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Sapiens - Part Four: The Scientific Revolution 
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 Sapiens - Part Four: The Scientific Revolution
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Part Four: The Scientific Revolution


Please use this thread for discussing the above mentioned section of Sapiens. :adore:



Wed May 02, 2018 10:21 pm
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Post Re: Sapiens - Part Four: The Scientific Revolution
I’m not breaking any speed records reading this book. Not to say that it’s boring—it’s actually very good—but I’m frequently distracted by my fictional pursuits. Also, I don't mean to skip over Part 3.

As we have already discussed, one of Harari’s startling insights is that Homo sapiens is unique in its ability to create myths or imagined orders—primarily in religion and politics—to provide the basis for social order. We knew already that cultural evolution works at a much faster pace than biological evolution, but the idea that our progress and change is based on imagination has been a one of the key ideas, especially in Parts 1 and 2.

In Part 4, Harari similarly startles with the idea that the discovery of ignorance was the basis for the scientific age and the progress that followed. Although, as Harry has said, “progress” is often a double-edged sword. "Progress" sometimes leads to genocide and our continued alienation from the natural world.

Quote:
. . . Until the Scientific Revolution most human cultures did not believe in progress. They thought the golden age was in the past, and that the world was stagnant, if not deteriorating. Strict adherence to the wisdom of the ages might perhaps bring back the good old times, and human ingenuity might conceivably improve this or that facet of daily life. However, it was considered impossible for human know-how to overcome the world’s fundamental problems. If even Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha and Confucius – who knew everything there is to know – were unable to abolish famine, disease, poverty and war from the world, how could we expect to do so? . . . When modern culture admitted that there were many important things that it still did not know, and when that admission of ignorance was married to the idea that scientific discoveries could give us new powers, people began suspecting that real progress might be possible after all.


Anyway, Harari does continue to present new ways of seeing things. I guess it comes from being able to see the big picture, a broad overview of human history. Such insights seem very useful from a philosophical perspective. What can we glean from the past and through the filter of human progress as we envision our future?


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Post Re: Sapiens - Part Four: The Scientific Revolution
geo wrote:
I’m not breaking any speed records reading this book. Not to say that it’s boring—it’s actually very good—but I’m frequently distracted by my fictional pursuits. Also, I don't mean to skip over Part 3.

Do your fictional pursuits include writing?

I finished the book a few weeks back and returned it to the library. I took some sketchy notes which I hope may help a little to talk about the book, but it's always better to have it around for checking out impressions. Harari's approach seems to fit the "big history" model--big on overview and tying in different disciplines, on a fairly general level and without the usual academic apparatus of footnotes and bibliography. (The only exceptions I noted to the generality were the detailed sections on writing systems and money.) His strength might be in seeing the forest rather than enumerating the trees. I found his insights and conclusions to be different and occasionally startling, for example that Nazism was a humanistic religion. On the more negative side, the book lacked narrative drive and organization, mostly due to the enormity of the subject. I'm not exactly eager to read his newer book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, but that may be because summer seems a good time for lighter reading. Maybe I will pick that up later.
Quote:
As we have already discussed, one of Harari’s startling insights is that Homo sapiens is unique in its ability to create myths or imagined orders—primarily in religion and politics—to provide the basis for social order. We knew already that cultural evolution works at a much faster pace than biological evolution, but the idea that our progress and change is based on imagination has been a one of the key ideas, especially in Parts 1 and 2.

His focus on imagination represents his entry into the "what makes humans unique" sweepstakes. It's a good handle on the question, I think. We need to use an expanded meaning of "imagine" to follow him, as our common use of the word shades toward the fantastical, the fictional, or the unreal. For Sapiens, the imaginary is serious business. It's as though we took the ability almost all animals have, to receive sight images from the outside, and made the reception of the sensory image unnecessary. We can do it in-house, in our amazing brains. To "imagine" all of this activity occurring in every human brain during both waking and non-waking hours is really impressive.
Harari wrote:
geo wrote:
In Part 4, Harari similarly startles with the idea that the discovery of ignorance was the basis for the scientific age and the progress that followed. Although, as Harry has said, “progress” is often a double-edged sword. "Progress" sometimes leads to genocide and our continued alienation from the natural world.

