The Europeans of the 16th century were smitten with this idea that the world was out there waiting to be discovered. They went on expeditions across the seas, bringing with them teams of scientists. Discoveries in the field of medicine allowed the expeditions to be more successful, and successful expeditions obtained vast reservoirs of knowledge about territories, making them easier to conquer. “As time went by, the conquest of knowledge and the conquest of territory became ever more tightly intertwined” (p 284). Capitalism enabled expeditions and funded scientific research, by way of a concept called credit. Credit is founded upon a trust in the future: that there will be return on investments. Profit from investments can be redirected into more scientific research, which will yield new technologies that make our lives easier or give us more physical control. These new technologies spur whole new industries, which create more credit, which enables more scientific research, which results in new technologies that enhance our power, and so forth. Much of our discoveries are directed by the desire to conquer; science is thus a servant of imperialism, and it is enabled by capitalism. DARPA is the epitome of the military-industrial complex today: funded by the U.S. government to develop defense technologies using research in fields such as bio-mimicry and aeronautics.
The Enlightenment period assumed that any acquisition of new knowledge was a step in the right direction. Our acknowledgement of ignorance, coupled with the notion that science could solve any and all of our problems, set us on a path of rapid discovery and innovation. The Industrial Revolution was progressive in that it made agriculture more efficient and effective, which allowed for innovation in other areas, such as transportation and energy. Of course, all this “progress” has created a host of new problems as well. Harari says that “economic growth also requires energy and raw materials, and these are finite” (p 334), but then later claims that “clearly the world does not lack energy. All we lack is the knowledge necessary to harness and convert it to our needs” (p 339). The latter statement assumes that we are able to innovate our way out of an energy crisis. I have to assume that Harari meant to say that just raw materials are finite; otherwise, he suggests that at the point when the raw materials are exhausted, energy will no longer be a concern because “the entire system will collapse” (p 334)..?