The Day the Universe Changed (1985– )

TV Series  -   -  Documentary | History
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James Burke explores key moments in Western History where new knowledge in science changed the way the modern Western world thinks.

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Series cast summary:
James Burke ...
 Himself - Host (10 episodes, 1985)


This series based on a simple premise, the universe is essentially only how you yourself perceive it. If you change what you know about the universe, then to you, you have essentially changed the universe itself. In this series, James Burke explores nine key moments in the history of the Western world when the introduction of new knowledge and/or technology has led to profound changes in how the West thinks. These include things like the introduction of Guttenberg's printing press, Copernicus's sun centered universe model and Darwin's publishing of his theory of evolution. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <>

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Release Date:

19 March 1985 (UK)  »

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(10 episodes)


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James Burke: ...and then things took an encouraging turn for the so-so.
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More James Burke goodness.
30 April 2013 | by (The San Francisco Bay Area) – See all my reviews

James Burke gives us a similar take on scientific discovery and technological breakthrough like he did in his excellent "Connections" series a few years before with "The Day the Universe Changed". This is a further examination of how science and technology have linear relations that spark change through society that, although they may feel like waves, are merely triggers or lynch pins that put other discoveries and events into motion. And, once you know that, how are you going to embrace the new society in the late 20th century and welcome the coming changes in the 21st century.

The whole gist of the series is that once you have this perspective, and know that the world is what you make of it, then, in Burke's opinion, you should shape your world to your needs. And the the reason you should do that is to avoid the pitfalls and mistakes of the past, because he shows you how science and engineering brought society forward, but also how it pushed it back when things went wrong.

And that's the real gem of the series. He doesn't show us outstanding successes by themselves, and then tout the virtues of science, logic/reason and applications of those methods, but also what drives men forward, and how some men are blinded by ego or desire.

That's about all the series is, though it also serves as a primer for the world about to be "radically changed". He of course speaks of the internet going public, and not just confined to labs and universities (as well as military installations), but given to the general public en large. He poses to us, the viewing audience, what if our community were boundless, and was not restrained by the old political boundaries that had held mankind back in previous ages?

From prehistoric man, to the classical era, to medieval times, to the renaissance, to the age of reason and beyond, Burke examines points in history and how that changed our ancestor's view, and how it shaped our present perspective. And he warns and asks us that, knowing this, what will we do with the future tomorrow.

It is a very welcome series shot on the usual UK 16mm format for TV of the 80s and before. Burke's esogination and presentation, as well as the theatrical vignettes, drive home his observations and educated us on passing facts that underline his lessons.

Definitely worth viewing for those of us who came of age before the 90s. Younger audiences may see this series as an anachronism, and who can blame them, because a lot of what Burke foretold has come about. Even so, give it a chance, if for no other reason than to see how us older folks viewed the world that eventually came into being.


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