Le Secret de l'Occident (1997, 2007, 2008) ("The Secret of the West") unveils an economic and political theory about scientific & technological progress. The theory gives the reasons why the scientific and industrial revolutions originated in the West, and not in the Middle East, India or China. It succeeds in explaining the European "miracle" in the IInd millenium as well as the Greek "miracle" in Antiquity. It unravels the causes for the declines and rises of India, China and the Middle East across the centuries.
That theory was brought together, like a jigsaw puzzle, from many pieces of previously unconnected historical research. To my knowledge, it is the first united scheme able to explain the main booms and slowdowns observed in the scientific and technological evolutions of the main civilizations.
Chapter 1 Debunking Traditional Explanations
The usual "internalist" explanations for the European originality religion, culture, genetics, climate, third-world abuse, Greek heritage, pure hazard are dismissed. None of these elements can pretend to shed light on the long-term European success.
Eastern Europe is religiously, culturally, ethnically, climatically very similar to Western Europe. Nonetheless, it has always been lagging backward, for centuries if not more, painfully catching up with Western advances, but never leading the way.
During some periods of time, China, India or the Middle East led the way in science and technology. This does not fit well with the idea of an inherent (religious, cultural, ethnical, etc.) superiority of the West. If, on the other side, one admits important changes in those inherent abilities, these remain to explain.
Greek heritage must be rejected because the Romans, the Muslims, the Indians too could benefit from it. Randomness is not an acceptable answer, it merely amounts to giving up looking for an answer.
Chapter 2 The Economic and Political Theory
(European case, 11th to 18th century)
Stable political division helps science and technology in
In particular, the smart European scientific professional structure,
the institutions that allowed scientists to make a living while doing
research universities, royal academies, private mathematical
schools, etc. could come to life and survive only thanks to
the existence of the wealthy and stable Western European states system.
Chapter 6 The Coastline Shape Hypothesis
The coastline shape difference between Western Europe and Northern Africa shows up clearly on that map
In mathematical terms, the quality of a coastline is measured by Mandelbrot's fractal dimension of the coastline. The higher the dimension, the better the shore articulation. I made some measurements on maps and obtained that Europe has a fractal dimension of 1.46, much higher than China (1.26), India (1.14) and the Middle East (1.13), which is significant because this figure can only take values between 1 and 2.
Eastern Europe does not enjoy as good a shore profile as Western Europe: it is a mainly landlocked area. Vast surfaces are deprived of sea access: the seas are too far-away, they are often closed or ice-blocked seas. Hence, trade could not take off, and no natural boundary protected the regions's states, which were brittle and short-lived. This is the reason why this region did not perform well in science and technology.
The coastline shape difference between Western and Eastern Europe shows up vividly on that map
Chapter 7 The Greek Miracle Explained
Chap 7 shows that the rich states system theory explains the ancient Greek miracle as well. The Greeks formed a lasting states system, enlivened by a brisk trade, both element thriving on the very indented and articulated coastline of the Aegean sea.
Only the Southern part of Greece nurtured the miracle, because it had abundant access to the sea. The mostly landlocked Northern part of Greece stayed apart from the scientific adventure. So the Southern/Northern opposition in ancient Greece mirrors the Western/Eastern opposition in modern Europe.
Greece has a nicely articulated coastline at smaller scales than Western Europe
The miracle lasted until military technological progress overshot the possibilities of the Greek geographical platform. Then, the scene extended to the whole Eastern Mediterranean region, which the Greeks conquered. Huge Greek states formed in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia minor, which could follow the competition, but only for a while: the new territories did not have an articulated coastline. The economy slumped down (this was compounded by demographic decline) and a more and more unstable division settled, ruining the Greek world and ending the "miracle".
Chapter 8 Evolution of the West, 19th and 20th Centuries
In chap 8, I apply the theory to the 19th and 20th centuries. The states system of Western Europe continued on its course, generating scientific progress at a fast pace, until the first part of the 20th century, when technological progress in the military domain (essentially tanks and airplanes) rendered the European continent too small. At this stage the states system destroyed itself (2nd world war).
Greater states were required for the competition to continue. The USA and USSR, luckily, were there. They continued the battle until, again, the military technology (thermonuclear bombs and intercontinental missiles) exceeded the possibilities of the geographical platform. But this time, technology was so powerful that war simply became impossible on Earth between great powers, ushering the nuclear peace in which we live now.
Chapter 9 Present Situation and Near Future
In chap 9, I develop several contemporary topics, like the Asian boom and the sharp drop of science in Russia. I show that, today as ever, only two forces prop up science: stable division and prosperity: governments, companies and donators are the funders of science. They can assume that role only if the necessary ressources are there, hence if the economy fares well. Also, only the freedom of a multicenter world allows research to go on unfettered (think of cloning, assisted fecundation, and so on). Furthermore, inter-state prestige or trade competitions are a crucial motivation behind that financing.
As a consequence, one can take scientific progress for granted in the future as long as some region in the world will enjoy prosperity and stable division this progress shall be a bit weaker, however, with the waning of the military pillar.
Finally, the epilogue generalizes the theory for the space age (that never came). 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. I briefly study 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 "planetographies" foster such lush combination at the space age level. The result of this investigation is that, unfortunately, our neighbouring planetary environment seems hopelessly forbidding. We are not going to experience in the future another full-fledged "miracle", like the Greek and the European ones in the past.
Created: 07 Mar 2020 Last modified: 11 Mar 2020