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Thread: Why did science progress so much in western Europe?

  1. #1 Why did science progress so much in western Europe? 
    Forum Cosmic Wizard icewendigo's Avatar
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    Almost every invention and scientific breakthroughs were made in western europe and later on in the US after the dark ages. Why?

    1- What social factors in particular and what other factors(political, economical, etc) allowed science and its application to progress so fast after the dark ages in western civilization (Italy, France, Germany, England and later on in the US) and in particular in the 20th century?

    2- a) I can guess Religion had a big role to play but I wonder in what way?
    b) China had I think a somewhat non religious society (compared to strict monotheist no questions asked religion) and yet baring a some inovation remained relatively idle, while in Europe a lot of common people were still devout church going christians even in early 20th century.

    3- Why were people around the world in 1920 were still living like europeans in 1400 or something, and were not at the 1870 level of education and social structure?

    4- For most of the 20th century Japan appears to be comparable to western nations and US, relatively secular, education, industrialized, yet until the end of the 20th century when they really started to kick a.s in some areas they dont appear to have made many breakthroughs that I am aware of (or am I ill informed)? They appeared to have mastered the art of adapting and improving existing technology making it better than those that had invented it, but I dont know how many new discoveries they have made in the 20th century? Why do you think this is?


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    Forum Ph.D. Cat1981(England)'s Avatar
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    I would guess that with european countries being at war almost constantly for a thousand years and with no single country having a major population advantage, technology would be one way to get the upperhand.
    Europe also has a very kind climate compared to asia and africa which would help with disease and food production which gave us (overall) more free time.
    Also we have been very lucky, if u took out a handful of people from european history i think things would have be very different for us.

    MOD Edit - second post merged.

    All the above also applies to the united states during the last century, particularly during the cold war.


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    erm..........because of the wars.

    (And also because we didnt live in mud huts during the 19th or 20th centuries)
    The hand of time rested on the half-hour mark, and all along that old front line of the English there came a whistling and a crying. The men of the first wave climbed up the parapets, in tumult, darkness, and the presence of death, and having done with all pleasant things, advanced across No Man's Land to begin the Battle of the Somme. - Poet John Masefield.

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    Forum Cosmic Wizard icewendigo's Avatar
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    being at war almost constantly
    erm..........because of the wars.
    Thanks for sharing your views

    I wonder the extent to which war was instrumental in Coppernicus' study of the solar system, or in Newton's development of calculus and theories on gravity, the discoveries of batteries, magnetism, studies on light with prisms, electicity, Curie's radioactivity, Tesla and Edisons various application of electricity.

    I agree that war have instumentalised discoveries and has pushed R&D but when you consider all discoveries since the middle ages, to me war appears to have played a minor role.
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    Because it's cold in the winter. You have to do something to take your mind off it, whereas on coconut beaches full of scantily clad young things, one does simply not have the time to perform 300 2hour experiments watching bacteria to see which one dominates the dish...


    On a more serious note, 'neccessity is the mother of invention' - many wartime inventions are simply not 'publicised' for obvious reasons,

    Nuc-u-lar [I believe that's the new way..] technology, the Jet engine, the space race, radar, digital electronics, programmable computers, satelite communications, mobile phones [yes, that's right, mobile phones] Global Positioning satelites, space travel, Microwave Ovens, - These were ALL 'seeded' in wartime - Now peactime... . . Mcdonalds ? is that er an invention?
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    I wonder the extent to which war was instrumental in Coppernicus' study of the solar system, or in Newton's development of calculus and theories on gravity, the discoveries of batteries, magnetism, studies on light with prisms, electicity, Curie's radioactivity, Tesla and Edisons various application of electricity.
    I don't think war did have a impact on the above, but those people lived in society's which one way or another could support them while they made their experiments and their discovery's.

    Mcdonalds ? is that er an invention?
    Fastfood was an invented economic market, which is something we should also consider here.
    After all is't that partly what the cold war was about ?

    I can guess Religion had a big role to play but I wonder in what way?
    Religious institutions also invested money to prove that god was a fact.
    And funded crusades to find religious artifacts which helped expand are world as we knew it then.
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    Hi Icewendigo

    War in Europe (and other factors) did have a lot to do with technological and scientific development in Europe, but the development was not necessarily because of war. Other factors were geography, plague and the rise of Islam. Also, in truth, this is so complex it is probably more honest to say that there were thousands of other factors.

    There are some obvious instances when war has contributed directly and I am sure that you are aware of them. Such as the use of gun powder, the rise of the cannon, Leonardo da Vinci's inventions (even though they weren't used). However, I believe that the greatest impact of European's wars was the need for nations to remain competitive to stay in the game. I can highly recommend the book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

    This book also mentions the issue of Europe's fractured geography. Since it consists of a combination of penisulas, islands, and mountain ranges there are a lot of military geographic choke points. These make areas more defendable and therefore, more difficult to unify and control over a long period. Hence, why no one was ever able to unify the whole of Europe. In comparison China is geographically easier to unify. China saw itself as the centre of the universe. It frequently felt no need to take notice of the rest of the world for long periods, because it had long periods free of conflict with its neighbours. Hence, there was more competition in Europe. Even during peace, European rulers would compete to have grander building, greater artist, more curiosities. This led to resources being spent on artists, designers, engineers, builders etc.

    Wars, plague and politics also frequently shook the foundations of European nations, thereby removing cultural stagnation, and allowing differences in ideas to flourish. It can even be argued by the cynical that to some degree the Protestant Reformation came about because of the influence of politics upon the Pope. This caused him to take actions, such as the selling of indulgences, which ignited the Reformation. Also, by killing large number of peasants plague and war raised their value. Especially in England, this allowed them to demand higher wages and greater mobility, and consequently weakening the Feudal system.

    The rise of Protestantism, allowed the growth of divergent thinking. It became harder to control ideas. It even played a role in the development of the printing press in order to spread the word of God. Catholisim held that an individual comes to God through the intercession of the priest, whereas with Protestantism the individual can approach God directly. Therefore the Protestant requires the word of God, the Bible. Protestants also had a great need to read so that they could understand the Bible. Therefore, there is the need for more schooling. Many Catholic nations in Europe did stagnate after the Reformation, part of this (again this is complex and there was more than one cause) is because the Catholic church frequently banned books as heretical, which impeaded the flow and development of knowledge in those nations.

    So what? I can here you say. Well, for instance, in China time pieces were mere curiosities primarily for the emperor with no relevance to the general population. In Europe the ability of the peasant to rise socially and economically, and the creation of a middle class, allowed such curiosities to be purchased by them. Indeed, European middle classes looked to their rulers for the fashions of the day. If the King had it, then I should try and get one too even if it is inferior to the King's. The making of watches requires fine workmanship and fine tolerances, but as we grow older our eyes frequently deteriorate, so the development of magnification lenses and eye glasses were critical to extending the working life of talented watch makers. The ability to make precision parts led to the ability to make other fine instrument that were crucial in the study of science. For instance the discovery of atomic weight.

    The rise of Islam cutting off the trade routes to the East motivated western europe to find alternative routes to the East. This and again religious differneces helped to create the naval arms race driven by England, Holland, Spain and Portugal. This more inventions, and more resources were spent.

