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  • Keith W
  • Chicago, IL
  • United States

TEDCRED 10+

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If the Industrial Revolution did not begin in Western Europe, could it have or would it have began somewhere else?

I read "Guns Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond and it really made me think. He said once "If another continent was blessed with environment and resources like Europeans, than they would have built skyscrapers and Helicopters" or something to that effect. I dont want this to turn into a racial/cultural debate by any means. I am merely asking if Technology was inevitable? I believe Diamond was correct in much of his assumptions he made in his book, but i do believe he was being overly deterministic? Anyway, is modern society just a fluke? What would have happened if the Industrial Revolution did not begin when it did?

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    Apr 17 2013: the true root of the IR is economic freedom. all other parts of the world lacked and most parts still lack the foundations of economic freedom. economic freedom could possibly be formed in other parts of the world, and i can't tell why it did not, or whether it would if were given more time.

    my old politology professor attributed this to the duality of power in europe, namely church and state. the asian model, caesaropapism, has a single ruling entity, thus posing the rulers as absolute and unchallengeable. separated church-state created a rivalry which became the seed of the ability to criticize the state, therefore the debate of its role could take place. as early as the 1200's, the desire to limit the state was widespread and widely accepted. by the 1700's, thinkers raised doubts about the legality of the state altogether, arguing for anarchism or minarchism. this did not happen in asia for example.
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      Apr 17 2013: Kris, you took the words out of my mouth and said them better too! The downfall of the monarchies and rise of greedy capitalists in Europe sort of began it all. I don't think the Church was that great an influence or detriment to the industrial Revolution.
    • Apr 23 2013: I'm not inclined to believe that the industrial revolution would only exist if there was capitalism. I do agree that economics had a very direct impact on growth, direction and development in the IR model as it exists today. Would you then submit that people will not grow without profit?
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        Apr 23 2013: profit is a measurement of making a change in the world that brings about more satisfaction to the people. so your question in essence means whether there is growth with no growth, there is progress without progress.
  • Apr 26 2013: Obviously technology is inevitable and unpredictable.When you are busy thinking that something cant be done,trust me,there is someone somewhere doing it.The world is full of sharp people.
    If e.g,helicopter was never invented in europe,i believe and know that,someone somewhere would have invented a flying machine but not necessarily they 'helicopter'.
  • Apr 20 2013: China, I believe would have been the other possible place it may have been possible to occur. They created fireworks right. It would have been a matter of time before they began systematically assembling these and other goods for consumption. Hell look at that part of the world and how celebrated innovation and ingenuity is. We used to be the worlds leader in it now we industrialize knowledge and information the same way we used to with guns and ammo. Oh yeah we still do that too.
    • Apr 30 2013: It wasn't always like that. In the beginning and middle stages of the Industrial Revolution, the Chinese government shutdown any movement towards industrialization and modernization. With that being said, I doubt that China would've industrialized first if Europe hadn't. Only after a number of military defeats and humiliating treaties did they start modernizing, and they're doing a great job at it as far as I can tell.
  • Apr 17 2013: Necessity is the Mother of invention. Human beings are a clever lot and instead of the Europeans finding new uses for the vast resources available world wide Industrialization was destined to occur somewhere.
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    Apr 17 2013: I like guns germs and steel. It might have occurred in China had things been different in their culture.As the deterministic things that Diamond does not talk about are the determiners that are talked about in the 6 killer apps.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/niall_ferguson_the_6_killer_apps_of_prosperity.html
  • May 1 2013: it's a very interesting question and i've wondered myself. i don't have enough information to come to a definite conclusion, though my experiences lead me to believe that the answer is no. more than things, what seems to be necessary is a culture that strives for improvement - the revolution and all advancements that preceded it needed both inventors and the possibility for those inventions to become widespread, allowing the next advancement.

    here in japan, that sort of society really doesn't exist. though everyone thinks of japan as being very hi-tech, the reality is that actually they're just very studious; they learn what someone else figured out and do it very well. the most convincing reason i've heard for why this is so is rice. a rice paddy can't be planted by a single person, so what they ended up with was communal planting of whole villages, basically one day everyone planted one guy's field then the next day everyone planted the next guy's. this depended on everyone working in the same way, so if someone came up with a bright idea (a better way of doing something is necessarily a different way of doing it) it'd be a real spanner in the works because it'd conflict with the way everyone else was trying to work. they even have a proverb "the nail that sticks up must be hammered down" which exemplifies this ideal. conversely in europe people were responsible for their own farms alone, so if they were free to try things, and if something turned out to make life easier people would want to learn so they could do it too, and progress is built.
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    May 1 2013: I would have to say it was inevitable. It could have started anywhere. If you study aircraft, you get a good sense of how the same idea can spring up in various geographical locations at the same time.

    Still, technology and it's underlying physical laws took a great deal of time to blossom. Most of the time, it is a single person that is responsible for pushing mankind ahead in technology. Initial stubbornness or overzealous conservatism, can limit the advance of technology to a slow pace.

    Communication is the great driver in innovation and technological advance, combined with freedom of communication. I read a book -i forget the title- that discussed the idea that wars have killed off many an Einstein and Newton. If we were not a war-like world, would the industrial Revolution have started many centuries ago? What if Aristotle and his logic never existed? What if the steam engine had been invented by the Greeks?

    Of course we will never be able to answer these questions but the industrial revolution did another thing for society, it opened a door to a new idea -that we can solve all problems and create a machine to help with that solution, eventually.

