Sunday, 7 February 2016

Relearning History

SM Stirling, Conquistador (New York, 2004).

Adrienne explains to Tom and Roy:

Alexander the Great (see image) did not die in 323 BC but lived for another forty years;

the Greeks assimilated the Jews, thus preventing Christianity;

Zoroastrianism died out;

some Scandinavians visited the American continents briefly but no one else;

Eurasia still has medieval technology;

Alexander is still worshiped as a son of Zeus.

Adrienne: "'The details don't matter.'" (p. 258)
me: They do! (But not from her practical pov.)

Adrienne: "'...our best guess is that the Industrial Revolution needed the equivalent of a toss coming up heads a thousand times in a row.'" (p. 259)
me: Is our history really that improbable?

Appendix Three: "Alexander the Great died in August of 280 B.C.E., in the summer capital of Ecbatanta..." (p. 589)
me: Is this the same as the Ecbatana visited by Time Patrolmen Manse Everard and Keith Denison?
me: When did Alexander die in Poul Anderson's "Eutopia"? Reading Stirling's alternative histories has persuaded me to reread Anderson's Old Phoenix stories and now his "Eutopia."


Anonymous said...

Kaor, Paul!

"Is our history really that improbable?" Short of actually being able to observe different timelines, it is hard to be sure, but one can make a case for Stirling's view. One can argue that the scientific revolution depended on various things, including the Catholic basis of the medieval universities, where Arisotelian philosophy and logic were taught, and there was a concern with getting fine distinctions right. China never had an Aristotle, which may explain why, despite some worthy thinkers and experimenters, China and the rest of the Far East didn't have a scientific revolution. The Dar al-Islam turned away from science, deciding that religion was more important, and trumped science in the event of any conflict.

Europe seems to have benefitted by having favorable geography, favorable philosophy, and the right amount of political division: too many miniature principalities, and none of them can make large capital investments, but with one empire ruling a whole civilization, dissident views and any developments that might upset the applecart for the ruling class are liable to be suppressed, while men lose the vigor and initiative that comes from being able to make a difference in a relatively small polity.

Stirling pointed out in a Usenet discussion that the development of parliamentary government in Britain depended on a series of contingencies, including the relatively early death of Charles II.

This doesn't prove that Adrienne Rolfe is entirely right, but she could be.

Best Regards,
Nicholas D. Rosen

Paul Shackley said...

I like the point that small principalities cannot make big investments whereas large empires stifle progress. Medium is Beautiful.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Greetings Nicholas and Paul!

Since we are discussing what caused a true science to arise on our Earth, let's see what Poul Anderson thought on that point. In Section 4 of "Delenda est," Manse Everard said: "That's why I asked about their [the Afallonians] religion. It's always been purely pagan; even Judaism seems to have disappeared, and Buddhism hasn't been very influential. As Whitehead pointed out, the medieval idea of one almighty God was important to the growth of science, by inculcating the notion of lawfulness in nature. And Lewis Mumford added that the early monasteries were probably responsible for the mechanical clock--a very basic invention--because of having regular hours of prayer. Clocks seem to have come late in this world."

And what I quoted above also helps us to understand why Islam has been so intellectually stagnant, even moribund. It goes back to the Muslim view of God as a Being of arbitrary will and caprice, of not needing or respecting any laws He created in nature. An example of this being the view of many Muslim theologians that God continually recreates us and all the cosmos moment by moment. Which means denying secondary and contingent causes.

China is a complex case, because I can tell how close the Chinese came, more than once, to developing a true science. I think it's no surprise that it was Japan and China, of non Western nations, who more willingly adopted modern science and technology (instead of Islam).

Paul: yes, Manse Everard and Keith Denison visited Ecbatana during the reign of Astyages the Median, to frighten him out of murdering his own grandson, the infant Cyrus the Great to be, while posing as angels.