    In the end it was like snow ball rolling down hill. The more information there is, there is more that can be learned, and there is more for the curious to discover. The more that differences of opinion and ideas are allowed to flourish the more people are prepared to ask why and question current ideas. Once an idea has been developed and spread there is no putting the genie back into the bottle. Knowledge builds and builds upon itself. Those that are prepared to be opened minded and to learn will learn more. Societies that are not prepared to question the status quo will tend to stagnate. This is why the incursion of religion into science is not a good idea. Science is about asking questions, religion is about belief. It is highly ironic that todays progress in science owes so much to Martin Luther, the man who was prepared to question the authority of the Roman Catholic church.

    When the first stone tool implement was developed by man, I believe that it remained unchange for nearly a million years, but when the design did change the time between changes decreased, and continued to decrease in almost and exponential fashion, with some bottle necks along the way. I do not know what the current estimate is, but I do know that it is estimated that the sum of the world's knowledge now doubles every few years, or something like that. Our biggest problem is knowing what is already known. This is where the internets ability to link information and people together can be a god send. It is becoming easier to combine people and ideas, especially across disciplines. This allows what on the surface appear to be unrelated discorveries to be combined. We will sure need this if we are to solve the problems that are facing us now.
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    Forum Ph.D. Cat1981(England)'s Avatar
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    Fantastic post vulture.
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    I would echo Cat's remarks vulture - that was a well structured, interesting post.

    As a small aside I would note in respect of your comment:
    Quote Originally Posted by vulture
    I do not know what the current estimate is, but I do know that it is estimated that the sum of the world's knowledge now doubles every few years, or something like that.
    I am sure that the amount of data doubles every few years. I am less certain that this is true of our knowledge. 8)
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    Touch'e Ophiolite, touch'e. How correct you are? It is probably even worse if we consider the growth of wisdom.

    Data isn't information, information isn't knowledge, knowledge isn't understanding, and understanding isn't wisdom.
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    Pre World War 1 Germany was a very special place for science (most especially for physics, chemistry, and engineering), and it apparently progressed even further because Germany mobilized twice (before the German scientists emigrated to the US to continue here).

    I wish we'd check out that period of Germany and perhaps find something to imitate.
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  13. #12 Re: Why did science progress so much in western Europe? 
    Forum Bachelors Degree charles brough's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by icewendigo
    Almost every invention and scientific breakthroughs were made in western europe and later on in the US after the dark ages. Why?


    You are asking the right questions!!! It amazes me how few people do---even social scientists because the ups and downs of human culture have been so unexplainable that they gave up and just claimed that there is no such thing as a civilizatioin or even a "society" and that culture just switch around. . .

    I've worked on the answers for a long time and found out that every civilization goes through a pattern of beginning, growing powerful and relatively scientific, then slipping back and finally dieing---llike the Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations did. There are a number of processes going on to cause that and the picture is a little complicated to explain in a mere few paragraphs here. You can, however, download it at
    http://humanpurpose.simplenet.com
    Read up, then, and you will be able to understand the whole process and be better informed on what is going on in the world than anyone else.
    ) China had I think a somewhat non religious society (compared to strict monotheist no questions asked religion) and yet baring a some inovation remained relatively idle, while in Europe a lot of common people were still devout church going christians even in early 20th century.

    This is a common mistake. The social science establishment is virtually unaware of the religion of China! It was and still is very religious. The main religion is ancestor worhip and every home has a family religious shrine. Scholars are largely unaware of this because few see these shrines. Chinese do not invite you into their homes. They entertain you in resturants because their homes are shrines to their ancestors. Even Buddhism, Taoism and Confusionism are just Chinese cults, not the real religion of China. The Liondancing, burning paper money, Chinese opera are all ways to playcate the ancestor spirits they believe hover around periodically. They also have some gods which they have idols for and which they burn joss sticks for and bow to. Some of these idols have many arms and heads. But the Chinese do not know all this is a religion. To them it is just "being Chinese."

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    Because of the Catholic Church.
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    Yes, you are right---the Catholic Church. Their missionaries tried to convert the Chinese leaders by cow towing to the statist part of their religion---thinking it was secular! They were never invited into the homes because their homes were shrines to their ancestors! So, they saw Buddhis, Taoist and Confusian clubs and assumed that was their religion!

    charles, http://humanpurpose.simplenet.com
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    Wow this is a brilliant topic.. nice..
    - The Earth doesn't get heavier though organisim multiply -
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    Europe's fractured geography
    With all that many people living in one spot, this obviously lead to wars for space and resources. Add in all the different nations and you have a mulitple amount of people trying to outhink each other, which lead to some radical advances in science. people had to adapt science into different ways of killing the other guy. Its true, look at what britian and germany created and done. Add in winters also, and you have a pretty dynamic envirnment

    If you look at china and india at the time those people were just as smart as europeans.
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    Great discussion :-D

    It's hard to add something, so many possible factors have allready been mentioned.

    I agree that the rise of protestantism must've played a role here, partly because it stimulated education and hard labour ('show your devotion by working, even if you're allready rich') but also partly because of the enormous reaction it caused in catholic countries. The contrareformation really must've been devastating for science: in Spain it was illegal to import books withough state permission (death penalty), books and scientific studies done by protestants were heretical, studying abroad was banned, Jews and Muslims were deported (along with their knowledge and craftmanship). Some of the brightest and most industrious minds of Europe, many of them Jews and protestants, were sent off from southern Europe and found a safe hideout in northern European countries. So until recently southern Europe was an intellectually backwards poorhouse, while they had bathed in gold and silver in the 16th century.

    Explaining European wealth relative to China and India is more difficult, but Vulture mentioned some good points. I agree that the fact that China was unified for long periods during it's history while Europe was mostly fragmented must play a role. In China if the government decided some idea or invention was wrong, it was possible to ban it (like exploration and overseas trade, punishable by death penalty in the 14th century). In Europe governments may sometimes have wanted to ban progress, but then the scientists could just move a couple miles to a more tolerant ruler.

    And lastly, with political fragmentation came the possibility for cities and communities to demand some freedom and autonomy from their rulers. In China no city would've dared to ask for freedom of taxation and law, they would be crushed by the emperial army. In Europe cities did just that, and weak local rulers very often accepted it because otherwise their industry and commerce could migrate to a competitor. From the high Middle Ages European cities increasingly became islands of freedom and opportunity in a sea of feudal dominion (maybe this comparison is too stark, but I think it really made a big difference), while in China cities were just concentrations of people firmly controlled by their government.

    Many of these points are mentioned in David Landes "Wealth and poverty of nations" - a very eurocentric and self-confident book, but still quite interesting.
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    The problem with the "war is good for science" argument is that most basic research is of very little immediate use in war. In war it's more a matter of refining/improving technologies that are based on already-known science. Even with the really dramatic examples like nuclear weapons, the development of the weapons was all based on scientific work that had mainly been done 30-40 years before.

    Today most western countries have enough foresight to fund basic scientific research in the hopes of discovering something that might be useful in 10 or 50 or 100 years, but I think you would have a very hard time arguing that any of the European countries were doing that back in the 1400-1800 era when Europe pulled so far ahead of the advanced Asian countries.
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    Almost every invention and scientific breakthroughs were made in western europe and later on in the US after the dark ages. Why?
    Counter question: Almost every invention and cultural breakthrough known to mankind (like agriculture and farming) was achieved outside of the region now known as Western Europe in hundreds of thousands of years before the rise of the Greeks. Why?

    On a high-level, even a very complex problem like this one can offer a relatively pragmatic point of view: Global human society is a dynamic animal. The endeavors of inventive Europeans and the rise of their empires is but a hick-up in the vast history of mankind (intense but short). And already, old-new stars of Asia are on the re-bound.

