Here’s a link to an interview from the Washington Post with Joel Mokyr of Northwestern University who is the author of “A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy.”
LINK: Why the Industrial Revolution didn’t happen in China
One of the primary themes of the discussion is how China chose order over competition, and, as such, lost its long held technological primacy.
The practical application of scientific knowledge, and the willingness to challenge old orders of thought, stand out as the main catalysts behind Europe’s industrial inception and advancement.
While many currently question whether the world can possibly continue to advance economically at the same pace as in recent history, Mokyr concludes the interview with the following commentary:
There’s a debate about the extent to which everything that can be invented has been invented. Have we picked all the low hanging fruit, can we continue to grow the way we did? I take a very optimistic view. I think if you want to summarize the future of technology, the short summary is, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
The reason I say this is because science advances in part because people have the tools to work on problems. In the scientific advances of the 17th century, the microscope, the telescope and the barometer play a very important role. Now, if you ask what science has to work with today, it boggles the mind. We have microscopes that see the sub-molecular level. We have telescopes that see galaxies nobody dreamed existed. We have labs full of computers. A computer can find nanoscopic needles in a hay stack the size of Montana. The question is not, “What do computers do for our research?” The question people ask today is, “How the hell did anyone do anything before we had computers?”
We are going to make so much more progress, simply because we have more powerful tools. As science advances, it will push our capability of controlling nature further. Now, the problems also get harder. We are dealing with issues like climate change and desertification. But our capability of solving them is going even faster, which is why I’m optimistic.