James Burke: The Day The Universe Changed
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James Burke: The Day The Universe Changed

1985, Science  -   45 Comments
Ratings: 7.72/10 from 57 users.

The Day The Universe ChangedThe Day the Universe Changed is a ten-part documentary television series presented by science historian James Burke. The series tells a series of stories of how specific scientific and technological advances have shaped the Western way of life.

The series posits that when one's view of the universe changes, the universe itself effectively changes. The series' primary focus is on the effect of advances in science and technology on western philosophy. The title comes from the philosophical idea that the universe essentially only exists as you perceive it through what you know; therefore, if you change your perception of the universe with new knowledge, you have essentially changed the universe itself.

To illustrate this concept, James Burke tells the various stories of important scientific discoveries and technological advances and how they fundamentally altered how western civilization perceives the world. The series runs in roughly chronological order, from around the beginning of the Middle Ages to the present.

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45 Comments / User Reviews

Leave a Reply to S. Wolf Cancel reply

  1. Whorton

    You commented,

    "I think the reply to "get over it" is a way of saying Human Trafficking stills gets the stamp of approval... it is what made and/or makes this country great. Just think about it..... this country only exist because of the broken backs, spirits, of people with moorish descent. "

    Honestly? You believe the country was built on the broken backs of untrained and uneducated black laborers? Perhaps you have forgotten which area used most slaves, (the South) and in what capacity, (Agricultural and cotton production -Both requiring only physical effort.) By the industrial revolution, most labor had to be skilled to construct the machinery and tools of the revolution.

    Observers from the left seem to overlook so many important facts. Consider for instance, that Americans did not just sail over to Africa, hop off the ship and round up a few random indigenous black folks, shanghi them and bring them to America for sale. The great african slave trade started with ARAB (MUSLIM) traders who purchased black people who had been captured and sold by their OWN BROTHERS and other tribes. There was no consideration of compassion or human rights from the traders or the tribes. GET THAT? The kidnapped their fellow Afrikaners without consideration of RIGHTS only profits. Nor was America the only country that purchased slaves, NOR were they the first. Do some research yourself you arrogant leftist interloper.

    You should also be aware that efforts were made to repatriate many of the slaves:

    "However, the expedition was also partially funded by the U.S. Congress, which in 1819 had appropriated $100,000 to be used in returning displaced Africans, illegally brought to the United States after the abolishment of the slave trade in 1808, to Africa.

    The program was modeled after British’s efforts to resettle freed slaves in Africa following England’s abolishment of the slave trade in 1772. In 1787, the British government settled 300 former slaves and 70 white prostitutes on the Sierra Leone peninsula in West Africa. Within two years, most members of this settlement had died from disease or warfare with the local Temne people. However, in 1792, a second attempt was made when 1,100 freed slaves, mostly individuals who had supported Britain during the American Revolution and were unhappy with their postwar resettlement in Canada, established Freetown under the leadership of British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson.

    During the next few decades, thousands of freed slaves came from Canada, the West Indies, and other parts of West Africa to the Sierra Leone Colony, and in 1820 the first freed slaves from the United States arrived at Sierra Leone. In 1821, the American Colonization Society founded the colony of Liberia south of Sierra Leone as a homeland for freed U.S. slaves outside of British jurisdiction.

    Most Americans of African descent were not enthusiastic to abandon their homes in the United States for the West African coast. The American Colonization Society also came under attack from American abolitionists, who charged that the removal of freed slaves from the United States strengthened the institution of slavery. However, between 1822 and the American Civil War, some 15,000 African Americans settled in Liberia, which was granted independence by the United States in 1847 under pressure from Great Britain. Liberia was granted official U.S. diplomatic recognition in 1862. It was the first independent democratic republic in African history.

    Or perhaps you should look up the "Back to Africa campaign in the 19th century"

    By the way, what exactly did Africa bring to the world technologically? Scientifically? Mathematically? Did they levitate their pyramids over here and help the Mayans and Toltecs build theirs? Did they locate oil or invent the internal combustion engine? How about electricity? The transistor? Did they discover the Germ theory of disease?, Discover antibiotics? Anything cool?

    Not that I am aware of. . .

    1. Josh

      I hear there is a sale on tiki torches at the local Walmart you should probably hurry up.