    I should recommend a very good text book on the subject, very refreshing, because it's not as stuffed with the Eurocentric self-indulgence and ignorance that they feed us from kindergarten to high-school: "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond. (No, I am not profiting from the sales in any way. I just think it's a good book offering an unusual and very compelling point of view on this fundamental question).

    http://www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/
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    I think the saying is "The victorious write history" or words to that affect. It is true that for a very long time the middle east was the centre of civilisation and for a long period after that Asia was the powerful and influential one, but after the middle ages Europe became the worlds centre for technological development and later on North America.

    I cant though, think of another "invention and cultural breakthrough" that is useful and productive apart from farming that wasn't invented or at lest developed outside of Europe or N.America.
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    I would like to point out a few things. These will basically support my point, and that is that China was actually more advanced than Europe.

    The printing press. Printing had been invented in China long before Johannes Gutenberg.

    Sailing and ships. It has been proven that a Chinese fleet sailed around the world in 1421 - long before Magellan. Even before Colombus.

    Gunpowder. I'm not sure of the date, but gunpowder was again a Chinese invention brought back to Europe by none other thatn Marco Polo.

    These are the most basic, but there are other theories that have not been totally proven. These include Chinese artifacts found on the West Coast of Canada, sun-centered models of the universe before even Galileo, etc.

    Please do not say that Europe was farther ahead than anyone else.

    Oh, and please remember that Japan industrialized in less than 10 years in World War 1, finally beating the unbeatable Russian fleet to prove it.
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    ^-- exactly, not only that but the mayans for example had an almost perfect astrological calendar that beat out the georgian calender the europeans used. Europeans thought i dunno they sure went ahead pretty fast, and they ae the younger civilizations compared to africa and asia...
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    There was a 'golden' age of discovery in Europe but I see it as no more or less spectacular than any other in history, moving from hunter gatherer to crop management must be at least equal, IN scotland they found some 5000 yr old settlment that had internal Toilets! (didn't get down south till around the 1950's though). The chinese also had a method 900 years ago where they could bore holes into the earth to a depth of many hundreds of metres. Most of the European discoveries were made by the idle rich enough money to live on, plenty of spare time so "lets play with something type of thing", many other inventions in history were born out of neccessity. So it could be argued the slave trade was responsible to some extent. But I do not see it as any big deal (inventions that is and not the slave trade).
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    There was a book, and then a PBS special called "Guns, germs and steel". The author contributed the rise of some cultures to the availability of wild grains and wild animals that could easily domesticated, freeing up some people to pursue other trades like metal working, etc.

    You can read more here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guns,_Germs,_and_Steel
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    Everyone keeps pointing out impessive, old inventions from non-European countries. I think icewendigo's point in his opening post was that yes, Europe was far behind the rest of the world, but then suddenly they exploded ahead and left everyone in the dust.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    Everyone keeps pointing out impessive, old inventions from non-European countries. I think icewendigo's point in his opening post was that yes, Europe was far behind the rest of the world, but then suddenly they exploded ahead and left everyone in the dust.
    thats true, from barbarians to scientists is quite impressive
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    That was mostly sparked off by the abolition of capital punishment for the 'crime' of witchcraft. Finally abolished in 1736.

    AN extract:-

    16 years earlier Witchcraft had ceased to be a statutory or ecclesiastical offence.

    People flocked for miles to see the sight and The Everyday Book of 1751, reports that

    "Thousands stood at a distance, muttering that it was a hard case to hang a man for destroying a wicked old witch."

    From:-http://www.stcross.nildram.co.uk/witch.html

    Yep barbarians, and nothing has changed, even today we see examples of 'mob rule' - in any country...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Megabrain
    That was mostly sparked off by the abolition of capital punishment for the 'crime' of witchcraft. Finally abolished in 1736.
    I don't know about that. The Royal Society was almost 100 years old by 1736. Newton published his work in the 1680s.

    Pascal, Descartes, Kepler, Boyle were all early 1600s...
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    Everyone keeps pointing out impessive, old inventions from non-European countries. I think icewendigo's point in his opening post was that yes, Europe was far behind the rest of the world, but then suddenly they exploded ahead and left everyone in the dust.
    No question, early Europeans (mostly Greeks and Romans, also Vikings) did some amazing things with the technology that was handed down to them. Development of agriculture and farming (first in the Middle East, and then independently in Asia) are the most important milestones in modern human history, taking us from hunter-gatherers who are barely able to support themselves to societies rich enough on food to support a much higher density of population, and most importantly: able to feed specialists who perform tasks other than food production.

    That agriculture, farming, writing (arising from the necessity to keep records on food) were all imported to Europe and developed further. Even the types of food that we eat largely originate from the Fertile Crescent around today's Iraq (how ironic), especially wheat. The rich cultural exchange and trade with the Chinese and Persian empires did a great job of spreading all that knowledge, and whatever else came from it (architecture, mathematics, medicine), around their respective parts of the world.

    But I don't want to diminish the role of the Europeans at all... although everything people have invented and developed traces far back to other cultures (we often forget that), and although Europeans shamefully fell into a religiously dominated nightmare after the fall of the Roman empire, they did eventually take civilization to new heights.

    Nevertheless, there is a lot today's Europeans don't know about, or simply choose to ignore. Scientific and cultural developments are luxury that a society affords only if it is able to. What societies can afford it? Rich societies. What societies are rich? In modern times (last couple thousand years) the richest societies are those who a) are lucky anough to occupy a land rich of resources and moderate climate (like Europe), and b) are most vigorous and victorious in exploiting others (yeah, that's life). It is no coincidence that the rise of Europe's modern civilization was concurrent with aggressively colonial politics after the dark ages. The conceited and ignorant Eurocentric typically claims that the ability to overthrow other (so called "primitive") cultures points to superior European intelligence and inventive spirit... but think again. Not many of the weapons, skills, or vehicles that Europeans used to move around the world and kill people in the middle-ages were invented by them (think of ships, swords, bow and arrow, the ability to ride a horse...). They sure knew how to capitalize on their advantage to benefit from their proximity from great ancient civilizations, learning a lot from them and building up on it. Revolutionary new inventions (modern age) and developments did not come along until Europeans had already successfully enriched themselves by the exploitation of other people for hundreds of years (all the while still majorly profiting from the inventions of others, like gun powder to make their kill), but now finally being able to afford a rich culture of scientific progress. All in all, I don't see it so much as an "explosion" of civilization, rather a very continuous development, fairly logical, and step by step. We now look down on Africans and wonder how they can be so poor. How cynical to stand on someone's throat for hundreds of years, and then ask him to breathe on his own.

    Man, all those words,... and I am still just scratching on the surface. The history of civilization is far more complex than a simple mind will acknowledge. Make use of this skill handed down to you from ancient civilization and read a book! :wink:
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    Do you think that perhaps you could all just be deluded? I have a feeling that the Euro-dominated world-view has polluted all of your minds.

    The Chinese invented gun powder. The Chinese invented paper (as we know it today). The Chinese were excellent brick workers and blacksmiths. The Egyptians invented hieroglyphs (at least 15 of our letters can be traced back to hieroglyphs). Native Americans developed countless numbers of medicines and herbal cures (many of which were exploited by European settlers and sent back to Europe to help get rid of the diseases that still ravaged them). The Maya invented a calendar more accurate than the one we use today. The Chinese also came up with a ‘Pythagorean theorem’ all on their own. The list of non-European inventions that have been suppressed their place in history goes on, and people have written entire books to list then all.

