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A man is not truly free until his latitude exceeds his desires. - Michael Armstrong

Why the Industrial Revolution?
05/08/2018

Why is it important to consider this question, of why the Industrial Revolution occurred?

It is a question that needs to be asked if we want to know how we became what we are. The 19th and 20th centuries are in many ways the most transformative centuries in all of human history. Until about 1800, the vast bulk of people on this planet were poor. And when I say poor, I mean they were on the brink of physical starvation for most of their lives.

Life expectancy in 1750 was around 38 at most, and much lower in some places. The notion that today we would live 80 years, and spend much of those in leisure, is totally unexpected. The lower middle class in Western and Asian industrialized societies today has a higher living standard than the pope and the emperors of a few centuries back, in every dimension. That is the result of one thing: Our ability to understand the forces of nature and harness them for our economic needs.

Research agenda change

Between Columbusís voyage to America in 1492 and the death of Isaac Newton in 1727, the agenda of research in Europe changes. For much of human history, people studied science and natural phenomena, not to make us materially better off, but just to satisfy curiosity. The ancient Greeks made fantastic scientific progress, but there are few instances in which they use it for anything. In fact, Aristotle says science shouldnít be used, because work is something for the lower classes. Learned people didnít work, and working people didnít learn.

Aristotle famously thought that a vacuum was impossible. Then one day, Europeans build a vacuum pump. The only conclusion they could reach is Aristotle is wrong. If he was wrong about that, could he be wrong about other things? You bet. Aristotle thought all the stars in the heavens were completely fixed; nothing is added and nothing is subtracted. In 1573, a Danish astronomer called Tycho Brahe observes a supernova. There was a star there before, and now itís not. So people start being skeptical, and skepticism leads to what I call contestability. Arguments are decided not on authority, but on evidence, logic and mathematical proof.

That seems perfectly normal to us, but it's something that had to be learned. It's something no other society pulls off. In other places, wisdom and knowledge were revealed to our forefathers, and if you want to know the truth, you have to study their writings, whether itís the Bible, or Confucius, or the Koran, or the Talmud. Ė Ana Swanson, The Washington Post, Oct 28, 2016

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