Human Accomplishment (Charles Murray)
This book was very interesting much of the time, somewhat interesting some of the time, and dumb at some time. However, the first part was much larger than the other two, so i think its a great book. The chapters where Murray speculates beyond the data are worst ones IMO.
Chinese medicine, unlike Chinese science, was backed by abundant
theory, but that theory is so alien to the Western understanding of physiology and pharmacology that Western scientists even today are only beginning
to understand the degree to which Chinese medicine is coordinate with modern science.42
It worked, however, for a wide range of ailments. If you
were going to be ill in 12C and were given a choice of living in Europe or
China, there is no question about the right decision. Western medicine in
12C had forgotten most of what had been known by the Greeks and
Romans. Chinese physicians of 12C could alleviate pain more effectively
than Westerners had ever been able to do —acupuncture is a Chinese medical technique that Western physicians have learned to take seriously —and
could treat their patients effectively for a wide variety of serious diseases.
Murray is being way too nice to the chinese here. Their theories are crap and their treatment generally dont work.
The second blind spot is the tendency to confuse that which has been
achieved with that which must inevitably have been achieved. It is easy to
assume that someone like Aristotle was not so much brilliant as fortunate
in being born when he was. A number of basic truths were going to be
figured out early in mankind’s intellectual history, and Aristotle gave voice to
some of them first. If he hadn’t, someone else soon would have. But is that
really true? Take as an example the discovery of formal logic in which
Aristotle played such a crucial role. Nobody had discovered logic (that we
know of ) in the civilizations of the preceding five millennia. Thinkers in the
non-Western world had another two millennia after Aristotle to discover
formal logic independently, but they didn’t. Were we in the West “bound”
to discover logic because of some underlying aspect of Western culture?
Maybe, but what we know for certain is that the invention of logic occurred
in only one time and one place, that it was done by a handful of individuals,
and that it changed the history of the world. Saying that a few ancient Greeks
merely got there first isn’t adequate acknowledgment of their leap of imagination and intellect.
Murray is wrong again: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_logic
But yes, many cultures never invented logic, or much else.
I had been looking for this!
The earliest and most commonsensical explanation for the “something
else” is that the source of great accomplishment is multidimensional—it does
not appear just because a person is highly intelligent or highly creative or
highly anything else. Several traits have to appear in combination. The
pioneer of this view was British polymath Francis Galton in the late 1800s.
Even though he had been instrumental in creating the modern concept of
intelligence, Galton argued that intelligence alone was not enough to explain
genius. Rather, he appealed to “the concrete triple event, of ability combined
with zeal and with capacity for hard labour.”13 Ninety years later, William
Shockley specified how the individual components of human accomplishment, normally distributed, can in combination produce the type of hyperbolic distribution—highly skewed right, with an elongated tail—exemplified by the Lotka curve.14
Establishing the outer boundaries of the population is easy. Modern scholars
have helpfully produced large and comprehensive biographical dictionaries
with the avowed purpose of containing everyone who is worth mentioning
in their particular field. For the sciences, an international consortium of
scholars has been laboring for more than four decades on the Dictionary of
Scientific Biography, now up to 18 volumes.1 In philosophy, we have the Encyclopédie Philosophique Universelle,2 only two volumes, but fat ones. For Western
art, we may turn to the 17-volume Enciclopedia Universale dell’Arte compiled
by the Istituto per la Collaborazione Culturale. At least one such encyclopedic reference work is among the sources for every inventory.
Old book. No wikipedia!
That the basic ideas were in the air for so long without being developed
suggests how complex and mind-stretching the change was. Indeed, a major
continuing issue in the history of science is the degree to which it is appropriate to talk of a scientific method as a body of principles and practice that
has clear, bright lines distinguishing it from science practiced by other means.
It is not a debate that I am about to adjudicate here. In claiming the scientific
method as a meta-invention, or a collection of synergistic meta-inventions, I
am associating myself with the position that, incremental as the process may
have been, a fundamental change occurred in post-medieval Europe in the
way human beings went about accumulating and verifying knowledge. The
common-sense understanding of the phrase scientific method labels the aggregate of those changes. I use the phrase to embrace the concepts of hypothesis, falsification, and parsimony; the techniques of the experimental method; the application of mathematics to natural phenomena; and a system of intellectual copyright and dissemination.
COPYRIGHT?! unfortunately, Murray does not expand on it.
DID GALILEO MAKE UP HIS DATA?
In De Motu ,Galileo reported that the lighter body falls faster at the
beginning, then the heavier body catches up and arrives at the
ground slightly before the lighter one. Since this should not be true
of the objects that Galileo used, a wooden sphere and an iron one, if
they are released simultaneously, it has been inferred that Galileo was
either a poor observer or making up his data. But in replications of
Galileo’s procedure, it has been found that when a light wooden
sphere and a heavy iron one are dropped by hand, the lighter
wooden sphere does start out its journey a bit ahead—a natural, if
misleading, consequence of the need to clutch the heavier iron ball
more firmly than the wooden one. This causes the iron ball to be
released slightly after the wooden ball even though the experimenter has the impression that he is opening his hands at the same time. Then, because of the differential effects of air resistance on
objects of different weight, the iron ball catches up with and passes
the wooden ball, just as Galileo reported. There is a satisfying irony
in this finding. The modern critics of Galileo were making the same
mistake that the ancients made, criticizing results on the basis of
what “must be true” rather than going out and doing the work to
find out what is true35
In recognizing how thoroughly non-European science and technology
have been explored, let’s also give credit where credit is due: By and large, it
has not been Asian or Arabic scholars, fighting for recognition against European indifference, who are responsible for piecing together the record of
accomplishment by non-European cultures, but Europeans themselves.
Imperialists they may have been, but one of the by-products of that imperialism was a large cadre of Continental, British, and later American scholars,
fascinated by the exotic civilizations of Arabia and East Asia, who set about
uncovering evidence of their accomplishments that inheritors of those civilizations had themselves neglected. Joseph Needham’s seven-volume history
of Chinese science and technology is a case in point.
Another is George Sarton’s Introduction to the History of Science, in five large volumes published
from 1927–1948, all of which is devoted to science before the end of 14C,
with the bulk of it devoted to the period when preeminence in science was
to be found in the Arab world, India, and China.
The irony.. :)