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Brucecarson

Stagnation of Technology?

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Regarding one of your earlier questions I believe that the Classical Athenian democracy that ruthlessly exploited large numbers of slaves in the silver mines in Laurium was the most innovative society of it's time.

 

 

Are you being sarcastic here, Kosmo? The "democratic" Athenians of classical times may have introduced technological advances in silver mining built on the brutal exploitation of slaves, but this society could hardly be credited with innovation in regard to social relations. What were the Athenian mining innovations that you refer to?

Edited by Ludovicus

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And my in-depth study of American economic history will tell me that once, what you identify as the primary cause of Southern backwardness, slavery, was gone the South became a powerhouse of industry, banking and trade with a lot of innovation?

 

With respect to the US, absolutely. You will indeed find that industry, banking, and trade grew much, much more in the South in the 150 years after emancipation than it did in the 150 years prior to emancipation. Without slave labor, former Confederate states opened up far more to Northern and international trade, developed transportation hubs, and a vibrant industrial base in textiles, petrochemicals, tobacco products, sugar refinery, and much, much more. Indeed, if you compare the states of the old Confederacy against their former rivals in the North, the most successful (Texas) now has a higher GDP than that of the most successful northern state (New York). Going down the list, the story is much the same, with Florida outperforming Illinois, and North Carolina/Georgia/Virginia sitting between Ohio/New Jersey/Michigan/Massachusetts. (Texas, BTW, now has a GDP almost three times the size of Sweden.)

 

Now what about other countries that emancipated their slaves? You mention Jamaica and Haiti, which is very odd. Perhaps you're unaware that slavery was also abolished throughout the British and French colonies, including Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Ha

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Is there any evidence for development of technology and increases in labor productivity over different periods?

 

What about mathematical and other scientific studies after 0 AD?

 

The works of Galen, the great physician of Greek descent who first practiced in Rome around AD 161, are a great example of the stagnation of intellectual thought.

 

While alive, he challenged rigid dogma, exposed fraudulent practitioners, and furthered intellectual development of the medical sciences.

 

After he died, however, Galen

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Quite an interesting thread indeed! So maybe it is worth revamping it ;)

 

I cannot but wonder if you are focusing too much on slave labor? Slave labor was present virtually everwhere throughout Ancient era, Middle Age (not only in that lesser form called serfdom) and Modern times, and partly even in the contemporary epoch, yet the levels of technological advance of each polity were greatly different. Slavery might well have played a role (even a major one, as far as labor-saving devices are concerned; the example drawn from the Life of Vespasian is quite intriguing in this respect, showing an actual conflict between economic and political considerations: could you please specify the source of that quotation?), and it would be definitely worth carrying out an in-depth comparative study on the (both diacronic and syncronic) relationship between availability of slave labor and tecnological advancement; still, even if such an inverse proportionality were to be conclusively demonstrated, I do not think this might be claimed to be a decisive point in a discussion basically comparing the tecnological advances of Hellenistic or pre-Roman Empire era and the Roman Imperial one. Most likely the truth lies (unintended pun) elsewhere...

 

As to the mentality argument, the most often invoked one (and often the most difficult to define and thus advocate/challenge), I hold that this is the key factor explaining the relative backwardness and above all stagnation (from a technology standpoint) of Roman Empire society and economy. If a conservative mentality (and thus social order) does not constitute in itself a deterrent to creating technological innovation, it is definitely a powerful deterrent to the spread and uptake of it.

 

Another interesting aspect - oddly neglected in this otherwise exceedingly rich thread - is the role of military-driven tecnology innovation (just think of how many military spinoffs have lately become standard features or even staple fixtures of everyday life such as the Internet, computers, radar, GPS or even microwave oven; coming back to Romans, their military and tecnology were strictly intertwined: just think of their engineer-soldiers able to build and repair palisades, castra and war machines as well as to trace and pave roads). Of course tecnology alone is - and was - not enough without organization, discipline, tactics and strategical vision (and Hellenism was no exception to that: just think of Archimede's "burning mirrors" and shiplifting machines that did not prevent his sieged Syracuse to be seized), but Romans, being practical and pragmatic, had plenty of them. My point is that, at or around the apex of their expansion and power, Romans had basically no major incentive or need (read: external enemies) demanding or justifying large investments in military tecnology (China, the only potential antagonist envisageable, was too distant for that time's geopolitical horizon - the core of the Roman world was always to remain the Mediterranean basin - and no relationship between those two empires has ever been documented or otherwise demonstrated to date)... Therefore it would be interesting to know more about the innovations in weaponry (if any) used by Romans against their most formidable enemies like, e.g., Parthians (whose empire, though, was in fact shrinking in the period at issue, having attained its climax around 60 BC)...

Edited by curiosissimus

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As to the mentality argument, the most often invoked one (and often the most difficult to define and thus advocate/challenge), I hold that this is the key factor explaining the relative backwardness and above all stagnation (from a technology standpoint) of Roman Empire society and economy.

 

Another interesting aspect - oddly neglected in this otherwise exceedingly rich thread - is the role of military-driven tecnology innovation

 

Mentality is even today the most challenging aspect of top-down efforts to spur innovation, efforts that usually fail.

War is not always driving technology and for the entire empire history full of wars only Greek Fire seems to be an innovation, or rather a serious improvement over existing technology.

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Mentality is even today the most challenging aspect of top-down efforts to spur innovation, efforts that usually fail.

 

True, changing mentality is and has always been a formidable challenge. Yet I cannot say if top-down efforts made in that direction "usually fail": a major counterexample is given by the French Revolution, initially quite an elitist process spurred by an intellectual

Edited by curiosissimus

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Social stability, intellectual freedom, and patronage are essential to foster intellectual curiosity and growth. These were missing until the emergence of the Renaissance.

 

Not true at all. People were no less intelligent during the middle ages than they were before or afterward. It is true however that the dominance of christianity was not conducive to intellectual pursuit. A religion that demands conformity and faith does not want its literature or methods questioned, especially with so much money and political influence at stake.

Nonetheless, advances were made during the middle ages. We see the likes of Thomas Aquinas pursuing philoosphy. We see colleges and universities created in european towns, often with royal support. Agriculture began to develop from the ruin of the dark ages (albeit with a few disasters along the way). Commercial activity restored itself after the fall of the Roman Empire, and we see large scale enterprises forming a crude analogy of modern multi-national corporations. We also see monasteries making the first steps toward industrialisation. Literature is no less represented. It's thanks to medieval writers and copyists that we know as much as we do today about the Romans, and whilst its easy to sneer, don't underestimate the market for fiction in the middle ages. Arthurian romance is nothing new. The medieval equivalent of paperback novels were on sale seven hundred years ago, and the creative impulse to write them ever present.

 

Lets be frank about the renaissance. There was no instant change of heart. People like Leonardo Da Vinci are exceptional, but despite his enormous intellect, he achieved very little other than muse about the possibilities, nor did his ideas have any significant impact on science or technological development afterward, which instead went hand in hand with the ability of industry to supply the hardware needed for these developments. The renaissance had less to do with intellectual growth, but rather the beginning of emancipation of christians from a form of intellectual and emotional slavery.

 

What you'll find is that there are always those in society who want in some way to bend you to their will. I know that sounds vaguely communist, but that's how human beings are. Intellectual thought survives because historically there was no way to prevent people from thinking, and in cases where a regime destroys the evidence of such thought, then the adherents to philiosphy and science merely go underground. That again, is normal human behaviour. There are more modern examples of this.

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