Jacob Bronowski’s “The Reach of Imagination” and Stephen Jay Gould’s “Evolution as Fact and Theory”
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According to the essays by mathematician Jacob Bronowski in “The Reach of Imagination” (1967) and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould in “Evolution as Theory and Fact” (1981), the behind-the-scene development of science is being induced differently through imagination and evolution. In Bronowski’s essay, he describes the unique quality that makes humans different from animals, through referring to work done by another expert, Walter Hunter. Bronowski then defines how imagination works by explaining the process according to his own concepts and the role it plays in all spheres of knowledge. The author states that human development occurs through a combination of scientific methods and imagination.
He goes on to strengthen his statements by illustrating paradigms of how great scientists used this ability, thus explaining the existence of imagination. Gould, in his essay, proves his position on evolution theory by presenting solid evidences. Gould begins by portraying the conflicts in scientific theory that occurred between creationists and evolutionists, to depict the irrationality of the creationists’ assertions. Gould then mentions the three major pillars of belief that suggest that the assumption of evolution is inducible. In a way, Bronowski’s claims about the relation between science and imagination debase the authority of science by suggesting that science is merely assumption rather than definite concepts. On the other hand, Gould’s statement on the derivation of science is better defined.
In Bronowski’s essay, the author establishes his claim by making a solid position on the importance of imagination through his definition of the term. Bronowski declares that no other creature has the ability to accomplish the same things as can humans, using their minds, and through imagination humans are gifted with different abilities – varying from creative to technical skills. Bronowski asserts: “…imagination is a specifically human gift. To imagine is the characteristic act, not of the poet’s mind, or the painter’s, or the scientist’s, but the mind of man.” (Bronowski, p.1) Bronowski supports this idea by explaining how our species is unique from all others due to the incredible capacity of our memory.
Moreover, all humans, regardless of background or profession, embrace this gift that unites us and makes us dissimilar from other creatures: “Of all the distinctions between man and animal, the characteristic gift which makes us human is the power to work with symbolic images: the gift of imagination.” (Bronowski, p.2) Such an advantageous and essential trait that is exclusive to humans only, the imagination, is defined as being the invisible imagery and symbolizing activity in one’s head: “I have described imagination as the ability to make images and to move them about inside one’s head in new arrangements.” (Bronowski, p.4) Bronowski defines the importance of the imagination to human beings and how it operates. Through his definition, he is able to detail the practice of imagination and emphasize its existence.
Bronowski’s goal is to examine the interconnection of science with human imagination and prove that human progress is made through a combination of the scientific method and imagination: “All great scientists have used their imagination freely…Albert Einstein fiddled with imaginary experiments from boyhood and was wonderfully ignorant of the facts that they were supposed to bear on.” (Bronowski, p.4) Bronowski suggests that imagination holds a strong connection with innovation in science through exposing the similarity in mental movements. Bronowski points out that, first, people perceive the idea or picture in their minds, and then create it. Bronowski explains in detail how the mind creates new concepts with imagination: “Yet seeing is also imagining. Galileo did challenge the authority of Aristotle…But the eye that Galileo used was the mind’s eye…” (Bronowski, p.3) Bronowski refers to Galileo’s theory and experiment of dropping two balls by imagining it in his own mind; therefore, the imaginary experiment has made the field of science interesting. More so, Bronowski implies that the mechanism of imagination is significant to the origins of science, and provides two references.
In Gould’s essay, the validity of a science theory, evolution, is questioned by its disbelievers. In opposition, the creationists argue that science theory, evolution, does not convey a definite explanation and is imperfect: “…’theory’ often means ‘imperfect fact’ – part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess…Well, evolution is a theory.” (Gould, p.1) The creationists take their argument further by saying that no scientific theories can be proven and that the theory of evolution cannot even be tested as can the theories of experimental science; therefore, the theory of evolution is not a fact: “If evolution is less than a fact, and scientists cannot even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it?” (Gould, p.1) As claimed by the creationists, scientists cannot discover absolute truth because science explanations change constantly, and the theories derived are totally beyond the realm of direct testing or verification.
According to Gould, a theory is to make sense of all science effects with solid explanations and confirmations. In response to the creationists’ attack, Gould says that evolution is a fact and scientists know beyond reasonable doubt that evolution happened; however, the exact mechanism of evolution, exactly how it happened, is still a theory. Gould begins his counter-argument by differentiating between theory and fact: “Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts.” (Gould, p.1) Fact is definite while theory analyzes how the fact is reached; therefore, Gould admits science is theory. The author then decomposes the theory of evolution into the three main beliefs of which it is comprised. The first belief is the observation and experiment assumption: “we have abundant, direct observational evidence of evolution in action…British moths that became black when industrial soot darkened…” (Gould, p.3) Gould’s first belief is that evolution is observable in laboratory experiments and in areas of nature.
The second belief is the imperfection belief: “…the imperfection of nature reveals evolution…But perfection could be imposed by a wise creator or evolved by natural selection.” (Gould, p.3) Thus, nature shows many animals that share common bone structures, when more perfect structures could be designed for each, so that this imperfect link suggests a common background The third belief is the confirmation of transitional forms: “…transitions are often found in the fossil record. Preserved transitions are not common-and should not be…” (Gould, p.3) The fossil evidence thus also supports evolution. With the three beliefs, Gould maintains that, even though theory is not fact, it is not assumption either. Gould implies that when a theory is reached in science, it carries a vest of solid evidence and has been induced in several experiments. The definitive purpose of science is to recognize the cause and effect of everything with clear evidence that supports the assumption. Therefore, scientific theories are being tested extensively.
Bronowski’s view of relating imagination to science is innovative and interesting; however, he is debasing the value of science by suggesting that science theories originate from simple innovation or sudden creativity. Whereas, Gould reveals the process and elements that make up a science theory, and Gould therefore demonstrates that science is the result of countless refinements and reduction. In Gould’s view, even though scientific theory is not fact, it is the best analysis of the fact.
Bronowski, Jacob. “The reach of imagination.” The Norton Reader. Ed. Arthur M. Eastman. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1992. 125 – 138.
Gould, Stephen J. “Evolution as fact and theory.” Major Modern Essayist. Ed. Gilbert H. Muller. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1991. 379 – 385.