    2. Maddie

      Just because you're not aware of something doesn't make it untrue. In fact, many of the technological breakthroughs you refer to could not have been made without the foundation of methods for scientific study. These foundations were laid in large part by scholars in places like The Songhai Empire. Many European scholars frequently traveled to schools in cities like Timbuktu to study the arts and mathematics. Spanish tradesmen, like stone masons, learned their techniques there, and proceeded to propagate their use all over Europe. The Benin Empire's impact on the arts was even more widespread. The influence of African artist on Dutch, Spanish, and German artwork lasted centuries after the fall of the empire, and can even be seen in today's artwork, especially in sculpture and metalworking.

      As for your assertion that our industrial production was built by skilled workers and not slave labor you're not considering where the wealth came from to hire and train those workers. in the late 18th and early 19th centuries cotton was king. Cotton was the modern day equivalent of oil. American cotton was exported around the world. The textile manufacturing in the American northeast and England relied entirely upon the production of cheap southern cotton, which allowed people like Chatam, Cone , and Lowell to make massive profits which they in turn used to fund investment in non-textile manufacturing industrialization. Without this cheap cotton coming from the southern states there wouldn't have been the industrial revolution in the north or at best it would have much smaller and much slower to develop. And, while it is true slaves didn't work in factories, in this way their labor in the south did fund the building of much of the northern industrial base of which you're so proud.

      I don't time have to answer your last paragraph but, let's just say that without the contributions of numerous Black engineers, scientist, scholars, and inventors we wouldn't have things like blood transfusions, electric lights, supercomputers, and many, many other things.

      I'll be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and say that you might honestly think you're only being factual and not racist, but your lack of knowledge makes the reverse appear to be true.

  2. j connell

    I can explain science and spirituality.. it's the same thing.. science just discovers and is discovering what mystics have know for ages..

    1. Janus Boesen Agerbo

      Keep lying to your self. The main difference is that science discover things, mystics are throwing everything at the wall. Only very ill educated people can't see the difference.

    2. m1shu

      Thank you Mrs. Garrison.

  3. Cgarrproductions

    Mr. Burke,by showing how the past was controlled by the religous right at the time, shows the danger we are in today. Science is the answer,religion is the enemy.

    1. Burl Benson Hall

      Religion is NOT THE problem. It is a problem nested within a holographic (part mirrors whole) mess. THE PROBLEM is us. Us includes reductionistic know it all science as well as religion. Both say they have The Way. No, The Way is The Way independent of religion or science. The PROBLEM is in our idealism and our grounding in Greco-Roman civilization. The PROBLEM goes back even further to the movement of the hunting/gathering and nomadic herdsmen moving into agriculture and civilization. The story if you can understand the language of metaphor is in the story of Cain (agriculture/civilization) slaying Able (the tribal cultures going all the way up to today and in its most ugly form murdered the native american lifestyles.) Please consider seeing the big picture instead of locking yourself into this vs that. Its the SYSTEM that both church, science and state that needs to be overhauled. In truth, this isn't sufficient. WE need to be the change. What is a system if not a compiling of us?

    2. Bezalel

      Dead on
      Thank you

  4. S. Wolf

    The episodes all have those annoying network logos plastered on screen. No point bothering if we have to put up with that crap. The CONNECTIONS episodes are 'clean', why not these?

    1. Lum666

      ahahaha free isnot good enough for you, what about closing your eyes and just litstening, i hope youre kidding

  5. Incongruous kitty

    I really believe that you must read the books and see the series' Connections as well, Mr Burke, thesis points out that western culture has taken one direction, which is not necessarily the best, and that we must look to the past so we do not make mistakes regarding the future.

  6. The Original Anonymous Coward

    Slavery did not begin when the Europeans discovered a cheap source of labor among the darker-skinned peoples of Africa. Other "civilizations" world-wide had been keeping slaves for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. Many of these slaves had been captured after a military battle, others were born into slavery/serfdom. Slave-keeping is by no means unique to western European culture.

  7. James

    Luv it! Much more interesting and enjoyable than the book. I remember when this was on and looked forward to Sunday mornings for it. I will look forward to Sunday mornings again.

  8. Publius

    I think, after reading through most of the comments, that Philonous was the only one who really got the point of what the documentary was driving at: What you see is determined by what you know and when that changes everything changes.

    Burke seems to have based a lot of his thinking, in this series, on the work of Thomas Kuhn who wrote a little ditty titled: "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". Anyone viewing this series really ought to consider reading that book. Although fair warning it is written in Academese as it was his Masters Thesis.

    However dated some of the footage might me the documentary still stands the test of time as the real subject of the documentary is timeless. The real underlying question is, "how do we know what we know?" How do our own biases i.e., what we "know" influence how we see and interact with the world at large.

