America and the Scientific Revolution

In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari argues that the European discovery of America was the foundational event of the Scientific Revolution. It forced these would-be explorers and conquerors to admit their ignorance of the world, and figure out the gaps in information they needed to know: 

It not only taught Europeans to favor present observations over past traditions, but the desire to conquer America also obliged European s to search for new knowledge at breakneck speed. If they really wanted to control the vast new territories, they had to gather enormous amounts of new data about the geography, climate, flora, fauna, languages,cultures and history of the new continent. Christian Scriptures, old geography books and ancient oral traditions were of little help.”

How Can Knowledge Be Power?

More from Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: 

“In 1620 Francis Bacon published a scientific manifesto titled The New Instrument. In it he argued that ‘knowledge is power’. The real test of ‘knowledge’ is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us. Scientists usually assume that no theory is 100 percent correct. Consequently, truth is a poor test for knowledge. The real test is utility. A theory that enables us to do new things constitutes knowledge.

Useful knowledge is power, the details are superfluous.

What is a Historical Crossroads?

From Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens:A Brief History of Humankind:

“This is one of the distinguishing marks of history as an academic discipline—the better you know a particular historical period, the harder it becomes to explain why things happened one way and not another. Those who have only a superficial knowledge of a certain period tend to focus only on the possibility that was eventually realized. They offer a just-so story to explain with hindsight why that outcome was inevitable. Those more deeply informed about the period are much more cognizant of the roads not taken.”

Sometimes, for all our idle speculation, there is no why.

“In fact, the people who knew the period best—those alive at the time—were the most clueless of all.”