Nature works by steps. 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 cells. The cells make up first of all the simple animals, and then sophisticated ones…. The stable units that compose one level or stratum are the raw material for … the climbing of a ladder from simple to complex by steps, each of which is stable in itself.

from Metapatterns (1995)

Portrait of Jacob Bronowski

Jacob Bronowski

Mathematician and Historian
January 18, 1908 – August 22, 1974

Jacob Bronowski was a British mathematician and historian. He is best known for developing a humanistic approach to science, and as the presenter and writer of the thirteen-part 1973 BBC television documentary series, and accompanying book, The Ascent of Man, which led to his regard as one of the world's most celebrated intellectuals.


13 Documents






Word Count


Cover image for The Ascent of Man 01: Lower Than The Angels

Lower Than the Angels

The Ascent Of Man, Episode 1

Jacob Bronowski begins his series by examining intellectual, cultural, and scientific breakthroughs in man’s four-million-year evolution, and demonstrates the importance of new ideas and how they transcend other historical events in their cumulative, irreversible effects.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 02: The Harvest of the Seasons

The Harvest of the Seasons

The Ascent Of Man, Episode 2

In the long spring following the Ice Ages man develops agriculture and domesticates animals, imposing his will on wild wheat and horses. With the Neolithic cultivators come the mounted Nomads, the predators, and the roots of human warfare. Shot largely in central Iran.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 03: The Grain in the Stone

The Grain in the Stone

The Ascent Of Man, Episode 3

Man splits a stone and reassembles the pieces to build a wall, a cathedral, a city. This program is about man, the architect, builder, and sculptor. Shots of Greek temples of Paestum, cathedrals of medieval France, Inca cities of Peru juxtaposed with shots of modern cities.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 04: The Hidden Structure

The Hidden Structure

The Ascent Of Man, Episode 4

From ancient Oriental metallurgy, through mystical alchemy this program traces the roots of chemistry. Shang bronze craftsmen and Samurai sword smiths are the starting point for a journey leading from medieval Europe to Dalton’s atomic theory and our modern knowledge of the elements.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 05: Music of the Spheres

Music of the Spheres

The Ascent Of Man, Episode 5

In this episode, Jacob Bronowski covers the evolution of math. Pythagoras, father of Greek math, considered numbers the language of nature. We follow the spread of Greek ideas through the Islamic Empire to Moorish Spain and Renaissance Europe, and explore the alliance of math to music, astronomy, and painting.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 06: The Starry Messenger

The Starry Messenger

The Ascent Of Man, Episode 6

A closer look at humanity’s attempts to map the forces which move the planets. The static nature of South American astronomy is contrasted with ideas of Renaissance Europe. Tracing the origins of the scientific revolution in the conflict between truth and dogma, symbolized by the trial of Galileo.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 07: The Majestic Clockwork

The Majestic Clockwork

The Ascent Of Man, Episode 7

Newton and Einstein, the two giants of physics, imposed great systems of order on the world. This episode illustrates the revolution that occurred when Einstein’s theory of relativity turned Newton’s elegant description of the universe inside out.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 08: The Drive for Power

The Drive for Power

The Ascent Of Man, Episode 8

This episode focuses on the industrial and political revolutions of the eighteenth century. Forces of nature were harnessed and the basics of political power shifted. Bronowski argues that in man’s progress, the Industrial Revolution was a step forward as significant as the Renaissance.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 09: The Ladder of Creation

The Ladder of Creation

The Ascent Of Man, Episode 9

From the countryside of Wales to the jungles of the Amazon, Jacob Bronowski follows the stories of Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin who had the same idea simultaneously—evolution by natural selection. Their ideas helped others to probe the nature and origins of life.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 10: World Within World

World Within World

The Ascent Of Man, Episode 10

In the vaults of ancient Polish salt mines Bronowski embarks on a journey to the hidden world inside the atom. He traces the history of the men and the ideas that made 20th century physics the greatest achievement of the human imagination.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 11: Knowledge or Certainty

Knowledge or Certainty

The Ascent Of Man, Episode 11

Bronowski’s statement on information and responsibility’s a moral dilemma to scientists. Principle of certainty in physics applies to all knowledge. Examines implications of bombing Japan. Contrasts humanist tradition of Göttingen University with the inhumanities of Auschwitz.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 12: Generation Upon Generation

Generation Upon Generation

The Ascent Of Man, Episode 12

Math and physics brought revolution to man’s ideas of life. From Mendel’s work to discoveries of today, Bronowski unravels complex code of human inheritance. Sees sex as an instrument of evolution that makes every human unique yet breeds care between individuals.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 13: The Long Childhood

The Long Childhood

The Ascent Of Man, Episode 13

In this final episode, Bronowski—poet, playwright, mathematician, philosopher—draws together many threads of the series. He takes stock of man’s complex, sometimes precarious, ascent, and argues that man’s growth to self-knowledge is the longest childhood of all.

