First published in 1974, and available for free online, Changing Images of Man is a kind of philosophical reflection on science and how human beings understand themselves. While it does touch on some interesting ideas, the degree to which it is fundamentally lacking in rigour or discipline means that it is also choked with nonsense, impenetrable jargon, and pointless speculation. In short, it does not have the feel of a text whose ideas have been borne out by subsequent history. Rather, it is more like a monument to a kind of faddishness that has long since become dated, though elements endure in the more superstitious aspects of contemporary culture.
Much of the book concerns environmental issues: specifically, how human civilization can cease to be such a destructive force, and how ecology is affecting science in general. Neither discussion is very satisfying. The former discussion focuses on a kind of caricatured extension of the Beatles going to India to lean yoga and discover themselves. While significant transformations in human behaviours and self-understanding may well be necessary to generate a sustainable society, the perspective on those changes offered in this work doesn’t seem either plausible or compelling to me. The latter discussion exaggerates the degree to which the study of complex dynamic systems challenges the practice of science: while they are certainly more challenging to study scientifically than systems that are more easily broken down and understood in terms of constituents, science is nonetheless proving increasingly capable of dealing with complex systems like climate and ecosystems, and is doing so without the kind of radical extension and modification endorsed by this book.
Much of the book is no more comprehensible than a random string of pompous-sounding words strung together in a grammatical way. It seems telling that the chapter on ‘feasibility’ is the least accessible and comprehensible of the lot. The report perceives a crisis in science that I don’t think existed at the time it was written, and I do not think has emerged since. Complex phenomenon are being grappled with using enhanced versions of conventional techniques, while UFOs and psychic phenomena have been effectively rejected as quackery, due to the absence of any good evidence for their existence. Basically, Changing Images of Man is an exhortation to abandon rigorous thought in favour of a kind of wooly inclusiveness, exceedingly open to ideas that are too vague to really engage with. The book has a naive counterculture tone, overly willing to reject what is old and unthinkingly embrace novel concepts that register with a 1960s/1970s mindset. While the questions it considers are generally good and important ones, the answers provided are vague, preachy, and largely useless.