    One could even ask that question fairly of Mr. Burke - which I actually think he would appreciate.

    Yes, other cultures have had direct and indirect influence on our thought, however, so far as the west goes, the influences of classical civilization from Egypt, Greece, and Rome have greatly influenced how we see the world. It is not to say that it is the only way, but it is the way it is. Materialism, which is the underlying philosophy of the West has its limitations. However, the introspection of the East, for all its great virtues of emphasizing the spiritual side of existence has been stagnant since following the time of Buddha. So, both are parts of a full view of existence but they complement despite sometimes conflicting.

  9. ashbreaksstuff

    I'm really enjoying this so far.

    I have one question though - in "Point of View" part 2 around 2:17 - Holy cow! What is James Burke packing in those pants?

    Sorry. I couldn't help but notice

  10. Marian R.

    This is one of the best documentary series I have ever seen.
    I like how James Burkes isn't judgementalm, doesn't tell you what is good or bad, right or wrong, that he makes you think and the fact that it is still very much pertinent over 20 years after it was made, in fact Burke's conclusion that we are heading towards a world in balanced anarchy seems to be the right one.

    I think that the perceived ethnocentricity some of you talk about has more to do with the fact that this documentary focuses on the Western civilazation and its evolution and trying to make you understand why it is the way it is.Detailing other civilazations would have become confusing for the actual goal of the series.

    In my opinion the apparent flippancy on the issue of slavery has to do with the fact that Burke tries not to be judgemental and be objective.It is in tune with what he says about change,in all periods it is acceptable to do some things and not others.
    Some would say that he also was flippant about the burning of the "witch" or on other event in history, like the inquisition or crusades. They were all horrible deeds but the role of a good documentary is to make you learn and think, that's why it presents only the important facts and not all the details.

  11. Don Kelvin

    Anyone out there who was, or is, a slave, please raise your hand, and the bloggers here will see to it you get paid for your forced labor. Everyone else....well, get over it, nothing happens in the past.

    1. David Foster

      Anyone with a mortgage, car loan, student loan, business loan, gas bill, electric bill, telephone bill, rent, alimony, child support, etc, etc, etc...

      [sigh] ... There just aren't enough hours in the day!

  12. Chief

    @ Epicurean_Logic

    Slavery, as practiced from the 16th to 19th century,is a sensitive and difficult subject to address. The wealth accrued from the enterprise, having been passed on generationally, enriched families, corporations, institutions and governments exceedingly. At a time when reparations and restitution for pass injustices have been deemed appropriate for some groups, the enslavement of Africans remain outside the acceptable parameters for consideration. There is no great desire among the beneficiaries of the "peculiar institution" to redress past grievances. Discussions in a classroom setting requires exposure to knowledge that you just can't find in the curriculum guidelines of established educational practices. The problem is difficult to overcome, but individual teachers, with a contractual clause supporting 'academic freedom' might broach the subject through research assignments, reports and follow-up discussions. If it is student centered, parents might become aware of under-exposed information in the process of discovery and become disarmed about the content absorbed by their children.

    At any rate, I certainly appreciate the exchange and I agree that James Burke was 'flippant' about slavery. But I would like to think that everyone would be offended by his attitude towards this particular period of history. Yet, I know that few care and the constant refrain is "get over it!"

    1. lisa

      I think the reply to "get over it" is a way of saying Human Trafficking stills gets the stamp of approval... it is what made and/or makes this country great. Just think about it..... this country only exist because of the broken backs, spirits, of people with moorish descent. This country was established for the purpose of people with this ethnicity to hate themselves without knowing why they hate themselves. When people to just forget who they were, who they are, and their Ancestors orginal contributions to the world's different societies they become slaves. How can the world know who you are if you don't have your Dads last name. Your just a bastard, a slave, a curse. Ham and his grandson curse was broken when Immanuel hung on the cross. Satan is a liar. And must be rebuked in the name Jesus Christ of NAZARETH. Love thy neighbor, which is yourself. Know thyself, then you can love your others. Remember Immanuel and Hasheem loved you first through the covenant of friendship with our Father Abraham.

  13. Epicurean_Logic

    @Chief. Your right as were the Greeks to reference their Kemetic mentors. It's a good lesson to see how new ideas don't appear fully formed and are for the most part a continuation and improvement of predecessors work.

    One concern i have with class presentation of this documentary is Burkes flippant attitude to slavery, this may cause offence to some. Although i would hope that rhetorical consistency may allow student to overlook this and focus more on what he does well. It would also be interesting to see how non-europeans respond to this. Lively debate i'm sure!

