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Jacob Bronowski, the compassionate scientist

Sarfaty, Peter (2006) Jacob Bronowski, the compassionate scientist. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis attempts to analyse the life of Bronowski through his work and his discussions of his personal values, so the reader will gain an understanding of the creative imagination in science and art, as basic to human specificity.

Jacob Bronowski was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1908, the eldest of three sons of Abram Bronowski and Celia Flatto. During WWI, Russia invaded Poland, the family moved to Germany, and in 1920, Abram who had a linen export business with England moved the family to England. Jacob, who spoke no English, went to the Central Foundation School in London, and on to Cambridge University, where he was a student of Jesus College, graduating with a PhD in Mathematics in 1933.

Being in England gave Bronowski a light experience after the dark of Poland. England's civilized minds excited him and he was fascinated with the English language, which he described as boney, meaning the language, and the words, could be understood by topological (geometrical) structure. While at Cambridge, in companionship with another mathematician, William Empson, they edited a literary journal Experiment. This gives a lead to the creative mind which characterises the human species, a feature which Bronowski develops during the course of this thesis.

During a daylight air raid on London in 1941, Bronowski married Rita Colin (Coblitz) sculptor, and they subsequently had four daughters, Lisa, Judith, Beth and Clare. In English schools, it was usual practice for boys to refer to each other by their surnames, and Bronowski, as a school boy and throughout the remainder of his life was known as Bruno, the Polish diminutive of Bronowski.

When he was at Cambridge, Rita realised, that as a Jew, her husband was not going to be accepted as a Fellow of Jesus College, so he left Cambridge and over the years1945-1964 , when he worked for the Government in England, he developed a reputation as a lecturer, broadcaster, public educator, literary critic, mathematician and extensive writer.

In the thesis, Bronowski's works are analysed including: Science and Human Values, The Poet's Defence, William Blake and the Age of Revolution, The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination, and the BBC TV production, The Ascent of Man, a Knowledge and Imagination, and the BBe TV production, The Ascent of Man, a thirteen part series about the development of animal and human life, from the grunion, a fish on the beaches of La Jolla, San Diego up through modem day studies in quantum physics and DNA structures.

There is a seventh chapter which analyses, The Visionary Eye, a series of essays and lectures put together by his wife Rita in 1978 to show the bright ribbon of imagination in her late husband.

I created the thesis title Jacob Bronowski, the Compassionate Scientist to reflect how his values, and activities and ethics reach out to me and touch me. Bronowski's belief that being a Jew meant to me having a profound sense of intellectual values. It meant being tolerant of the thoughts of other minds, not out of indifference, but of respect, above all out of self respect ..... ethical values of Judaism state we are all responsible for each other. (Bronowski, 1968: On Being a Jew).

These values led Bronowski out of the shock of seeing the destruction of Nagasaki from the atomic bomb, through his thoughts on the Spanish civil war, and the propaganda of Nazism, out of the ashes of Auschwitz (part 11 of The Ascent of Man) to become involved in human biology, meeting with Jonas Salk and joining the Salk Institute in 1964.

Writing the thesis has given meaning to my life, about optimism, courage and ethical values, and I do trust it will convey those values to the readers.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Engineering Science
Supervisor(s): Jennings, Philip
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