    When you define technology and science in terms of what the Europeans did, you will see that you always end up with smarter Europeans. It's somewhat funny how that works, really. The entire world has been dominated by the view that Europe was the centre of great learning. Ask someone which way is north, and they say it's up. The industrial revolution, which is what I think many of you are referring to when you speak of the sudden increase in European technology, was set in motion through the exploitation of many dominated populations of non-Europeans. They dominated because they tried, they wanted, it's all they cared about was power. The Europeans took the ‘lovey-dovey’ notion of peace with nature and those around you, and they stood it on its head, bringing war, disease, poverty, slavery, and evil wherever they went!

    I know you see these inventions as wonderful, great, world-changing. But they did nothing for the non-Europeans. Most countries still live in horrible poverty. Remember the Crusades? We see these inventions and technologies based on the benefit they had for [i]us[i]--European folk. If we looked at the rest of the world, we might see that to them our inventions are anything but terrific. It's time we think outside the continent, folks.


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    Quote Originally Posted by M
    Nevertheless, there is a lot today's Europeans don't know about, or simply choose to ignore.... :wink:
    Next time I will read your posts before posting my own :wink:

    If only more folks would stand up.

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    I would suggest that it was the stability. There's a common thread between most of the great thinkers and inventors. They had a lot of free time on their hands.

    Wealthy people in unstable societies have to spend most of their time trying to figure out how to defeat their rivals. Poor people have to work all day. Only a person who has no survival-related cares in the world can dedicate the kind of time a person like oh.... say..... Isaac Newton dedicated to the discovery of something like derivative mathematics.
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    They had a lot of free time on their hands.
    all countries and peoples of the world had there upper classes that had alot of free time. I think that the europeans just made more of there free time.
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    This is a good question and I don't have the answer, but I'm pretty sure some of the answers suggested are wrong.

    If you are going to say it was the wars in Europe, then you have to show how Europe had more wars than other places, then you have to find out why there were more wars, or different kinds of wars. In China they build the Great Wall to keep out invaders, so I think wars were pretty important there. The Aztecs sacrificed their war captives on the pyramids. The tribal wars in Africa furnished a steady supply of captives for the slave trade for several hundred years, and they did not have much science progress to show for it. The Muslims spread their faith by holy wars. Was there a burst of scientific output after they overthrew the Byzantine empire and conquered Constantinople?

    No doubt it is easier to do science work if you do not live in a mud hut, but that does not explain why Europeans lived in houses and others lived in mud huts. So you still need to find the reasons.

    You could argue that the Western technological advancement was not all good, but so what, that's beside the point. The question was why did it happen. To deny that it did happen is to deny the obvious. All you have to do is open any science book and read about who discovered what. And no, brick laying is not science.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    I would suggest that it was the stability. There's a common thread between most of the great thinkers and inventors. They had a lot of free time on their hands.

    Wealthy people in unstable societies have to spend most of their time trying to figure out how to defeat their rivals. Poor people have to work all day. Only a person who has no survival-related cares in the world can dedicate the kind of time a person like oh.... say..... Isaac Newton dedicated to the discovery of something like derivative mathematics.
    I agree this must be a factor
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    If it was the stability, what was the cause of the stability? If it was the wars, what was the cause of the wars?
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    Has anyone here taken a glance at the book Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond? He offers up a rather fancy, yet very fine, explanation for the advancement of Western civilization. I will paraphrase his argument:

    Essentially, it comes down to geography. Look at a map, and notice the layout of the continents. Where North and South America run primarily in a north-south direction, Europe and Eurasia run in an east-west direction. This means that over the spread of Europe-Eurasia, climate is relatively the same, and so agricultural advances in one place can spread and be adapted in a majority of the climate. Contrast this to the Americas, and we see things like corn, which can grow everywhere, but who ever heard of a grape field in Minnesota? (okay, we have them, but they are hard to manage, and few and far between :wink: ). Plants grown in one section of the continent do not grow well in others because of the climatic differences. In this sense, Europe and Eurasia were able to advance much more easily and much more quickly in terms of farming than most of the rest of the world.

    There is also a separate issue with animals. Most of the worlds domesticate-able animals live in the areas of the Middle East and Europe. This provides a cheap labour force that can do far more work than a human force of the same number. Animals like this can do so much work, that we can start thinking of them as machines, and design things to increase their efficiency, e.g., the wheel.

    With a start like this, advancement just keeps building because of these few advantages.
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    he had already taken up this theme in an earlier book of his The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee

    but yes, it seems there's something to be said for the fact that luck of the geographical draw is part of the explanation for how western europe got ahead

    that + the fact that when the americas were first colonised about 10,000 years ago, the colonists immediately proceeded to extinguish most life forms big enough to have been suitable for domestication later on, such as horses and camels (i know lamas are camels too, but they're not big enough to take a rider)

    on the other hand, China could have become the first superpower in the 14-15th century - they had all the inventions + had built up a massive fleet which far outclassed anything the europeans had at the time, but for some unknown reason the then emperor changed his mind and china went for a long period of splendid isolation (that is, until those rude europeans started knocking at the door ...)
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    Does anyone here think that colonialism have a large role in the scientific progress of the west, albeit indirectly?

    What I'm saying is that the west had been more active in colonising other part of the world, thus creating a disparity of available resources between itself and most part of the world. And with such economic abundance, the west can more easily afford to "waste" more manpower and resources on scientific endeavours which often does not have direct relevance to the survival of a society, such as agriculture and the military?

    I find that as one society subjugates another it is easier for the master society to progress because it appropriates the resources of the subordinate society for itself. And while the subjugator is caught in a virtuous cycle of progress, the subjugated is caught in a vicious cycle where they are left powerless and sometimes becomes worse off, though not necessarily because their living condition worsen, but because the living condition of the subjugator have become much better than the subjugated and the discrepancy put them further below the scale.

    I'm not saying that only the west practice colonialisation, China and other empires also practiced some forms of colonialism. I'm just saying that I find that countries which practice colonialism, unfair trade or slavery seems to have greater technological progress. And since the west have been more successful in its colonialist endeavours for the last few centuries, it is not a surprise that many technological/scientific progress would originate from there.

    Just to clarify my point again, I'm not saying that the crueler group will make the most progress, but the group with most resources will make the most progress. And since colonialisation would displace resources in the hands of certain groups, I think that it is only natural that groups or societies that practice colonialism will make the most progress.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adiroth
    Does anyone here think that colonialism have a large role in the scientific progress of the west, albeit indirectly?
    No. The technological advancement most likely came before the colonization and enabled the colonizers to colonize.

    Your explanation explains nothing because the subjugated societies would have loved to be the subjugators, but they weren't able to, which brings us back to the original question.

    Slavery has been practiced all over the world, without any corresponding advancement in science.
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    Complex issue, for sure.


    Western Europe became scientifical for a series of factors.

    - Monotheism and the belief in a "divine natural order"
    - The belief that "natural order" could be scrutinyzed and interrogated as a mean to praise God
    - The existence of trade routes that created a wealthy class of people who had earned their money rather than acquired it as a right -people who don't necessarily owed their wellbeing to God.
    - The Plague, which downplayed the relevance of the afterlife and stressed what a Man could do before he was mowed by an obviosuly blind force that didn't told saints from scums, virtue from sin.
    - After the Plague, Humanism, or the idea that Man was central for his own right and not as a gift from God; the same as some men where rich for their own right, their skill, will and inteligence, without inheriting it nor having a "natural right" to it.
    - With humanism the belief that Man's scrutiny over the "natural order" was a scrutiny over "reality", different from "God".
    - This led to the belief that Man could search for the Reality in a systemic way through Reason, without Faith.
    - And so that this Reality was independent of Faith -it could contradict what God or God's men said, if Man was seeing it with the eyes of Reason.

