And we are really here on a wonderful threshold of
knowledge. The ascent of man is always teetering in the balance. There
is always a sense of uncertainty, whether when man lifts his foot for
the next step it is really going to come down pointing ahead. And what
is ahead for us? At last the bringing together of all that we have
learned, in physics and in biology, towards an understanding of where we
have come: what man is.
is not a loose-leaf notebook of facts. Above all, it is a responsibility
for the integrity of what we are, primarily of what we are as ethical
creatures. You cannot possibly maintain that informed integrity if you
let other people run the world for you while you yourself continue to
live out of a ragbag of morals that come from past beliefs. That is
really crucial today. You can see it is pointless to advise people to
learn differential equations, or to do a course in electronics or in
computer programming. And yet, fifty years from now (he wrote this in
1973), if an understanding
of man's origins, his evolution, his history, his progress is not the
commonplace of the schoolbooks, we shall not exist. The commonplace of
the schoolbooks of tomorrow is the adventure of today, and that is what
we are engaged in.
And I am
infinitely saddened to find myself suddenly surrounded in the west by a
sense of terrible loss of nerve, a retreat from knowledge into - into
what? Into Zen Buddhism; into falsely profound questions about, Are we
not really just animals at bottom; into extra-sensory perception and
mystery. They do not lie along the line of what we are now able to know
if we devote ourselves to it: an understanding of man himself. We are
nature's unique experiment to make the rational intelligence prove
itself sounder than the reflex. Knowledge is our destiny.
Self-knowledge, at last bringing together the experience of the arts and
the explanations of science, waits ahead of us.
very pessimistic to talk about western civilisation with a sense of
retreat. I have been so optimistic about the ascent of man; am I going
to give up at this moment? Of course not. The ascent of man will go on.
But do not assume that it will go on carried by western civilisation as
we know it. We are being weighed in the balance at this moment. If we
give up, the next step will be taken - but not by us. We have not been
given any guarantee that Assyria and Egypt and Rome were not given. We
are waiting to be somebody's past too, and not necessarily that of our
We are a
scientific civilisation: that means, a civilisation in which knowledge
and its integrity are crucial. Science is only a Latin word for
knowledge. If we do not take the next step in the ascent of man, it will
be taken by people elsewhere, in Africa, in China. Should I feel that to
be sad? No, not in itself. Humanity has a right to change its colour.
And yet, wedded as I am to the civilisation that nurtured me, I should
feel it to be infinitely sad. I, whom England made, whom it taught its
language and its tolerance and excitement in intellectual pursuits, I
should feel it a grave sense of loss (as you would) if a hundred years
from now Shakespeare and Newton are historical fossils in the ascent of
man, in the way that Homer and Euclid are.