Saturday, February 04, 2006
David Cosandey on the sources of scientific progress
Albion's Seedling, the Anglosphere blog, recently linked to this fascinating site, which presents a theory of scientific progress proposed by David Cosandey. The longer version of this is only available in French, but the theory can be read in short summary form in English, and very fascinating reading it makes.
To pluck Cosandey's own even shorter summary from his summary:
For science and technology to advance in a given civilization, two conditions are required: a thriving economy and a stable political division. That is, a rich and stable states system is needed.Note the plural. States with an s at the end. One state doesn't do it. Not enough competition. No surprise, then, that the European scientific miracle is now ending.
While it lasted, the European scientific miracle had a lot to do with the shape of its coast line, as did the ancient Greek miracle before it. Both Greece and Western Europe are shaped like crinkly pieces of seaweed. And sea, says Cosandey, is good for science.
For the time being, and despite Europe flagging, further scientific progress looks reasonably certain, but the momentum may eventually slow. For there is a depressing sting in the tail of Cosandey's theory, in the form of a science-fiction-like speculation:
Planet Earth has become too small to stand large conflicts between great powers, but wars with missiles and nuclear bombs could still be waged in the interplanetary medium. What about the quality of our stellar system in that respect? In the same way as not all coastline profiles allow for long-lasting rich states systems, similarly, not all planet configurations foster such lush combination at the space age level. Unfortunately, our neighbouring planetary environment seems hopelessly forbidding. We are not going to experiment [experience?] in the future another full "miracle", like the Greek and the European ones in the past.This conclusion reminds me of the widespread theory that war drives economic development, which now looks rather unconvincing, what with war having abated quite a lot recently, but with economic development forging ahead as never before. It is to be hoped that scientific progress can, despite what Cosandey says, outlast the conflicts between rich, stable, warlike states that gave birth to it, and find other motivations to fuel itself.
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