Capitalism, Empires, and Science?

According to Harari, about 500 years ago is when humans really started to gain “unprecedented power”, mainly caused by something he refers to as, the scientific revolution (p. 246). The scientific revolution was able to begin due to the curiosity we acquired during the cognitive revolution; however, with the advent of technologies like the printing press and telescope, the scientific revolution was able to be tied into everyday society. Harari also references a feedback loop, in which the necessities of scientific research also revolve around power and resources (p. 250). This feedback loop is in essence what Harari believes links capitalism, imperialism, and science. The wealthy people of the 14thand 15thcenturies are the people who were able to fund scientific research, which meant that if a wealthy monarch wanted technology to explore new lands in let’s say, the New World, he could commission scientists to come up with telescopes and ocean maps to feed their own interests. Had these wealthy nobles and monarchs of the past not desired things that could only be provided through scientific research, many of the inventions we have today wouldn’t be here. Therefore, any progress we have created in the technological realm was purely driven by extremely selfish interests.

On another note, until this revolution, Harari states that a majority of human cultures didn’t believe in progress (p. 264). During this time period of the Scientific Revolution, the belief was that Golden Age had just ended and the world would just slowly begin to deteriorate, as it had already begun to (p. 265). But, with the curiosity and desire for more lands, wealth, and resources by the wealthy, the scientific revolution began. I think that this idea of a yearning for progress makes sense, however, I think most of the scientific research done was completed due to peoples’ own interests and for their own personal gain. Although I think that the layperson required this hope of progress, the layperson was not the one doing or funding scientific research, so the idea of progress doesn’t truly apply.

1 thought on “Capitalism, Empires, and Science?”

  1. I would tend to agree that progress as we define it (in terms of technological and scientific advancement) is often driven by factors other than curiosity and science for the sake of science. I’d say that, given my observations of how technology has developed, there have been comparatively few people that advanced science that did it for the greater benefit of mankind as a primary motivator, and oftentimes those that did were still at the mercy of and reliant on the generosity of benefactors that had less altruistic motives behind the development of certain technologies.

    War, even the threat of war, is a incredibly good motivator to develop technology. We can look at both World Wars and see the rapid advancement of military assets as they went on, most famously advent of the aircraft in World War I and the atom bomb in World War II. Even after the Second World War the United States constantly churned out prototypes and experimented with things like nuclear-powered aircraft (yes, seriously, that thankfully was abandoned) and pushed furiously to beat the Soviets in the Space Race. I would say that most, if not at least a large amount, of progress in the last century was motivated either by empire and the military-industrial-complex, or by corporate interests. They just happen to often times be beneficial to the average person.

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