    That's how Science ws born in Europe.

    The belief that the world could be scrutynized looking for an order was older than Science and Christendom; God took the central place until some men figured their way to carve their destiny outside of natural order (to achieve a status without having a right to it), and the Plague shook the foundations of afterlife: Plague killed both saints and scum, was obviously a Human affair, blind to faith and virtue. This put Man in the center and then Man decided that HE would be the decider, and when his reason told him the opposite of his Faith, he would stick with his reason. Science traded the "divine natural order" for a "Man-made understanding of reality", faith for reason, God for Man.

    And 500 years later, zealots STILL haven't forgiven Science and STILL try to destroy it and its humanistic philosophical foundations... 8)
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  43. #42 Re: Why did science progress so much in western Europe? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by icewendigo
    Almost every invention and scientific breakthroughs were made in western europe and later on in the US after the dark ages. Why?

    1- What social factors in particular and what other factors(political, economical, etc) allowed science and its application to progress so fast after the dark ages in western civilization (Italy, France, Germany, England and later on in the US) and in particular in the 20th century?

    2- a) I can guess Religion had a big role to play but I wonder in what way?
    b) China had I think a somewhat non religious society (compared to strict monotheist no questions asked religion) and yet baring a some inovation remained relatively idle, while in Europe a lot of common people were still devout church going christians even in early 20th century.

    3- Why were people around the world in 1920 were still living like europeans in 1400 or something, and were not at the 1870 level of education and social structure?

    4- For most of the 20th century Japan appears to be comparable to western nations and US, relatively secular, education, industrialized, yet until the end of the 20th century when they really started to kick a.s in some areas they dont appear to have made many breakthroughs that I am aware of (or am I ill informed)? They appeared to have mastered the art of adapting and improving existing technology making it better than those that had invented it, but I dont know how many new discoveries they have made in the 20th century? Why do you think this is?

    "sexual bliss".........people who enjoyed sex, by staying within the tramlines........without fucking other sex-units up.

    As you have not mastered the art of staying alive forever, I am sure "happy families" and associated 'advertising bliss" had something to do with it the ultimate annnnnnnnswer to you quessssssstion.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    No. The technological advancement most likely came before the colonization and enabled the colonizers to colonize.

    Your explanation explains nothing because the subjugated societies would have loved to be the subjugators, but they weren't able to, which brings us back to the original question.

    Slavery has been practiced all over the world, without any corresponding advancement in science.
    I hope that you would read my post correctly first before replying. I have specified that it is not the act of colonialism or slavery itself that cause scientific advancement, but the displacement of resources to the subjugator that creates the discrepancy.

    What I was basically saying was that having more resources makes it easier for a group to allot more resources to the development of scientific/technological progress. And since colonialism multiplied the west's available resources exponentally at the expense of the rest of the world, it is not a surprise that the west's scientific & technological progress became no.1.

    Let me remind you that before the Mongols invasion and the subsequent decline it caused, contemporary Muslim science and technology was quite advanced if not more so. That was because the Muslim empire was large enough and therefore had enough resources to devote to their scientific undertakings. Until the invasion changed the political climate and less resources can be spared for science.

    In the case of China, I guess Mark Elvin's "high level equilibrium trap" explanation works well to explain the lack of scientific development despite the amount of available resouces. Of course, their isolationist policy doesn't help either because there was no need for technological improvement since they have no rival to compete with.

    Going back to your statement regarding technological advancement allowing the colonizers to colonize, I have to say that is not the case in western colonialism. Gunpowder was not an indegenous western invention and much of western science during the dawn of western colonialisation was derived from Islamic science. So, the West pretty much borrowed other civilisations' inventions until it's got enough resources through colonising other parts of the world to develop its own.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adiroth
    I hope that you would read my post correctly first before replying. I have specified that it is not the act of colonialism or slavery itself that cause scientific advancement, but the displacement of resources to the subjugator that creates the discrepancy.
    I read it, but didn't find much in there to support your contention, other than your obvious distaste for western civilization. Galileo lived from 1564 to 1642. Which colonies did Italy own at that time? You mentioned slavery. The kings of Dahomey became quite wealthy on the slave trade. How many universities did they establish during all the centuries of the slave trade?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    I read it, but didn't find much in there to support your contention, other than your obvious distaste for western civilization. Galileo lived from 1564 to 1642. Which colonies did Italy own at that time? You mentioned slavery. The kings of Dahomey became quite wealthy on the slave trade. How many universities did they establish during all the centuries of the slave trade?
    Distaste for Western civilisation? C'mon, there is no reason to get so defensive because as I have said, it's the society with the most resources that can better afford to advance their technology, not the most evil one. Colonisation, putting the stigma aside, has merely bloated the resources available to the west, thus freeing a greater part of the available resources to other endeavours, such as science. Civilisation itself developed out of the abundance of resources which in turn allowed the division of labour and the pursuit of arts & sciences since a significant portion of the population was not dedicated to the production of food. I am just suggesting that colonialism is an extension of that phenomenon.

    Also, regarding Gallileo, his theory, though brilliant, did not put Western sciences significantly above the rest of the world. Heliocentric theories had been tossed around for quite a while by the Indians Greeks and Arabs before it was then developed in the west by Coppernicus and later refined by Gallileo. During that time, the Islamic world's and China's science and technologies were not backward at all compared to the west. It was later on that the discrepancy became more obvious.

    Regarding Dahomey, the excess of resources allowed the country to purchase technology from the west. It bought firearms from the slave trades and the country became significantly more powerful in relation to it neighours. What I am trying to say here is that technology can be bought and since Dahomey was not a scientifically advanced country to begin with, it would be senseless to develop their sciences indigenously when they can acquire it somewhere else for a relatively cheaper price.

    It is only when a society's science and technology reach the forefront of the contemporary level there comes a need to develop a new one. Else, they would be wasting their resources and it wouldn't make much economic sense to waste time and money to develop something they can just buy.

    To illustrate my point, let me use contemporary China. China, had been quite notorious in stealing technology. However, recently, after its science and technology has reached significant height, it has started to advance its own technology in agriculture, medicine, genetics, and global change. And all of that is possible because of its burgeoning economy.

    See, that is the basis of my idea. Given enough resources, a society will have better chances in advancing its science. The scientific gap between the west and the rest of the world was driven by the massive injection of resources it received from colonial activities. But ever since the demise of colonialism, some part of the world have started to catch up to the technological levels of the west because they have build strong economies. Japan, for instance, is in the forefront of robotic sciences and Taiwan is a leader in agricultural sciences.

