Brain Pickings

James Burke’s Connections: A BBC History of Innovation


What the sociology of the Industrial Revolution has to do with combinatorial creativity.

In 1978, BBC aired a 10-part series entitled Connections, in which science historian James Burke made a compelling case for what’s essentially our founding philosophy: That ideas and innovation don’t occur in isolation, and that creativity is a combinatorial force. (Something more recently echoed by Paula Scher, Nina Paley and Steven Johnson.) True to the program’s subtitle, An Alternative View of Change, Burke debunks the myth of historical progress as a linear force and instead explores the interplay and interconnectedness of events and motives as the origin of modernity’s gestalt.

It’s about the things that surround you in the modern world and, just because they’re there, shape the way you think and behave; and why they exist in the form they do; and who — or what — was responsible for them existing at all.”

The entire Connections series is now available for free online, including the two sequels to the original 1978 program — Connections² (1994) and Connections³ (1997).

For a higher-quality experience, each of the three parts is available as a 5-disc box set, all of which we’ve promptly wishlisted.

The series was also adapted in Burke’s excellent 1995 book Connections, a fascinating 320-page journey into the history of innovation.

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