Wait… Scurvy is related to Capitalism?

Harari claims that science, empire and capitalism are linked because of the want or need for humans to explore and conquer. These three variables helped build on each other in order to achieve the end goal- of conquering. Science is funded by politicians and policy makers in order to support or refute claims made in their campaigns. In exploration campaigns, the government has the ability to pay different scientists. Scientific discovery is made, sometimes on accident, based on this funding. A prime example of this is depicted by Harari’s explanation of how scurvy was “cured”. It started with the question of how far away the sun actually was. It was hypothesized that simple trigonometry could aid in defining this distance, and expeditions were sent to different corners of the world in 1769. The Royal Society decided to send one of their astronomers to Tahiti, and then asked themselves why spend the money on just one person, and ended up sending a whole team of scientists to the islands. One of the accidental scientific discoveries of this expedition was medical, when Captain James Cook took it upon himself to listen to a scientific claim about the benefits of eating citrus fruit and vegetables on expeditions like this, and brought some along this trip, and didn’t lose a single sailor. A more recent example of this link and the want to conquer was the invention of the first atomic bomb.

I was intrigued by Harari’s argument that human progress and the Scientific Revolution only happened when humans were able to recognize that they were ignorant in some ways of the world. I think everyone in this class holds bias to this-because we are college students with (hopefully) a thirst for knowledge. It took the change of power, from god-anointed kings to elected individuals- from funding priests to scientists- from being content with not knowing to conquering new lands and racing to the moon, to get where we are. Harari didn’t clarify what came first, probably because these changes somehow started to occur at the same time and inevitably fed off and grew from one another. It is interesting to look at today’s society through this lens of these linked variables. To what extent could and should these things be linked?

2 thoughts on “Wait… Scurvy is related to Capitalism?”

  1. I agree with what you are saying about how it took a change in power for people to begin to search for answers to previously unknown (and accepted) questions. I think what you said about looking at today’s society through the lens of progress interesting. I think a lot of times, people just take it for granted that the world and science keep progressing, without stopping to think about how that progress came about or why that progress occurred. In answer to your query, I find it hard to distinguish between progress and science, because they are so intertwined. With one usually comes the other. So I think that while we might link these two things perhaps too readily, they are intrinsically linked together, due to the very nature of science and progress. Especially in today’s society, people just expect that progress will be made quickly if more money is poured into science. Great post, I especially enjoyed your title! Thanks for a good read!

  2. I like your focus on Harari’s point about ignorance. I focused a little more on Harari’s darker tone. That scientific influence is limited by the way money flows and that most of society doesn’t realize that. However, you seem to have seen this in a far more positive light. I appreciate that you talk about our thirst for knowledge and that you really paid attention to how realizing our ignorance made us more curious and successful. To answer your question about the extent money and science could and should be linked, I would say we must be cautious because science is very powerful and does control people’s actions to an extent. I think it could be linked to the point where governments could lobby scientists to put out false studies to cater to certain viewpoints. I think their connection is inevitable but should be openly debated. It is important for all sectors to remember ethics and academic honesty. Science is in many ways a search for truth. It would be tragic if that was tainted.

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