Jacob Bronowski’s family were murdered at Auschwitz by people who could not imagine being wrong. Bronowski was a mathematician and scientist, a man of immense culture, curiosity and humility. He was a man of such learning that he knew perfectly well how fallible we are, and how prone to error.
Bronowski, like my friend Henry Glanz, fled Poland as a child, just as the cloud of absolutism fell over Europe. Just like Henry, he ended up in England, and subsequently, in both instances, their parents were murdered by unlettered louts pumped up on political certainties.
Bronowski went on to excel in the sciences and the arts: the science of biology and the art of mathematics. Henry went on to make shoes.
In 1973, Bronowski made a wonderful BBC series called the Ascent of Man, in which he followed humankind’s ability to develop rational thought. He intertwined art and science in his narrative as he explored all human history, and eventually found himself contemplating the problem of certainty.
In this episode, entitled Knowledge or Certainty, Bronowski finds himself in Auschwitz, standing at the sludge pond containing the ashes of a million people, including those of his own family.
In answer to the shallow and terrifying certainties of people like Palin and McCain, I can think of no more powerful voice than that of the erudite and humble Dr Bronowski.
I have nothing to add to his words.
Incidentally: Leo Szilard