Imagine that you are an alien from Mars and visited Earth in 1500. Which of the great civilizations of that time would you prefer? What would predict future world domination? The answer is simple: anything but European.
In the east, you see the great Chinese civilization that has existed for over a thousand years. The long list of inventions made by the Chinese is unparalleled: paper, printing press, gunpowder, compass, etc. - it can be enumerated for a long time. Chinese scientists are the best on the planet. The country is one, and peace reigns on the mainland.
In the south, you see the Ottoman Empire, which almost conquered all of Europe. The great Muslim civilization invented algebra, followed by many advances in optics and physics; it was she who gave the stars their modern names. The arts and sciences flourish in the empire. Its great armies meet with little or no resistance. Istanbul is one of the world's greatest centers of scientific knowledge.
On the other hand, there are wretched European states, tortured by religious fundamentalism, the Inquisition and the trials of witches. Western Europe has been in decline for a thousand years since the fall of the Roman Empire. She is so far behind that she constantly borrows technology from others. This is a real black hole of the Middle Ages. The knowledge of the Roman Empire is largely lost, replaced by a suffocating religious dogma. Opposition or disagreement is often tortured or worse. Moreover, European city-states are constantly at war with each other.
But what happened?
Shortly after 1500, both the Chinese and Ottoman empires entered a 500-year period of technological stagnation, while science and technology began to develop unprecedentedly in Europe.
Back in 1405, the Emperor of China Yongle gathered a huge sea armada - the largest in the history of mankind. With her help, he wanted to explore the world. (Three tiny Columbian boats would fit perfectly on the deck of one of the armada's colossal ships.) Seven expeditions were organized, one larger than the other. The Chinese fleet passed along the shores of Southeast Asia, reached Africa, Madagascar, and possibly went further. Home sailors brought rich booty - things, exotic food and animals from all over the world. The Ming Dynasty Menagerie displays wonderful ancient images of African giraffes.
However, the rulers of China were unhappy. And it's all? Where are the great armies that could withstand the Chinese? Are exotic foods and outlandish animals all that the world has to offer? Losing interest, the next rulers of China allowed the great fleet to decline; it eventually ceased to exist. China has gradually become isolated from the rest of the world; stagnation began in him, while the world, on the contrary, rushed forward.
Something similar happened in the Ottoman Empire. Having conquered most of the world they knew, the Ottomans turned their backs on it and turned their attention inward, plunging into religious fundamentalism and centuries of stagnation. Mahathir Mohamad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, once said: “The great Islamic civilization fell into decay when Muslim scholars began to interpret the search for truth, as prescribed by the Qur'an, in a purely religious sense; all other knowledge has become un-Islamic for them. As a result, Muslims abandoned science, mathematics, medicine, and other so-called secular disciplines. Instead, they devoted their time to debates about the teachings of Islam and its interpretations, about Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic practice, which ultimately led to the collapse of the ummah and the formation of numerous sects, cults and schools. "
But in Europe, a great upsurge began. The trade brought with it fresh revolutionary ideas, which the Gutenberg print press also helped to spread. The authority of the church, after a thousand years of unconditional leadership, began to weaken. Universities gradually moved from the interpretation of incomprehensible passages of the Bible to applied sciences: this is Newton's physics, and Dalton's chemistry, and other works of many scientists. Historian Paul Kennedy of Yale University explains the rapid rise of Europe by another factor: continuous wars between almost equal in strength European powers, none of which has ever managed to seize power over the entire continent. The monarchs, constantly at war with each other, funded research and engineering, hoping to someday satisfy their territorial ambitions. Science was then not just an intellectual exercise, but a way to create new types of weapons and new ways to make money.
Gradually, the rise of European science and technology led to the weakening of the power of China and the Ottoman Empire. The Muslim civilization, which had flourished for centuries through an intermediate position and trade intermediation between East and West, first swayed when European sailors opened trade routes to the New World and to the same East - especially around Africa, bypassing the Middle East. And China suddenly found itself at gunpoint from European gunboats, which, ironically, were using two epoch-making Chinese inventions - gunpowder and a compass - with might and main.
The answer to the question "What happened?" obvious. Science and technology happened. Science and technology are the engines of prosperity. Of course, everyone is free to ignore them - but on their own responsibility. The world will not stand still just because you are reading a religious text. If you fail to master the latest advances in science and technology, your competitors will.
- Michio Kaku