. . . Until the Scientific Revolution most human cultures did not believe in progress. They thought the golden age was in the past, and that the world was stagnant, if not deteriorating. Strict adherence to the wisdom of the ages might perhaps bring back the good old times, and human ingenuity might conceivably improve this or that facet of daily life. However, it was considered impossible for human know-how to overcome the world’s fundamental problems. If even Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha and Confucius – who knew everything there is to know – were unable to abolish famine, disease, poverty and war from the world, how could we expect to do so? . . . When modern culture admitted that there were many important things that it still did not know, and when that admission of ignorance was married to the idea that scientific discoveries could give us new powers, people began suspecting that real progress might be possible after all.

So being an ignoramus was no bad thing! Harari never arrives at an answer of why Europeans created the scientific revolution, and not the other main candidate, the Chinese. He does tell us that the scientific push was aided by Europe's embrace of capitalism and by empire, but of course that only raises another "why Europe" question. I noticed throughout the book that Harari is reluctant to call any Sapiens development "progress" in an overall, universal way, though the reader can sense that his feelings do take him in that direction. That tendency seems to me almost unavoidable. But as you point out, he is aware of the dark side of every seeming advance that humankind makes. In the case of the West, genocide and environmental destruction came with our being progressive. We in fact have a prejudice against societies that don't progress out of their traditional ways. We call them stultified. Harari brings up the 15th Century Chinese emperor Zheng He, whose armada of exploring ships made that of Columbus seem like a pod of rowboats. Zheng He explored as far as the horn of Africa, then turned back. The subsequent emperors dismantled both his fleet and the ambition to see the rest of the world. What was out there that the advanced Chinese needed? Nothing that they could see. Perhaps we should say "good for them," they stayed within their boundaries and left the rest of the world alone. Perhaps they were very wise. Instead, we ponder the reasons for their failure to exploit opportunities.
Quote:
Anyway, Harari does continue to present new ways of seeing things. I guess it comes from being able to see the big picture, a broad overview of human history. Such insights seem very useful from a philosophical perspective. What can we glean from the past and through the filter of human progress as we envision our future?

I should have read the whole post before starting to comment, as you've already said what I was trying to get at in my opening. But speaking again of his startling statements, he claims that the true, ultimate goal of science is to "give humankind eternal life." In Homo Deus he is supposed to tell us how that may happen.



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Post Re: Sapiens - Part Four: The Scientific Revolution
DWill wrote:
His strength might be in seeing the forest rather than enumerating the trees. I found his insights and conclusions to be different and occasionally startling, for example that Nazism was a humanistic religion. On the more negative side, the book lacked narrative drive and organization, mostly due to the enormity of the subject. I'm not exactly eager to read his newer book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, but that may be because summer seems a good time for lighter reading. Maybe I will pick that up later.

The enormity of the subject forces Harari, as you say, to occasionally make overly broad statements that rely on very strict definitions. For example, he says, “humanism is a belief that Homo sapiens has a unique and sacred nature which is fundamentally different from the nature from all other animals and phenomena.” He fails to acknowledge that there are many different definitions of “humanism” and that in the real world people can rarely be categorized so exactly. Seems a bit like seeing all Christians as fundamentalists when in truth “Christians” come in many different flavors.

In any event, I agree with this definition of humanism from the American Humanist Association: "Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity." (https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/) This is a very different definition from Harari’s. The "ethical" component would include an awareness that Homo sapiens are part of the natural world, and in that sense just another animal—see Jared Diamond’s Third Chimpanzee. We have an obligation to consider our impact on the environment and to minimize damage that is intrinsic to our species. To see ourselves as better or above other animals is rather loaded with hubris.

DWill wrote:
But speaking again of his startling statements, he claims that the true, ultimate goal of science is to "give humankind eternal life." In Homo Deus he is supposed to tell us how that may happen.

I was surprised by this statement as well. I doubt many scientists would agree with him. Also, if science could extend human life indefinitely, it would present a seemingly insurmountable problem of overpopulation. For that reason, such knowledge would almost certainly be available only to a select few rich individuals. It would be every bit as evil as eugenics.

DWill wrote:
Do your fictional pursuits include writing?

I meant my reading, but I have been working on a novel for some time. If it ever gets published, I will be sure to mention it here.


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Post Re: Sapiens - Part Four: The Scientific Revolution
Quote:
Also, if science could extend human life indefinitely, it would present a seemingly insurmountable problem of overpopulation. For that reason, such knowledge would almost certainly be available only to a select few rich individuals. It would be every bit as evil as eugenics.


This is a popular trope in sci-fi, and there are countless ways I've seen it implemented. If our genetic code was re-engineered to eliminate aging, we'd still have radiation damage to cellular DNA here and there, which would add up over time. The only way to counter this would be a "gene resetting" procedure, which would be tremendously expensive.

