself to do. The personal commitment of a man to his skill, the intellectual commitment and the emotional commitment working together as one, has made the Ascent of Man.



Tx n Rd
VNTHOMAS

1 comment:

Ian Marie said...

Thank You so much, i did not understand the book until I found this.