I learned a little something new this morning that got me to thinking on an interesting, tangential rabbit trail.
The origins of the lost city of Atlantis mythos can be traced back to the philosopher Plato. He was teaching a lesson on the topic of the ideal society and concocted a discussion between Timaeus and Critias, two fellows who didn’t even live at the same time. ((A contemporary comparison would be concocting a discussion between Einstein and Galileo.)) Ironically, Plato created Atlantis as an example of an evil empire, with Athens being held up as the shining example of the ideal utopia. Plato described Atlantis as being a naval power out beyond “the pillars of Hercules,”, or what is know today as the Strait of Gibraltar, effectively somewhere out in the Atlantic ocean and beyond the then-known regions of the world.
So, this got me thinking – what made Europe so special that, from a technological standpoint, it advanced so much more quickly than the rest of the world? We know from Columbus’ expeditions to the New World that there were people and large cultures already well established in both North and South America. Most of Asia was, likewise, rich with culture and and great thinkers. So what was it that sparked the Industrial Revolution in Europe, which served, in part, to launch the white man ahead of the pack?
There was certainly no shortage of great minds in the rest of the world. For instance, explosives evolved from the saltpetre and black powder of the Arabs and the flash powder of the Chinese and Mongols, but it was the Europeans who took that technology and truly weaponized it. What made the difference? Were the Europeans simply more aggressive when pursuing knowledge, and if so, why them and not some other culture?
What would have happened had the Industrial Revolution first taken place with the Aztecs, in a land that the Europeans didn’t even know existed? Columbus may have been in for a bit of a surprise had he landed on the shores of the New World to be greeted by people handling machines powered by coal and steam. Orson Scott Card actually touches on this somewhat in his book _Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus_, where he rewrites history and brings the Europeans’ technology to the Aztecs and changes the balance of power in the world.
I’m sure the parameters that defined the rise of European power dominance were numerous and complex, but I find it terribly fascinating to think about the “What if?” questions that could have changed the face of the world if someone _else_ had risen to power and technological advancement first. There’s a story or three in there somewhere, I’m sure.