JB: I wrote a book called the Identity of Man. I never saw the cover of the English edition until the book reached me in print. And yet the artist had understood exactly what was in my mind, by putting on the cover a drawing of the brain and the Mona Lisa, one on top of the other

The Ascent of Man
by Jacob Bronowski

THERE ARE TWO PARTS to the human dilemma. One is a belief that the end justifies the means. That push-button philosophy, that deliberate deafness to suffering, has become a monster in the war machine. The other is the betrayal of the human spirit: the assertion of dogma that closes the mind, and turns a nation a civilisation into a regiment of ghosts - obedient ghosts, or tortured ghosts.'

'It is said that science will dehumanise people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. In the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz, that is where people were turned into numbers. Into its 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 ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods. 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.'

'A scientific society is one in which specialists can indeed do the things like making the electric light work. But it is you, it is I, who have to know how nature works, and how (for example) electricity is one of her expressions in the light and in my brain.'

'The ascent of man is always teetering in the balance. There is always a sense of uncertainty, whether when man lifts his foot for the next step it is really going to come pointing ahead. And what is ahead for us? At last the bringing together of all that we have learned, in physics and in biology, towards an understanding of where we have come: what man is.'

First Published by BBC Publications, London, 1973.

The Ascent of Jacob Bronowski

Copyright © 2000 The Estate of Jacob Bronowski. All rights reserved.