Beyond that, 15% of people still die at some point between birth and age 50, from accidents and whatnot. I don't know how to run the math, but I think that even with immortal genes, only the most careful people will live to 300ish.


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Post Re: Sapiens - Part Four: The Scientific Revolution
geo wrote:
For example, he says, “humanism is a belief that Homo sapiens has a unique and sacred nature which is fundamentally different from the nature from all other animals and phenomena.” He fails to acknowledge that there are many different definitions of “humanism” and that in the real world people can rarely be categorized so exactly. Seems a bit like seeing all Christians as fundamentalists when in truth “Christians” come in many different flavors.

In any event, I agree with this definition of humanism from the American Humanist Association: "Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity."

He agrees that there are different varieties of humanism, but his view from 20,000 feet is that they all share belief of the sort you quoted him stating, which amounts to "the worship of man." This is not, of course, the professed belief of we humanists, but Harari asserts that it is the basis of humanism, nonetheless. Perhaps "worship of man" has a negative ring to humanists, but I see this phrase as showing evenhandedness on Harari's part. He's already told us that theistic religions worship figments. He's not going to let nontheists off the hook by granting that they're too enlightened to need to worship anything. They have their "superhuman" religion or ideology of liberal humanism, extolling the rights of individuals (I say hurrah to that). Back in his religious phase, Bob Dylan said, "You've got to serve somebody" (or some thing). It's sort of like that.

Humanism is still a poor label to adopt for oneself, in my view, but we seem to be stuck with it.
Quote:
This is a very different definition from Harari’s. The "ethical" component would include an awareness that Homo sapiens are part of the natural world, and in that sense just another animal—see Jared Diamond’s Third Chimpanzee. We have an obligation to consider our impact on the environment and to minimize damage that is intrinsic to our species. To see ourselves as better or above other animals is rather loaded with hubris.

Yes, we can tack onto humanism a degree of inhumanism, acknowledging that we have to yield space to other animals and forgo economic opportunities, but it's very open to question whether our kind of humanism can really accommodate such noble sacrifice. Our belief (again, not professed) is that to thrive as a species we need to continually grow economically, gaining access to the good things of life, which puts us on a collision course with nature. We like to escape the bind by saying that preservation and growth are not mutually exclusive. But I fear they are.

The philosophy of Robinson Jeffers, which he called "inhumanism" really did give primacy to all of life. I think inhumanism has roots in Thoreau. Worth checking out.
geo wrote:
DWill wrote:
But speaking again of his startling statements, he claims that the true, ultimate goal of science is to "give humankind eternal life." In Homo Deus he is supposed to tell us how that may happen.

Quote:
I was surprised by this statement as well. I doubt many scientists would agree with him. Also, if science could extend human life indefinitely, it would present a seemingly insurmountable problem of overpopulation. For that reason, such knowledge would almost certainly be available only to a select few rich individuals. It would be every bit as evil as eugenics.

Just as with religion, Harari isn't consulting people to get their views on what they're involved in. Immortality may be a scheme that just a few crackpots are now declaring openly, but the drift of the life sciences is toward this ultimate goal, Harari says. Given the progression we've seen so far, with likely major achievements such cancer cures to come, who can say that Harari is wrong about this?

Quote:
I meant my reading, but I have been working on a novel for some time. If it ever gets published, I will be sure to mention it here.

Please do mention it, or even before it's published. I recalled your mentioning once that you were working on a novel. I'm curious what it's about, but probably writers like to keep mum about works in progress or that haven't been published.



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Post Re: Sapiens - Part Four: The Scientific Revolution
Interbane wrote:
This is a popular trope in sci-fi, and there are countless ways I've seen it implemented.


That doesn't surprise me, though I can't think of many movies or novels that use this theme of extending our longevity. There's In Time, starring Justin Timberlake, which I haven't seen. I have always been fascinated by cryogenics, people frozen after death with hopes of being revived later when technology has figured out how to do it. There's a great James Taylor song about a Frozen Man who was frozen in the 1800s and is revived, but he only feels despair because everyone he has ever known is "dead and gone from extreme old age."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bC2WzryN9k0

You can easily imagine that if such technology to extend life became available, it would be just another way the 1% would use to get ahead
of everyone else. To some extent they already do. The very wealthy have access to better health care. Those who rely on insurance or who have no insurance have a hard road when they get sick.