Mentioned in 7 documents

Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

The Varieties of Scientific Experience

Carl Sagan's prescient exploration of the relationship between religion and science, and his personal search for God.

Kevin Kelly

What Technology Wants

One of today's most respected thinkers turns the conversation about technology on its head by viewing technology as a natural system, an extension of biological evolution. By mapping the behavior of life, we paradoxically get a glimpse at where technology is headed—or "what it wants." Kevin Kelly offers a dozen trajectories in the coming decades for this near-living system. And as we align ourselves with technology's agenda, we can capture its colossal potential. This visionary and optimistic book explores how technology gives our lives greater meaning and is a must-read for anyone curious about the future.

Barbara Marx Hubbard

The Vision of a Better World

Two visionaries, Tom Munnecke and Barbara Marx Hubbard, engage in an uplifting dialogue exploring the emergence of human creativity and consciousness. They trace inspirations from mentors like Jonas Salk, who recognized futuristic possibilities in Hubbard, and Buckminster Fuller, who affirmed humanity's potential. Together they shine light on the crisis of our times as the birth pangs of a new civilization, calling us to connect with the creativity arising globally. Their exchange weaves threads of hope and positivity, envisioning a future where all people actualize their gifts in service of our world.

Jiddu Krishnamurti, David Bohm and David Shainberg

Are We Aware That We Are Fragmented?

This trialogue between Krishnamurti, Bohm, and Shainberg methodically uncovers the nature of man’s psyche, his fragmentation, the limitations of a thought-based society, and finds out if there is a wholeness, a sacredness in life which is untouched by thought.

Tyler Volk


In the interdisciplinary tradition of Buckminster Fuller’s work, Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature, and Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics, Metapatterns embraces both nature and culture, seeking out the grand-scale patterns that help explain the functioning of our universe. Metapatterns begins with the archetypal patterns of space, both form-building and relational. Tyler Volk then turns to the arrows, breaks, and cycles that infuse the workings of time. With artful dexterity, he brings together many layers of comprehension, drawing on an astounding range of material from art, architecture, philosophy, mythology, biology, geometry, and the atmospheric and oceanographic sciences. Richly illustrating his metapatterns with a series of sophisticated collages prepared for this book, Volk offers an exciting new look at science and the imagination. As playful and intuitive as it is logical and explanatory, Metapatterns offers an enlightening view of the functional, universal form in space, processes in time, and concepts in mind.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy

Robots, Men, and Minds

Based on lectures delivered as The Inaugural Lectures in The Heinz Werner Lecture Series at Clark University (Worcester, Mass.) in January 1966, the book introduces new conceptions of humans and their world. After discussing the advantages and drawbacks of humanity's propensity for the symbolic construction of reality, it focuses on the systems approach to an understanding of the species. The author warns against the common error of identifying cybernetics with general systems theory. No matter how complex the cybernetic system, it "can always be resolved into feedback circuits" and thought of in terms of "linear causality." The regulative behavior of general systems is determined by goal-directed, dynamic interaction between many forces and variables in an open system. Bertalanffy points out that "no comprehensive theory of systems exists today." As a model, however, the approach has many advantages, such as obviating the need for the "ghost in the machine" and suggesting some solutions to the mind-body problem.

Lancelot Law Whyte

The Universe of Experience

Modern experience forces philosophy and social thought to confront the basic problems of value. Is this life worth caring about? How can we find a way between the deceit of fanatical belief and despair? In the view of Lancelot Law Whyte, the essential challenge to mankind today is an underlying nihilism promoting violence and frustrating sane policies on major social issues. Avoiding the seductive trap of utopianism, Whyte approaches this challenge by defining the terms of a potentially worldwide consensus of heart, mind, and will.