I first saw this back in the 1980s when I spent hours watching PBS channel 67. Cosmos was new, and BBC series like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were faves. Bronowski was very interesting but I’m sure much of it sailed over my head back then–I was in middle school when I first saw it.
So far the series holds up remarkably well after nearly 4 decades. What’s changed? The earliest dates for ‘civilization’ have been pushed back in the Americas and also in Eurasia with discoveries of new cities in Peru and Turkey. Neanderthals and homo sapiens are now known to have intermingled a bit more intimately than previously believed after the latter moved from Africa to Europe and Asia. Chauvet cave indicates that humans were making art and performing rituals at an unimaginably early date. It’s no longer cool to use the term ‘primitive,’ which Bronowski does quite often. It’s also not cool to touch the paintings at Lascaux, which Bronowski does on film.
What hasn’t changed? Bronowski’s deep inspiration and his humane compassion for all facets of human creativity and experience. His discussion of nomadic cultures versus settled cultures is very convincing. His passion for human skill–what separates man from the animals in his view is man’s pride in his skill and his desire to improve his skills to alter the landscape aesthetically and practically–is compelling and warmly communicated. Astonishingly complex discoveries by ‘primitive’ people do not need an extraterrestrial explanation–Bronowski understands that homo sapiens has always been a remarkable adapter, a remarkable observer, a remarkable tinkerer.
It’s quite fun to re-watch a series which helped launch my curiosity about ancient civilizations after I’ve visited many sites as an adult. Once upon a time I sat awestruck as Bronowski walked around places like Machu Picchu and Reims cathedral–now I can watch and think about my own adventures as I toured those places.
Perhaps after I finish the series I’ll tackle his books. But who has time for reading?