Interbane wrote:
. . . If our genetic code was re-engineered to eliminate aging, we'd still have radiation damage to cellular DNA here and there, which would add up over time. The only way to counter this would be a "gene resetting" procedure, which would be tremendously expensive..

There are probably many aspects of aging that aren't well understood. We probably see much more cancer today than we used to, but only because people live so much longer. Add another 50 years to someone's life and I would bet you would start seeing many complications that would not normally arise. We simply weren't designed to live that long. It's a fascinating idea though.


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Post Re: Sapiens - Part Four: The Scientific Revolution
DWill wrote:
. . . He's not going to let nontheists off the hook by granting that they're too enlightened to need to worship anything. They have their "superhuman" religion or ideology of liberal humanism, extolling the rights of individuals (I say hurrah to that). Back in his religious phase, Bob Dylan said, "You've got to serve somebody" (or some thing). It's sort of like that.

I agree that humans have evolved to come to beliefs easily and resistant to being talked out of those beliefs. So it's possible that atheists merely worship different things than theists. That would certainly explain why the two species can hardly understand one another.

As you say, humanism is just a label and I'm not particularly attached to it.

Another song written by Dylan during one of his religious phases was Man In the Long Black Coat, which uses a daemon lover motif dressed up as satan. This is a great song.

DWill wrote:
. . . Our belief (again, not professed) is that to thrive as a species we need to continually grow economically, gaining access to the good things of life, which puts us on a collision course with nature. We like to escape the bind by saying that preservation and growth are not mutually exclusive. But I fear they are.

This is, of course, the subject of the next section of the book. Our economy is based on growth. But we can’t grow forever. We can look at aging societies like Japan to see what happens when growth stops. I don’t think it’s a very rosy picture.

DWill wrote:
The philosophy of Robinson Jeffers, which he called "inhumanism" really did give primacy to all of life. I think inhumanism has roots in Thoreau. Worth checking out.

I will definitely check Jeffers out. Thanks.

DWill wrote:
Please do mention it, or even before it's published. I recalled your mentioning once that you were working on a novel. I'm curious what it's about, but probably writers like to keep mum about works in progress or that haven't been published.


I don’t mind mentioning it. It’s a novel called Echoes, and I’ve been working on it for, like, forever. I have been working with an agent who referred me to an editor and the book is still coming along. It’s a sort of a ghost story, but one could also describe it simply as a story about a woman trying to come to terms with her past. Stay tuned!


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Post Re: Sapiens - Part Four: The Scientific Revolution
So, I deliberately avoided the part 4 discussion in my optimism that I would soon get there and participate. I am still not finished with it, and sorry I missed this lively discussion.

I am finally posting about it because I got to Harari's take on economics in the modern world. It is, I must say, rather bad. Not just a simplification for purposes of enabling some large message, but a real diversion from the right questions and the intelligent observations.

Harari is an anthropologist, I would say. Though his skills belong to the discipline he studied, which is history, he obviously takes his perspectives from anthropology. And the Bigthink ideas which he really weaves together to make a common picture or some unifying themes are virtually all from anthropology. So it should not be too surprising that he characterizes the modern economy in terms of a bifurcation between two cultures: entrepreneurs, he says, are driven to save and invest; while consumers are driven to borrow and buy. That is straight out of anthropology, and fits well with the development economics of the 50s and 60s.

I loved his observation that consumerism is the first religion in which people actually do what they are supposed to do according to its ideology. The problem is it is basically wrong. That is, people are saving all the time, and pass up opportunities to spend as often as the average Christian passes up opportunities to do good to even the least of these (which is to say, pretty much constantly). The value of his observation is to get us to think about consumerism as one more linked set of explanations of what we are here for, what makes life good, and how we should find meaning in our use of time. The idea that it is unique is hogwash, but he doesn't really want us to see it as unique, he wants us to see its similarities to religion. (It might be interesting to do a comparison between consumerism and the old phallic religions of pre-Christian paganism.)

Much more serious is his story (in the section "The Age of Shopping") that the rich are "compelled" to save and invest by their class ideology, and thus they "compel" the rest of us to borrow and spend. First, that is not even remotely accurate as a description of the culture of money-making. Tel Aviv is as much a center of the new money power as Silicon Valley is, so I'm a little shocked that he doesn't get it. The culture shared among entrepreneurs these days is about rounding up investment finance from others. It helps if you start with a fortune, because lenders are more willing to lend if you have your own skin in the game. But if you don't, a track record of making money will do, and if you don't even have that, you can still get backing if you "talk the talk" by getting what aspects you need to focus on to be sure that your business will not fail and lose money for your backers. We even have the cases of Theranos and Bernie Madoff to demonstrate that investors can be manipulated and ripped off just like consumers can.