    In a hundred years someone may say, "What if genetic research and nano-technology had not begun when it did?"
  • Apr 30 2013: The USA would be my first guess.If not, it would've began where most factories are today (China). It might have taken longer, but china in my opinion would've been the only possiblity.
  • Apr 28 2013: The Idustrial Revolution in my opinion ignited because of Colonialism.
    Europeans were the first to arrive to a land and declare- "That's Ours"(On a global scale).
    Colonialsm created material affluence- one that allowed spending time on activities that aren't related to physical needs.
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      Apr 28 2013: exactly how? to help you out a little, i visited wikipedia page about history of international trade, and listed the goods i found there

      spices, silk,gold, silver, ivory, precious stones, luxury goods, coffee, musk, camphor, ambergris, sandalwood.

      how any of these help anyone anyhow?
  • Apr 28 2013: Of course.Maybe it will be delayed,but it must happened in other area.Because it's not about the place,it's about demand.
    We keep going foward because we have appetite.It makes us explore and ivent.So the Industrial Rvelotion must could happened in somewhere else as long as we want to meet our ambiton.
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    Apr 28 2013: .

    Yes!

    "Industrial Revolution" would have begun somewhere else.
    It is driven by the money.

    "Industrial Revolution" makes our unsustainable planet and self-extinct.
    (So, we can not “be happy validly!)
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    Apr 27 2013: It would have happened wherever populations were expanding rapidly. Europe was fertile and abundant in easily exploitable resources. As populations grew beyond the carrying capacity of their environment they explored further afield - finding new markets and new resources. Industrialisation occurred hand in hand with colonization and empire building.
  • Apr 26 2013: Industrial revolution would have happened somewhere else regardless because Technology is something thought about by many and in today's world if you think about an idea, chances are that you can use Google and find at least one or two people in the world who thought about a roughly similar idea and those are just people who cared enough to write about it.

    Nowadays when we finally see the limits and cropping of the industrial world, it is clear that the advances it allowed us are not only something that would have come in one form or another out of need, they also did little to non in terms of advancing the way our society is structured (thank you Mr.Chaplin for pointing it out ages ago)
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    Apr 25 2013: .....

    Daniel 12v4 ESV
    But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase."

    Many think the exponential growth in technology is a predicted sign of the end of the world. The speed of increase is at odds with any notion of gradual evolution. Why the West ? Where do the Christians live ?

    :-)
  • Apr 23 2013: It is human nature to innovate for the greater good of the community, however some societies held the natural world in higher regard than industrial Europeans. This factor along with many others would impact the rate of industrilazation and the direction technology takes. For example, had agriculture been the impetus of technological growth instead of empire we would probably still be fighting with bronze age weapons but hunger would probably be a thing of the past if the Iroquois were leading the way. It could even be argued that pre christian europe would have produced a very different entry into the Industrial Age. Food for thought.
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    Apr 18 2013: The discovery of Iron in Western Europe was key in kick-starting the Industrial Revolution. Increased use of refined coal & the almost-audaciously growing reliance on steel-based machinery as a result, gave birth to the working-class that displaced the typical farmer's family, and laid the brick for a civilized society that lived in a city dependent on its produce.
    Digital Revolution at the end of last century made many valuables virtual. But there's one thing that there is no going around of; we still live off the earth. Resources in the shape of minerals and fossil fuel constitute the biggest industry in the universe; Energy. The latter, is the single most sought after commodity-group in the modern world (since africa and parts of asia still go after food post-flood for mere survival) that has caused more than it's fair-share of wars. Studying the distribution of natural-wealth in the 21st one wonders how medicinal achievements have made it possible for us even to, without the aide of post-rev technology, live on difficult terrain or uncharted landscape making use of nature's various gift, least of which flowing consumable water, and to that effect, China is will positioned to take the cake, should Western Europe have not been that lucky.
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      Apr 18 2013: What would someone 100 yr ago said if you told them that in 2013 there would be 7 billion people on the planet?
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        Apr 18 2013: I think there were some of the more forward thinkers would have not been surprised. Medicine was beginning to to turn the corner on common diseases, labor exploitation was coming to an end, new energy sources were coming online, all promising longer healthier lifespans.
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          Apr 18 2013: But most likely they would have said that can't be true?

          Yet it is, so projecting forward is there an outside chance these much maligned humans can pull a rabbit out of their hat again?

          Or do we need an orgy of self sacrifice instead?
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    Apr 17 2013: It would have i think most inventions are a result of us and the world we live in and id go even further and say that even scientific discoveries can be seen as direct result of shifting worldviews in the world, the persons immaterial because of the process we describe with "the time has come" "the time is ready" this becomes fairly obvious when you check history and see how often a discovery was made by 2 persons (independant of each other) within a timeframe of a few months.

    In the end the process of discovery is not centered on people but on groups of people (a country, a cultural group) where many many individuals fail, or go ahead trying to find a way and fail. The person making the discovery reaching the goal is simply the one having learned from others mistakes and putting together the indivdual puzzle pieces (maybe there will be some exceptions).

    From this point of view its also immaterial to discuss what would have happend if an invention hadnt been made in europe as youd have to change the whole flow of history and culture inorder to create a sound world in which said discovery couldnt have been made.
    The importance of culture become even more obvious as they found out that in ancient egypt there was an inventor who had allready discovered steampower however it wasnt used for anything else then small gimmicks/toys, its potential just couldnt be realized in said culture.
  • Apr 17 2013: Keith,

    Popular sentiment or innovation comes out when

    1/ the 'pain or need' crosses a particular level and
    2/ it equals or exceeds the 'forces' acting against it.

    The bar for point 2 (opposite forces) is lower in few regions than in the others and also the drive for point 1 ( pain or need) varies across regions.

    So finding a solution is inevitable and technology is part of it. See my debate on related subjects
  • Apr 17 2013: Keith - Is anything people do really inevitablee? If so, technology is not one of them.