    Again, I would like to stress that I do not have any disdain for the West. I just want to say that the one, or group, with the most money/resources will usually win.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adiroth
    Also, regarding Gallileo, his theory, though brilliant, did not put Western sciences significantly above the rest of the world.
    Galileo was just an example I used. I could have asked what colonies Germany had during Kepler's lifetime, or what colonies France had during Descarte's lifetime. You have really failed to connect the dots between colonization and scientific advancement.
    On edit: Galileo not only proved the heliocentric theory; he conceived the idea of an inertial frame of reference and proved that gravity accelerates heavy and light objects the same. These contributions were very important to Newton's formulation of his laws of motion. But I guess you are going to say Newton's laws were not very important or they were already discovered by some Chinese or Islamic scientists.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    Galileo was just an example I used. I could have asked what colonies Germany had during Kepler's lifetime, or what colonies France had during Descarte's lifetime. You have really failed to connect the dots between colonization and scientific advancement.
    On edit: Galileo not only proved the heliocentric theory; he conceived the idea of an inertial frame of reference and proved that gravity accelerates heavy and light objects the same. These contributions were very important to Newton's formulation of his laws of motion. But I guess you are going to say Newton's laws were not very important or they were already discovered by some Chinese or Islamic scientists.
    No, no. I don't think I have heard any Chinese or Islamic concepts of Newtonian laws of motion.

    You seem to have simplified my argument to the idea that without the resources acquired from colonialism, the West would become braindead and make no scientific advancement at all. You say that I have distate for the west, but it seems that you're the one who has it, since you propose that kind of preposterous idea.

    Germany back then was not a depraved state deperately lacking in resources. Of course discoveries were still possible. Also, if you propose that colonialism done by other European countries did not affect the rest of Europe, you should think again. Did you think that trade among European countries were cut off during the time of colonialism? Did the British only sell their tea to Londoners? Were coffe drunk in only one place? Those commodities acquired through unfair trade stimulated the European economy. To buy, they need to also produce. Trade within Europe was not skewed like the colonised countries.

    The main contention of my argument is that having more resources allows more rapid development of science and technology. And since colonialism greatly boost europe's available resources while syphoning the resources of many parts of the world, it is only natural that the west would have better opportunity to develop its sciences while the colonised have less opportunity.

    If you want to counter my argument, you have to prove that having more resources is actually detrimental to scientific advancement and/or colonialism did not provide the west with more available resources.

    The issues you have raised so far, sorry for being direct, have quite irrelevant. You had been isolating the advancement of western science to the discoveries of a few select scientists. The scientific progress of the west were certainly not limited to only the discoveries of those scientists you have mentioned and you, I believe know it yourself.

    I'm not quite sure what is the contention of your argument, but if you are trying to say that my idea is wrong, then the logic of your argument strategy so far have been faulty.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adiroth
    If you want to counter my argument, you have to prove that having more resources is actually detrimental to scientific advancement and/or colonialism did not provide the west with more available resources.
    No, I think if you are proposing a theory it is not up to me to counter it. It is up to you to provide some support for your theory other than gross assumptions and generalizations. To do that, you will have to demonstrate some correlation between colonization and increased wealth or leisure time and consequent increase in scientific activity. Otherwise, you are just guessing.
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    The colonialism angle is interesting, but if it were a really strong factor then I would think Italy(Galileo) and Germany(Kepler,Coppernicus) would not have produced much science and Spain would have been a science powerhouse. In ancient times it sounds like the greeks (Pythagorus,etc) sure pulled their weight comapred to the romans that benefitted from an impressive empire that lasted centuries.

    I wonder however if school for the masses was as prevalent in other parts of the world as it may have been in Renaissance Europe (theres a very old children song about King Charlemagne being responsible for spreading schools, Im not sure if its somewhat based on history). I realize that universities were mostly for the priviledged though (also not sure how many universities existed outside Europe).
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    No, I think if you are proposing a theory it is not up to me to counter it. It is up to you to provide some support for your theory other than gross assumptions and generalizations. To do that, you will have to demonstrate some correlation between colonization and increased wealth or leisure time and consequent increase in scientific activity. Otherwise, you are just guessing.

    In antiquity, the few people who were able to engage in natural inquiry were either wealthy themselves, had rich benefactors, or had the support of a religious community. In contrast, today there are more scientists alive now than have lived in all previous times. Scientific research has tremendous government support and also ongoing support from the private sector.

    Since colonialism benefit not only the companies themselves, but also the government the companies paid tribute to, which had invested greatly in those endeavours. So, in turn, the scientists benefited from the wealth of the nation. Do I have to explain something as basic as this?

    BTW, I think you don't have any counter argument, so all you're doing is trying to stall the argument by asking for intermendiate proof between each proof I brought up. What you're doing is akin to creationists who keep demanding for the fossils of intermediary species for each intermediary species' fossils found.

    You're asking for the prove that colonialism increased the wealth of a nation? Well, why don't you ask me to prove that animals defecate in forests while at it?

    Your posts are turning into a joke. Collect your thoughts and think your arguments through before posting again. That will at least save you from further embarassment.
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    I don't think it's as ridiculous as you are suggesting. I'm pretty sure England's North American colonies, at least, were a money losing proposition. After poor King George had emptied the national treasury fighting the French and Indian war, the colonists had the gall to refuse to pay their fair share of taxes to finance the war. Then the ungrateful wretches declared independence.

    Even if one does accept the premise that colonization, in general, produced profits, where is the connection to science? Could it be possible to spend your leisure time doing something else besides science? Yes, I think so.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_Revolution
    The event which many historians of science call the scientific revolution can be dated roughly as having begun in 1543, the year in which Nicolaus Copernicus published his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) and Andreas Vesalius published his De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human body).
    That would be a bit early to attribute to colonization wouldn't it? Cortez had barely conquered the Aztecs by 1521.
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    Quote Originally Posted by icewendigo
    The colonialism angle is interesting, but if it were a really strong factor then I would think Italy(Galileo) and Germany(Kepler,Coppernicus) would not have produced much science and Spain would have been a science powerhouse. In ancient times it sounds like the greeks (Pythagorus,etc) sure pulled their weight comapred to the romans that benefitted from an impressive empire that lasted centuries.

    I wonder however if school for the masses was as prevalent in other parts of the world as it may have been in Renaissance Europe (theres a very old children song about King Charlemagne being responsible for spreading schools, Im not sure if its somewhat based on history). I realize that universities were mostly for the priviledged though (also not sure how many universities existed outside Europe).

    Netherlands was certainly a science powerhouse and so was England.

    Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) was a famous mathematician, physicist and astronomer. He invented the pendulum clock, which was a major step forward towards exact timekeeping. Among his contributions in astronomy was his explanation of Saturn's planetary rings. He also contributed to the field of optics. The most famous Dutch scientist in the area of optics is certainly Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who invented or greatly improved the microscope (opinions differ) and was the first to methodically study microscopic life, thus laying the foundations for the field of microbiology. --- quoted from wikipedia

    In addition, Issac Newton, John Locke etc. were British.

    Those countries were two of the most successful colonialists of the time.

    Regarding the Greeks and Romans, while the Romans did not have as much celebrated philosophers as the greeks do, their engineering know-how were nothing to be scoffed at.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    I don't think it's as ridiculous as you are suggesting. I'm pretty sure England's North American colonies, at least, were a money losing proposition. After poor King George had emptied the national treasury fighting the French and Indian war, the colonists had the gall to refuse to pay their fair share of taxes to finance the war. Then the ungrateful wretches declared independence.

    Even if one does accept the premise that colonization, in general, produced profits, where is the connection to science? Could it be possible to spend your leisure time doing something else besides science? Yes, I think so.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_Revolution
    The event which many historians of science call the scientific revolution can be dated roughly as having begun in 1543, the year in which Nicolaus Copernicus published his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) and Andreas Vesalius published his De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human body).
    That would be a bit early to attribute to colonization wouldn't it? Cortez had barely conquered the Aztecs by 1521.