Then he goes so far as to assert that capitalists live by an ethos of "Invest!", managing every penny like the Chinese lady in Michener's "Hawaii", by contrast with consumers who keep borrowing to buy cars and televisions they don't need. This is absurd. In general, those who know what to do in the money-making side of the economy make money, and so they spend as lavishly and foolishly as anyone. We were treated to a view of that in the case of Trump's sidekick Paul Manafort.

This would be just an amusing comment with a funhouse mirror aspect to it, except that he goes on to make a deeply misguided statement about economics based on it. Harari asserts that a capitalist economy must grow to prosper. That is simply wrong. Parts of Europe have done very well with a shrinking population and shrinking GDP, and there is no reason the entire West and even the entire world cannot do the same. Japan will probably give a vibrant illustration in the next decade or so of how prosperity can be maintained without economic growth.

It's true that we tend, out of habit, to measure success in economic policy by the yardstick of GDP growth. It's also true that sufficient productivity growth to improve standards of living tends to facilitate capital replacement and other helpful institutions. But there is literally no reason why a steady-state or declining GDP is inconsistent with maintaining a high standard of living.

The only principle behind such a statement that I can think of is Keynes' observation that the "leakages" from overall demand in the form of savings must be offset by "injections" to demand which come from investment. But training a new generation in schools can serve that role, and investing in factories to supply the growing demand in the developing countries can serve that role, and gradual replacement of obsolescent equipment can serve that role.

We are in the interesting situation these days of long-term interest rates lower than historically observed (they would normally be about 3 percent, but are currently about 2 percent and have been from the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008). One interpretation of this is "secular stagnation" making the pace of industrial innovation slow down. This is the idea that the "low-hanging fruit" of innovation has been picked already. Tyler Cowen's 2013 book about it, "Average is Over," might be a good choice for a discussion book at some point.
But another interpretation, going by the name of hysteresis, argues that if you slow down an economy long enough, it reduces its rate of investing in finding new methods, and thus the capacity for responding to demand is damaged.

Japan's experience since its slump in 1990 offers some clues. Its long term interest rates have been consistently even lower, between 1 percent and 1 and a half for a long, long time. Neither story, secular stagnation or hysteresis, really captures the essence of its problems, which seem to be about the situation of "saturation" in which people have enough and don't really want to spend a lot more. Which might be just what the doctor ordered. But which has implications that need to be thought about in advance.



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Post Re: Sapiens - Part Four: The Scientific Revolution
DWill wrote:
His focus on imagination represents his entry into the "what makes humans unique" sweepstakes. It's a good handle on the question, I think. We need to use an expanded meaning of "imagine" to follow him, as our common use of the word shades toward the fantastical, the fictional, or the unreal. For Sapiens, the imaginary is serious business. It's as though we took the ability almost all animals have, to receive sight images from the outside, and made the reception of the sensory image unnecessary. We can do it in-house, in our amazing brains. To "imagine" all of this activity occurring in every human brain during both waking and non-waking hours is really impressive.
If I had to choose between language, enabling coordination, and imagination, enabling new solutions, as a source of human uniqueness I would go with language. Elephants have demonstrated ability to conceptualize solutions to problems, as have apes, dogs and even cats. Nevertheless the extension of language into the imaginary, so that we communicate about something not seen, is as amazing as you say.
Harari wrote:
Until the Scientific Revolution most human cultures did not believe in progress. They thought the golden age was in the past, and that the world was stagnant, if not deteriorating. Strict adherence to the wisdom of the ages might perhaps bring back the good old times, and human ingenuity might conceivably improve this or that facet of daily life. However, it was considered impossible for human know-how to overcome the world’s fundamental problems. If even Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha and Confucius – who knew everything there is to know – were unable to abolish famine, disease, poverty and war from the world, how could we expect to do so? . . . When modern culture admitted that there were many important things that it still did not know, and when that admission of ignorance was married to the idea that scientific discoveries could give us new powers, people began suspecting that real progress might be possible after all.

Startling, yes, and intriguing, but I have the same complaint about this that I had about his "coordination by mythology" meme: the practical aspect comes first. We didn't "discover ignorance" until a certain amount of awareness developed that problems were being solved and things were changing as a result. When movable type was introduced (which provided very little help where it was invented, in China, because of pictographic writing) people were, if anything, getting more invested in the past. Calvin and Luther were using scripture, the first book Gutenberg produced, to take stands against the entire faith structure of the age. Rulers, usually for reasons of their own, were backing them. About the same time Columbus really turned loose the forces of "recognized ignorance" or "potential knowledge." And he was trying to solve a practical problem, and furthermore going about it wrong, as Prince Henry's experts recognized.

