Sunday, October 17, 2021

The East Versus The West

“New Guineans… impressed me as being on the average more intelligent, more alert, more expressive, and more interested in things and people around them than the average European or American is. At some tasks that one might reasonably suppose to reflect aspects of brain function, such as the ability to form a mental map of unfamiliar surroundings, they appear considerably more adept than Westerners.” ~ Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs & Steel

Jared Diamond is not arguing for the genetic inferiority of the Western brain. He is arguing against the idea that the quality of the human brain is related to race. People of all races are capable of being equally intelligent and innovative. The political, militaristic, and scientific superiority that the West has achieved after the fifteenth century is due to natural and historical factors.

He notes that Europe is part of Asia—the Eurasian continent, which is located along the east-west axis, has very few geographic and ecological barriers. Goods, technologies, ideas, people, and militaries could move around with considerable ease. This ease of movement has contributed to the success of European and Asian civilizations.

Despite being on the east-west axis, from 10,000 BC to the rise of Greek civilization, between the fifth and seventh centuries BC, Europe was the backwater of Eurasia. If an anthropologist from an alien planet had landed in Europe in 1000 BC, he would have surmised that this area would never become developed. If he had continued his journey through the earth and travelled to North Africa, the Middle East, China, and India, he would have predicted that the people in these areas would rule the world. 

The major scientific and intellectual innovations of Eurasia—domestication of animals, agriculture, writing, metallurgy, wheels, poetry, philosophical and religious theory—have happened in the Asian civilizations, not in Europe.

Even after the rise of the Greek civilization, the flow of science, technology, and intellectual ideas was from the East to the West. Till the end of the fifteenth century, the flow was from the East to the West. Most technologies that the Spanish used for conquering the Americas came from the East: compass, gunpowder, paper, printing, cast iron, astrolabe, ships with lateen sails, and much else. In the sixteenth century, for the first time, science, technology, and intellectual ideas started flowing from the West to the East.

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