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 <kchishol@execulink.com>

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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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A Personal View
5 August 2008 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Sadly, I feel that James Burke's personal view of the way that discovered knowledge, and inventions, has changed our view of the universe we live in, will never be made into a DVD set because, amongst other things, it challenges on too many levels. And the presentation, so important for any programme to become successful, has become dated. It isn't chock full of special effects. It isn't full of gee-whizz quick cutting and camera angles. In fact, it harks back to an earlier era of experts in their field, such as Dr Bronowski and Desmond Morris. It is entertainment, but nowadays only for a curious few. Those that are interested in the knowledge over and above the presentation. The BBC, to my uncertain memory, repeated it only once. JB's very good earlier Connections series got similar treatment.

And yet, it is a superb series. Hugely accessible if you're patient enough to watch and listen. And it stands as probably the last important science/philosophy popular media programme made by the BBC. Their trademark weekly technology magazine Tomorrow's World disappeared afterwards. The BBC have done other projects since, but only for much smaller audiences, and hence with nothing like the budget. That all initially disappeared to the BBC's excellent Natural World department, and latterly disappeared altogether. Even David Attenborough doesn't really get a look in nowadays. It's all responsible eco-travel, geography, geology and climate change now. No bad thing, you may think, but JB's series was showing the way back then. And the very latest trend of responsible consumerism and personal health was very much being examined in his programmes in 1985 as well. People haven't changed that much since then, and the series is still almost totally relevant. But in fact, the entire popular media aren't interested (in science/technology from a philosophical/historical perspective) anymore. Technology does its job, people don't understand it, and that's enough for 99.9% of them, or so it's perceived. JB predicted this in his series, as it was very much starting to happen at the time.

The bottom line is, not enough people care, for the media responsible to give the green light to produce a DVD set. Decades will go by, and some educated person will one day possibly look back and tell us how ground breaking the series was, and yet most people who could benefit from seeing it never will. To a certain extent, this is the clincher for me when ordinary people make these recordings available from private collections, either on sites like Youtube or download sites. If the public can't see these programmes, but would really love to, what are they to do..? Wait for never..? Thankfully, I recorded this series on VHS when it was first broadcast in 1985, and having looked after the tapes, have since transferred it to DVD, for my own use only, you understand. I did the same with JB's Connections series and I'm rather glad I did. But that's of little use to someone who would pay real money to watch these series but will never get the legal chance.

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