Or did Marco Polo discover "potential knowledge"? But then, people had some idea of foreign cultures and stuff beyond India even before he put specifics in to make it more than fanciful legend.
DWill wrote:
So being an ignoramus was no bad thing! Harari never arrives at an answer of why Europeans created the scientific revolution, and not the other main candidate, the Chinese. He does tell us that the scientific push was aided by Europe's embrace of capitalism and by empire, but of course that only raises another "why Europe" question.
I think Harari's take actually helps to visualize the workings of the standard answer, which is that Europe's broken up, patchwork geography inhibited overall domination by a single power and thereby induced the competition that led to recognizing "potential knowledge." My brother-in-law the historian rejects any "geographical determinism", but the point is to try to uncover forces that might help explain it, rather than to reduce everything to a single factor.
DWill wrote:
Harari brings up the 15th Century Chinese emperor Zheng He, whose armada of exploring ships made that of Columbus seem like a pod of rowboats. Zheng He explored as far as the horn of Africa, then turned back. The subsequent emperors dismantled both his fleet and the ambition to see the rest of the world.

It makes sense to me that Portugal might have visualized the possibility of sailing around Africa as a way of dodging the extortion by Venice and the Turks in the spice trade. That Prince Henry went about it by building up expertise and gathering knowledge shows a certain enterprise, but so does Zheng He's expeditions. (He was an admiral, by the way, not an emperor, and the interesting Wiki page says he was a Muslim, which might help explain his interest in contacting the lands of the Indian Ocean.)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zheng_He
DWill wrote:
What was out there that the advanced Chinese needed? Nothing that they could see. Perhaps we should say "good for them," they stayed within their boundaries and left the rest of the world alone. Perhaps they were very wise. Instead, we ponder the reasons for their failure to exploit opportunities.
Yes, it's a famous issue. Up to the 19th century, Chinese emperors were uninterested in Western artifacts, except fancy toy contraptions that had moving parts. You can see some of the amazing things produced for them by the clockmakers of Geneva, in the Patek Philippe museum here. They were mostly sold to ambassadors who could not even get in to see an emperor without such a thing to offer as a gift.

We sometimes have the same attitude about "backward" countries. Nothing of theirs could be of interest to us, except raw materials and labor. The value of ignorance is hardly universal - we organize our interest in stuff in the way the brain does, by ignoring everything that doesn't fit into our scheme of value. Harari makes a great deal of the European interest in flora and fauna and geography, but I wonder if the New World had not been discovered whether they would have developed the same systematic curiosity. "I, Claudius" features the interest the young patrician took in learning about the culture of, I think it was, the Dacians, and how it helped Rome to conquer them. But he was a geek.



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Post Re: Sapiens - Part Four: The Scientific Revolution
Interbane wrote:
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Also, if science could extend human life indefinitely, it would present a seemingly insurmountable problem of overpopulation. For that reason, such knowledge would almost certainly be available only to a select few rich individuals. It would be every bit as evil as eugenics.


This is a popular trope in sci-fi, and there are countless ways I've seen it implemented. If our genetic code was re-engineered to eliminate aging, we'd still have radiation damage to cellular DNA here and there, which would add up over time. The only way to counter this would be a "gene resetting" procedure, which would be tremendously expensive.

Beyond that, 15% of people still die at some point between birth and age 50, from accidents and whatnot. I don't know how to run the math, but I think that even with immortal genes, only the most careful people will live to 300ish.

Ick. I am old enough now that I don't see a lot of point in living a long time just to be living. Heinlein, who took "Stranger in a Strange Land" even further with Lazarus Long, would accept none of that.

I think it seriously diminishes the quality of life to choose such an option when most others cannot, in the same way that choosing freedom by enslaving others diminished the quality of life. People wrested civilization out of that barbarism of enslaving others, but I think it could have arrived more gently and peaceably. The question is Athens vs. Sparta all over again, or perhaps Judea vs. Persia. Is it better to be the one who seizes the reins, if it requires incessant dedication to violence, or is it better to make our home within our humanity in spite of the domination systems evolving around us?

America has largely chosen the latter, bringing a modicum of unsordidness to this great power.



Tue Nov 06, 2018 1:38 pm
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