In sedentary and peaceable societies, astronomy, medicine, the most simple notions of anatomy, the knowledge of plants and minerals, the first elements of the study of the phenomena of nature, acquired some improvement, or rather extended themselves by the mere influence of time, which, increasing the stock of observations, led, in a manner slow, but sure, to the easy and almost instant perception of some of the general consequences to which those observations were calculated to lead.
Meanwhile this improvement was extremely slender; and the sciences would have remained for a longer period in a state of earliest infancy, if certain families, and especially particular casts, had not made them the first foundation of their reputation and power.
Already the observation of man and of societies had been connected with that of nature. Already a small number of moral maxims, of a practical, as well as a political kind, had been transmitted from generation to generation. These were seized upon by those casts: religious ideas, prejudices, and different superstitions contributed to a still farther increase of their power. They succeeded the first associations, or first families, of empirics and sorcerers; but they practised more art to deceive and seduce the mind, which was now less rude and ignorant. The knowledge they actually possessed, the apparent austerity of their lives, an affected contempt for what was the object of the desires of vulgar men, gave weight to their impostures, while these impostures at the same time rendered sacred, in the eyes of the people, their slender stock of knowledge, and their hypocritital virtues. The members of these societies pursued at first, almost with equal ardour, two very different objects: one, that of acquiring for themselves new information; the other, that of employing such as they had already acquired in deceiving the people, and gaining an ascendancy over their minds.
Their sages devoted their attention particularly to astronomy: and, as far as we can judge from the scattered remains of the monuments of their labours, they appear to have carried it to the highest possible pitch to which, without the aid of telescopes, without the assistance of mathematical theories superior to the first elements, it can be supposed to arrive.
In reality, by means of a continued course of observations, an idea sufficiently accurate of the motion of the stars may be acquired, by which to calculate and predict the phenomena of the heavens. Those empirical laws, so much the easier attained as the attention becomes extended through a greater space of time, did not indeed lead these first astronomers to the discovery of the general laws of the system of the universe; but they sufficiently supplied their place for every purpose that might interest the wants or curiosity of man, and serve to augment the credit of these usurpers of the exclusive right of instructing him.
It should seem that to them we are indebted for the ingenious idea of arithmetical scales, that happy mode of representing all possible numbers by a small quantity of signs, and of executing, by technical operations of a very simple nature, calculations which the human intellect, left to itself, could not have reached. This is the first example of those contrivances that double the powers of the mind, by means of which it can extend indefinitely its limits, without its being possible to say to it, thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.
But they do not appear to have extended the science of arithmetic beyond its first operations.
Their geometry, including what was necessary for surveying, as well as for the practice of astronomy, is bounded by that celebrated problem which Pythagoras carried with him into Greece, or discovered anew.
The constructing of machines they resigned to those by whom the machines were to be used. Some recitals, however, in which there is a mixture of fable, seem to indicate their having cultivated themselves this branch of the sciences, and employed it as one of the means of striking upon the mind by a semblance of prodigy.
The laws of motion, the science of the mechanical powers, attracted not their notice.
If they studied medicine and surgery, that part especially the object of which is the treatment of wounds, anatomy was neglected by them.
Their knowledge in botany, and in natural history, was confined to the articles used as remedies, and to some plants and minerals, the singular properties of which might assist their projects.
Their chymistry, reduced to the most simple processes, without theory, without method, without analysis, consisted in the making certain preparations, in the knowledge of a few secrets relative to medicine or the arts, or in the acquisition of some nostrums calculated to dazzle an ignorant multitude, subjected to chiefs not less ignorant than itself.
The progress of the sciences they considered but as a secondary object, as an instrument of perpetuating or extending their power. They sought Truth only to diffuse errors; and it is not to be wondered they so seldom found her.
In the mean time, slow and feeble as was this progress of every kind, it would not have been attainable, if these men had not known the art of writing, the only way by which traditions can be rendered secure and permanent, and knowledge, in proportion as it increases, be communicated and transmitted to posterity.
Accordingly, hieroglyphic writing was either one of their first inventions, or had been discovered prior to the formation of casts assuming to themselves the prerogative of instruction.