    Nations, in general, allocates a part of its resources to science and technology. Of course, how big is the slice of the resource pie science get varies according to a nation's priority. However, overall increase in resources would indefinitely increase the amount of resources allocated for science if the allocation percentage were to be maintained.

    As far as I have read, I can see no sign of the population of countries engaging in colonialism abandoning its duties and engage in mass debauchery.

    Of course, having more money & resources doesn't guarantee scientific discovery, just as having the most well equipped lab in the world does not guarantee a grounbreaking discovery. However, having the available resources, it's easier to facilitate progress.

    Colonialism, besides providing the west with extra resources, also inhibits the development of the colonialised countries, thus, doubling the advantages the west had in pursuing the sciences.

    If you want to argue that having more funding does not help scientists at all, then show me that scientists living in world level poverty have the same chance of making groundbreaking discovery.
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    As far as I have read, I can see no sign of the population of countries engaging in colonialism abandoning its duties and engage in mass debauchery.
    Hmm. Science or debauchery. Tough choice!!
    Colonialism, besides providing the west with extra resources, also inhibits the development of the colonialised countries, thus, doubling the advantages the west had in pursuing the sciences.
    Your argument would be more convincing if you could supply some specific examples. Like which specific colonized country you think would have made progress in science if not for some specific action by which specific colonizing country, and the specific reason you think that is true.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    Your argument would be more convincing if you could supply some specific examples. Like which specific colonized country you think would have made progress in science if not for some specific action by which specific colonizing country, and the specific reason you think that is true.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historiography_of_science

    I have to apologize for not posting a full reply because I'm a bit busy lately. I have recently found out that someone seem to had an idea similar to mine regarding the connection between economics and knowledge(Hessen), though it wasn't popularly accepted during his time.

    Regarding the creation of the wealth of the Western world, I have to concede that the industrial revolution at least contributed as much as colonialism. However, as according to Franz Fanon, I believe that colonialism not only damage the economy but also the political, psychological, and morale of the colonised population as well.

    I just think that it's unrealistic to expect societies with so much baggage to compete against the west in the scientific field where only the moderately privileged can take a part in.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adiroth
    I just think that it's unrealistic to expect societies with so much baggage to compete against the west in the scientific field where only the moderately privileged can take a part in.
    But wasn't that the case for most of the people living in the western world between 1500 and 1800. Near enough all the population was working class just as it was in china and in every other country in the world. And every country had a ruling class with an income to support them while they made their scientific and technological discovery's.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cat1981(England)
    But wasn't that the case for most of the people living in the western world between 1500 and 1800. Near enough all the population was working class just as it was in china and in every other country in the world. And every country had a ruling class with an income to support them while they made their scientific and technological discovery's.
    Economic historians such as Kenneth Pomeranz have argued that China was technologically and economically equal to Europe until the 1750's and that the divergence was due to global conditions such as access to natural resources from the new world.

    In economic sense, any company can be effective and create decent asset turnover (revenue/total asset), but if a company is given enough capital, it is easier to create more revenue even if the asset turnover is reduced.
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    columbia article
    "The economies of the most advanced regions of East Asia and Europe were surprisingly similar as late as 1750, which suggests we need some rethinking of the traditional stories of industrialization," says Kenneth Pomeranz, chair of the history department at the University of California at Irvine. In a lecture sponsored by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Pomeranz explores the reasons why the Industrial Revolution took off in Europe but failed in East Asia.
    Pomeranz seems to be referring to the industrial revolution more so than the scientific revolution. As I noted earlier, the scientific revolution in Europe dates from about 1543. Newton lived from 1643 to 1728. So the scientific revolution was well under way before the economic advantage Pomeranz is writing about.
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    Answer to Post Question: Read Guns, Germs and Steel by jared Diamond
    "When man contemplates his future death, it is as if, by thinking of it, he renders it immediate. His defence is to deny it. He cannot deny that his body will die and rot - the evidence is too strong for that; so he solves the problem by the invention of the immortal soul" Desmond Morris
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    I think I would like to add a few words to the China part of the discussion.

    First of all, I see some arguments about how China never had, I suppose, "proper" mathematics, like Newton's Calculus etc. While I'm not saying they had calculus, the idea was presentin the Hang dynasty at least to take the infinitestimal limit. The Pascale Triangle was first mentioned in a North Song dynasty book (some hundred years before Pascale's time, I'm sorry I have no concrete year as I always remember Chinese history by relative dynasties) and the author stated that it was found by someone before him (the "someone" is actually historically unclear, the author simply said it was not a contemporary discovery). A more stunning example of Chinese advanced scientific knowledge, is that the Chinese word for the universe, "Yu Zhou", by the definition of a book called "Huai Nan Zi" written in the early Han Dynasty (more than 2000 years ago) means "four directions and up and down (i.e. the 3D world) and the past and future (Time)." So wayyyyy before Einstein's time, the Chinese somehow managed to think of the Universe as the space-time fabric!

    I think the problem is that China never had the kind of mathematic notation required in modern concept to develop the kind of mathematics/physics and consequently, I suppose, didn't even notice they had something like this, only expressed in different notation. More over, a lot of techniques were lost in the Time. For example, it is agreed that no modern technology can produce a type of bell used in sacred music that can produce the same kind of clarity and being in tune as the ones unearthed from ancient tombs. Now I think the fact that China was very isolationist and stable caused a deterioration of economical growth as well as military strength, which further hindered "technological" development. Also, the over emphasis on artistic achievements in the intelligentia starting in Song Dynasty and reached its peak in Ming and Qing dynasties (last two) would also be a cause.

    I would like to make two objections to some points I saw earlier. One is about China's religion: yes it's ancestor-worshipping, yes there are idols, but I think the general philosophy can be concluded in Confucius's words: "if you don't know what's life, how can you know what's death?" In short, the general idea is not necessarily a religion that EXPLAIN phenomenons, rather it's a life philosophy. Another point is saying that the Chinese peasant class cannot come to purchase the "curiosities" that are scientific inventions. That is also untrue as China probably has one of the most loose class system back in old days. Since the beginning of Han dynasty local municipalities can elect peasants whom the officials deem worthy to become a civil servant. In later days when the examination system was established, it became very easy for peasants, so long as you can offer good ideas and write good essays, to rise into civil servant position and hence elevate his social position. The education level is probably unprecedented in other countries, where nobility played a greater role and societies as a whole (so peasant/middle/ruling all together) does not place that high a value at education. Of course later the richer class were more aware of the value of education and knolwedge, but the peasant class was mostly disregarded for a long while.

    So, to briefly contribute a thought to the original question, I agree with most people that Western Europe's constant warring caused the explosion of science. What I would say, is that in the beginning it is more of the application of scientific theories, existing at the time fairly primitive. But the application drove the further exploration and encouraged further research into theories. Also, the fact that this age is within a short span also helps, because it doesn't run into the problem of technology being lost. The establishment of a systematic scientific notation and logic is also helpful in communicating and exchanging ideas. The fact that the Old Civilizations, like India and China, all failed in promoting applications of scientific ideas. They also lack the kind of rigorous system of notation that will render themselves somewhat like the current science.
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    Welcome, Splendour, and thanks for your thoughts.