    I can certainly envisage some students really benefiting from his logical presentation of information.

  14. Chief

    @ Epicurean_Logic

    I'm saying that the knowledge transmitted by the Greeks relative to their Kemetic experiences was ignored in the 1600's. The dehumanization of Ethiopian people had begun in earnest (any groups on continental Africa). The culture of enslavement was much more palatable if the enslaved could be depicted as less than human, unintelligent and religiously designated as "beasts of burden" by the will of an imagined God.

    What the Greeks thought about these people, what they learned and what they transmitted had to be concealed from the masses. In spite of the secrecy, knowledge was shared and carried throughout the known world.

    As for classroom usage I would have to defer to the school's administrator. I know that I would not use "It began with the Greeks" without sharing the thoughts of Greeks about Kemetic people. However, it is certainly good enough, in my opinion, for classroom use.

  15. Epicurean_Logic

    @Chief. When you say, Egyptian contribution was

    'ignored since 1630 and dismissed by many historians since 1830.'

    Can you clarify how? I see it as knowledge that was lost after time and not as being purposely erased. Ancient Egyptian (KMT) knowledge was also very secretive which doesn't help in teaching it to others.

    Pythagoras was secretive as were his mentors, hardly anthing is known about him and he never wrote anything down, others were more open and it was this tradition that, naturally got passed down in literature.

    Also. Do you think that this presentation would work in classroom? Last lesson friday afternoon treat maybe?

  16. Chief

    @ Epicurean_Logic

    My reference to Euclid, in the context of other notable Greek scholars and writers, was in support of my proposition that those Greeks recorded and acknowledged personal contributions that they received from their contact with Kemetic (Egyptian) people. However, what they acknowledge has been ignored since 1630 and dismissed by many historians since 1830.

    I still enjoyed James Burke and learned a lot from his presentation. As a former teacher, I found mis-education, from any point of view, an obstacle to optimum growth and development.
    I started my comment with a positive: "Quite interesting". I was absorbed for two days with the 7+ hours.

  17. Epicurean_Logic

    @Chief. You make a lot of interesting points and it is fair to say that Burke has a Euro-centric point of view, as a European this is perfectly natural, and i don't see it as close to the racist :(

    I cannot agree with you when you say that Euclid is any less valid today as it was 2300 years ago, Elements is still the foundation af ALL geometry number theory and much more. The other Greek works have the same importance. Drama, art, philosophy, pottery, democracy, architecture, to name but a few are not comparable to ANY other culture and have a direct timeline into modern life.

    I like Burkes rhetoric and storytelling style and what he does choose to focus on he does well.

  18. Tyler

    @Canadian, I'll agree that this is dated, but I would say that to point this fact out is a bit unnecessary as the doc is quite obviously from the Cold War era. Not everything worth knowing is brand new.

    As far as ethnocentricism, sure. I don't think Burke is innocent of bias. And as Chief said, Burke's ommission of Egyptian contributions and almost dismissive attitude of the African slave trade is a bit short-sighted. However, it seems to me that his opinion of these subjects is not without understanding or a sense of perspective, and is cushioned by a healthy dose of satire. Put simply, his omissions seem to have more to do with the doc's strong focus on the subject of Western culture than his own bias.

    At least, that's what I'm getting out of it.

  19. lidija

    for an example: nikola tesla was a genius solely responsible for many privileges we enjoy today. but he is no Edison apparently. Who knows where Nikola Tesla is from, or anything else about him? ...yet we know everything about Benjamin Franklin's little kite experiment ahahahaha not to downsize the importance of Benjamin Franklin....im just speaking in comparative terms to pinpoint the exact problem with the warped view of history allowed and propagated in the west. this would be justifiably so if were were talking about some dark ages kind of a setting, or like an islamic state or smg- but how is this prevalent in the liberal, free, open minded western 'civilization'? i just dont like hypocrisy. im not asking anyone not to be self-serving: that would be against the most basic of the human nature, all 'civilizations' were self serving. JUST DONT pretend you're not, west. dont call it what its not. its so obvious.

  20. lidija

    the west went far from Socrates and old Greece...and the famous line ' ...only thing i know is that i know nothing at all...' or smg along those lines. today the west is pretentios enough to believe it understands everything hehehe it must come with the power....i never understood the full obsession with greece and rome- egypt also: as if these three were the only important civilizations, isolated from other influences of other civilizations of africa, the asiatic continent, europe....etc. oh yes- the others were barbarians... hahahaha

  21. lidija

    it would serve us better to be truth-centric and fact-centric when looking at history, than self-centric.....inclusive rather than exclusive. otherwise- one should not even attempt at summarizing world history for it ceases to be world history at that exact moment....for that reason an isolated village tribe somewhere far ...or close, is waaaay less hypocritical than the 'west civilization' for not even attempting to grasp and digest and summarize / manipulate smg so clearly out of reach of full comprehension.

