International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Science and Human Values

by Jacob Bronowski

Introductory Essay by B. V. Subbarayappa

This remarkable short book comprises three essays: (i) The Creative Mind, (ii) The Habit of Truth, and (iii) The Sense of Human Dignity, based on the three lectures delivered by the author at MIT early in 1953 when he was Carnegie Professor there. The central theme of the essays is “that the practice of science compels the practitioner to form for himself a fundamental set of values” [8].

In the first essay, the author argues succinctly that both science and art are creative acts of the human mind. It is naïve to think that science is merely a collection or dictionary of facts about nature. For it delves into secrets of nature. In a creative manner, it discovers a perceptible likeness or unity in diversity. A scientist looks for order in the appearances of nature by exploring such likenesses. But science, like art or poetry, “is not a copy of nature, but a re-creation of her” [30].

Though the creative act is alike in science and in art, it is not exactly identical in the two. A scientist looks for facts and must conform to them truthfully. “The sanction of truth is a boundary which encloses him in a way in which it does not constrain the poet or the painter” [32]. The author’s exposition of the creative activities of the minds of Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Maxwell, Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, Goethe, Leonardo da Vinci, and others is fascinating indeed.

That science is a truthful activity is unquestionable. The second essay reveals how the habit of experimentation, testing and even correcting earlier concepts, if compelled by new facts, arrives at truth. Asking questions about the material world and attempting to find answers to them, as a habit, are characteristics of scientific pursuits of reality or truth. “This is the habit of truth, always minute, yet always urgent, which for four hundred years (since the time of the Scientific Revolution) has entered every action of ours” [53]

In the third essay, Bronowski veers round to his view that  “the values which we accept today as permanent and often as self-evident, have grown out of the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution” [55]. Science thus is not value-less nor is it value-neutral. It needs to be recognized that the practice of science has in itself certain values – independence in thought, originality in concepts, dissent (which is a mark of freedom), and tolerance of views of others on the basis of mutual respect which, in turn, emanates from a sense of justice and human dignity. Science and other creative activities like art and poetry have ushered in and nurtured these values since the time of the Renaissance. Significantly, adherence to, and promotion of these values have been engendered by the spread of scientific spirit.

The author’s source of inspiration to write these essays lay in his first visit  to Nagasaki in Japan in November 1945, a few months after it turned woefully desolate, devastated by an atomic bomb. He was well aware of the importance of human values like love, compassion and non-violence in human society. He also knew that they would not negate the values of science. He had hoped to write about the relation between the two sets of values, and the need for their blending in human conduct.

Well-written and stimulating, this book is a must for readers.