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
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.
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