  22. lidija

    I agree with Chief and Canadian.

  23. Chief

    @ Epicurean_Logic

    The bias seems to follow the Aryan Model of Europe's civilizing origins. After 1630, the trade across the Atlantic involving enslaved Africans, evolved into an anti-black racism. After 1830, the writings and histories of Ancient Greeks; Herodotus, Aristotle, Isokrates, Plato, Euclid, Homer, Diodorus and others ceased to serve as a basis for European knowledge. These Greeks attributed their learning to Egypt. Thus, an even more insidious form of racism arose: "Ancient Egypt ceased to be a part of Africa; Pharonic civilisation ceased to be an aspect of Africa's development and initiative" (Basil Davidson)

    James Burke, by his omission, appears to embrace this line of thinking. Even as he provided an historical/scientific account of Spanish subjugation, he refused to reference the role of the MOORS in the advancements that came to Europe. He only identified the conquerors as Arabs.

  24. Epicurean_Logic

    'Booya' I didn't realise that this was James Burke. Cool.

    @Chief. The bias is justified. As well as being the only peoples of the time who spread rational thinking to the world, They also killed the gods only for the christian one to waltz in and regress them back to square -1. I thank the moors and curse the burning of the library at Alexandria for that.

    The Egyptians horded the knowledge for the preist's and upper classes, it was secretive in nature. The Greeks expanded on and publisised the knowledge.

    Apologies for the bad grammer and spelling in advance. I know that you hate that.

  25. Chief

    Quite interesting in spite of his bias towards historical origins of knowledge. A multitude of Greek personalities cite their years of learning in Ancient Kemet (Egypt).

  26. Philonous

    I think I have to disagree with you. If you see the very beggining and the very last episode by James Burke his whole thesis is that what we know determines how we view the entire world. In the last episode he showed a group of tibetan buddhist monks meditating in their temples, and he was exploring the temples and observing their culture. He made a comparison between the Buddhist culture in Tibet and the western culture in North America and Europe influenced by scientific discovery. He finally says that just like our scientific methods and knowledge, the Buddhist had their own methods and knowledge of the universe, and for them the universe is going through an endless cycle whereas for us its different since we view the universe in linear time. His whole point through out the whole series was not to show progress but to show how the change in our knowledge entails the change in how we view the universe, not necessarily progress.

    I suggest you watch the whole series again and see what I mean. James Burke is not showing these scientific discoveries to show that we are progressing, he's showing these scientific discoveries because they change how we see the universe.

  27. Philonous

    I saw this documentary 2 times already, but I still love it. Thank you for posting the videos.

  28. Isabella

    yay. no such thing as too much James Burke.
    -according to me? overdose not possible! :)

  29. Canadian

    slightly ethnocentric. and is a little dated. This shows in the fact that it does not take into account post modernism. it assumes that history has a direction from uncivilized to civilized, as defined by people in the west.

  30. D-K

    O yeah, today is the day. Nothing to do but to get high, grab a beer and sit back as I get educated to a fine pulp for the next 7.5 hours.

    Some might say it is not meant for a single sitting.. I just say; booya! I'm watching this.

  31. Sam

    OK, I will chip away at this gradually. Philosophical narratives about technology and human perception is right up my alley, thanks Vlatko keep em coming!

  32. eireannach666

    Ok , Vlatko , here it goes , Im off work today so Ill put my 7.5 in on this one.

  33. MrMajestik

    Oh I loved this series when it first came out, expanded my mind on thinking in more complex ways...LOVE IT! Watch, learn, and Enjoy... Razor...you will learn more from this 7.5 hrs than 750 hrs of reading the "Holy" bible!

    Hope they up load "Connections" from J. Burke

  34. Achems Razor

    Good grief!!...7.5 hours long?? Nothing is 7.5 hours long.

    Now I have to watch! No life at all!!

  35. D-K

    10m/s with consistant acceleration for 7.5 hours, apparently.. Enjoy, I'll watch it as soon as I get home.. I'm restricted to this sad excuse for a computer at work.. doesn't even have sound.

  36. dustin

    Well here I go.....How far down the rabbit hole can i go??