    Like Biohazard, above, I strongly recommend Diamond's magnificent Guns, germs and steel where he also puts forward a couple of notions for why China, the world's technological leader up until as recently as perhaps 1400 ad, then seceded this leadership to Western Europe.
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    Wow. I was going to say some stuff, but Splendour already said pretty much everything I was going to say and more. I totally agree with him that it was a combination of China ignoring developments in the outside world, a complacent society that didn't have a lot of pressure to innovate/expand, and lots of trouble with "lost" technology and ideas - they just weren't that great at preserving ideas and discoveries, and technological processes were often kept secret.

    I'll add just one more thing that he didn't address:

    Another factor was probably the usefulness of movable type printing in Europe. China actually developed movable type long before Europe, but it wasn't very useful there because their language has such a ridiculously huge number of word symbols. Europeans, on the other hand, could easily print anything with just 40 or so carved symbols. That really sped up the spread of ideas, particularly among the educated scientists. Whereas before you would have to write your new ideas by hand and send a few letters to friends (who might or might not pass the ideas along), now you could just pay a printer to run off 200 copies of your essay on the behavior of gasses (or whatever) and mail them out to anyone who you think might be interested.
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    Well in the west we lived closer together and very early due to Christianity people fought for dominance and along with that wealth and power. Which of course bred war, war which is the only progessor of technology in this world. Without it development is 10x less at least. Imagine if the cold war were still going on.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    I'll add just one more thing that he didn't address:

    Another factor was probably the usefulness of movable type printing in Europe. China actually developed movable type long before Europe, but it wasn't very useful there because their language has such a ridiculously huge number of word symbols. Europeans, on the other hand, could easily print anything with just 40 or so carved symbols. That really sped up the spread of ideas, particularly among the educated scientists. Whereas before you would have to write your new ideas by hand and send a few letters to friends (who might or might not pass the ideas along), now you could just pay a printer to run off 200 copies of your essay on the behavior of gasses (or whatever) and mail them out to anyone who you think might be interested.
    Thank you! :-D (oh and it's she... )though I want to actually comment on your point. Although Chinese does have a lot of characters, only about 4000 are used normally nowadays, but of course, in the old days there are more, but not by that much. The printing boards are still re-usable. Also, if you know both languages, you will realize that since each character has a meaning and combinations result in more meanings, a 4000 word essay in English probably can be said in Chinese with 2000 characters (I write in both languages, it is evident to me) In the old days,(i.e. at least 3000 years ago) Our ancestors knew the problem of our language, therefore, we have a different syntax of writing than that of spoken language. (this is not used in modern days after the fall of the last imperial dynasty though, but..we are talking about history). This syntax is even MORE concise than the spoken syntax, which is what we use today to write (the comparison of English and Chinese is made with today's writing, so the ancient syntax would require even less characters). This actually enabled knowledge to be accurately passed down, because spoken languages change (think about Shakespeare vs. today's English), but the written doesn't, so thousands of years later, we can still understand perfectly what the ancients are trying to say. Anyone, in the old days (nowadays deciphering the ancient syntax is a problem for common people because people don't write like that anymore), with a somewhat elementary literary skill can read what is being said thousands of years before.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Splendour
    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    I'll add just one more thing that he didn't address:

    Another factor was probably the usefulness of movable type printing in Europe. China actually developed movable type long before Europe, but it wasn't very useful there because their language has such a ridiculously huge number of word symbols. Europeans, on the other hand, could easily print anything with just 40 or so carved symbols. That really sped up the spread of ideas, particularly among the educated scientists. Whereas before you would have to write your new ideas by hand and send a few letters to friends (who might or might not pass the ideas along), now you could just pay a printer to run off 200 copies of your essay on the behavior of gasses (or whatever) and mail them out to anyone who you think might be interested.
    Thank you! :-D (oh and it's she... )though I want to actually comment on your point. Although Chinese does have a lot of characters, only about 4000 are used normally nowadays, but of course, in the old days there are more, but not by that much. The printing boards are still re-usable. Also, if you know both languages, you will realize that since each character has a meaning and combinations result in more meanings, a 4000 word essay in English probably can be said in Chinese with 2000 characters (I write in both languages, it is evident to me) In the old days,(i.e. at least 3000 years ago) Our ancestors knew the problem of our language, therefore, we have a different syntax of writing than that of spoken language. (this is not used in modern days after the fall of the last imperial dynasty though, but..we are talking about history). This syntax is even MORE concise than the spoken syntax, which is what we use today to write (the comparison of English and Chinese is made with today's writing, so the ancient syntax would require even less characters). This actually enabled knowledge to be accurately passed down, because spoken languages change (think about Shakespeare vs. today's English), but the written doesn't, so thousands of years later, we can still understand perfectly what the ancients are trying to say. Anyone, in the old days (nowadays deciphering the ancient syntax is a problem for common people because people don't write like that anymore), with a somewhat elementary literary skill can read what is being said thousands of years before.
    I have even heard it said that while Mandarin and Cantonese speakers are mutually unintelligible, if they write to each other they can be understood. Is this correct or an exaggeration?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Splendour
    Although Chinese does have a lot of characters, only about 4000 are used normally nowadays, but of course, in the old days there are more, but not by that much. The printing boards are still re-usable. Also, if you know both languages, you will realize that since each character has a meaning and combinations result in more meanings, a 4000 word essay in English probably can be said in Chinese with 2000 characters
    Yeah, but since the frequency of letters in European languages follow tight statistical distributions, a European printer only needs about 2000-2500 carved letter blocks to print any 300-word page of text, regardless of what specific words are needed. A Chinese printer might be able to express the same information in just 100 characters, but he never knows which of the 2000 possible characters he will need - so he has to have many tens of thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of carved symbols on hand to ensure he can print any page of text that's called for. It's not a matter of how many carved symbol blocks you need to print a particular piece of text, it's a matter of how many carved blocks you need on hand to ensure you can efficiently print any piece of text that's called for. A Chinese printer might need dozens of "cat" symbols to print a page about cats, and all of those cat symbols will be completely useless if the next page is about how to make bricks. A European printer, on the other hand, can use the same pile of "C"s to spell Cat on one page and then briCk on another.
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    Quote Originally Posted by sunshinewarrio
    I have even heard it said that while Mandarin and Cantonese speakers are mutually unintelligible, if they write to each other they can be understood. Is this correct or an exaggeration?
    that is true, I personally also speak/understand about three dialects in the region near Shanghai and it's almost impossible for anyone who only understands mandarin to understand us. However, with a subtitle you could usually see how the words are similarily prounonced. The southern dialects preserved most of the ancient chinese prounonciations.

    I will think of the point to go with the printing thing after I finish up my physics lab today...I have to go now
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    It's also possible aliens helped europe to advance.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Faron
    It's also possible aliens helped europe to advance.
    I seriously doubt that very much. Perhaps it was a time traveller instead *cough* Merlin. *cough* DaVinci.
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    Lol

    Oh well, who knows.
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    Maybe the printing press was one of those "winner takes all" inventions. It facilitates the more rapid spread of information, and that leads to everything else.

    Basically, by the time the normal delay for such a technology to reach other cultures had passed, they were already just too far behind to expect to catch up.
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    "2- a) I can guess Religion had a big role to play but I wonder in what way?
    b) China had I think a somewhat non religious society (compared to strict monotheist no questions asked religion) and yet baring a some inovation remained relatively idle, while in Europe a lot of common people were still devout church going christians even in early 20th century. "


    most of the lay assumptions about religion clashing with and hindering science are wrong...plain and simple this is the result of a metanarrative emerging in the later half of the 19th century Victorean Era
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