The only sciences known to savage hordes, are a slight and crude idea of astronomy, and the knowledge of certain medicinal plants employed in the cure of wounds and diseases; and even these are already corrupted by a mixture of superstition.
Meanwhile there is presented to us in this epoch one fact of importance in the history of the human mind. We can here perceive the beginnings of an institution, that in its progress has been attended with opposite effects, accelerating the advancement of knowledge, at the same time that it disseminated error; enriching the sciences with new truths, but precipitating the people into ignorance and religious servitude, and obliging them to purchase a few transient benefits at the price of a long and shameful tyranny.
I mean the formation of a class of men the depositaries of the elements of the sciences or processes of the arts, of the mysteries or ceremonies of religion, of the practices of superstition, and frequently even of the secrets of legislation and polity. I mean that separation of the human race into two portions; the one destined to teach, the other to believe; the one proudly concealing what it vainly boasts of knowing, the other receiving with respect whatever its teachers condescend to reveal: the one wishing to raise itself above reason, the other humbly renouncing reason, and debasing itself below humanity, by acknowledging in its fellow men prerogatives superior to their common nature.
Every thing tells us that we are approaching the era of one of the grand revolutions of the human race. What can better enlighten us to what we may expect, what can be a surer guide to us, amidst its commotions, than the picture of the revolutions that have preceded and prepared the way for it? The present state of knowledge assures us that it will be happy. But is it not upon condition that we know how to assist it with all our strength? And, that the happiness it promises may be less dearly bought, that it may spread with more rapidity over a greater space, that it may be more complete in its effects, is it not requisite to study, in the history of the human mind, what obstacles remain to be feared, and by what means those obstacles are to be surmounted?
. Historically, the brightest minds have migrated to open societies. and once there have made discoveries and created works that enriched and advanced those societies. A classic example is the intellectual flight from fascist Europe in the years leading up to World War 11. Persecution, particularly of Jews and homosexuals, spurred emigration that turned America into an intellectual mecca. America offered scientists and artists freedom, tolerance, egalitarianism, opportunity, and support for their work, and it had the military strength to protect those ideals. In return, the new immigrants gave America breakthroughs in chemistry, iology, and physics and an expanded Hollywood liberal narrative culture, America's chief cultural export.
But scientific leadership proceeds from not only openness but also the degree of opportunity available to citizens. By making education free and accessible to all, by stimulating cross-pollination and creativity with diversity of views and support for research and the arts, and by leveling the economic playing field to provide equal opportunity and freedom of inquiry, democratic societies have broadcast the intellectual fertilizer that helps talent develop wherever it may be.
Combined, these two factors have had a powerful effect: Even more than empowering individuals, they empower ideas. It is this mix of freedom, tolerance, creativity, talent, and diversity in science, in art, and in the social and intellectual interplay between art and science that has historically spawned the great breakthrough cultures that produce bumper crops of new ideas and fresh insights.
The art of printing had been applied to so many subjects, books had so rapidly increased, they were so admirably adapted to every taste, every degree of information, and every situation of life, they afforded so easy and frequently so delightful an instruction, they had opened so many doors to truth, which it was impossible ever to close again, that there was no longer a class or profession of mankind from whom the light of knowledge could absolutely be excluded. Accordingly, though there still remained a multitude of individuals condemned to a forced or voluntary ignorance, yet was the barrier between the enlightened and unenlightened portion of mankind nearly effaced, and an insensible gradation occupied the space which separates the two extremes of genius and stupidity.
Thus there prevailed a general knowledge of the natural rights of man; the opinion even that these rights are inalienable and imprescriptible; a decided partiality for freedom of thinking and writing; for the enfranchisement of industry and commerce; for the melioration of the condition of the people; for the repeal of penal statutes against religious nonconformists; for the abolition of torture and barbarous punishments; the desire of a milder system of criminal legislation; of a jurisprudence that should give to innocence a complete security; of a civil code more simple, as well as more conformable to reason and justice; indifference as to systems of religion, considered at length as the offspring of superstition, or ranked in the number of political inventions; hatred of hypocrisy and fanaticism; contempt for prejudices; and lastly, a zeal for the propagation of truth; These principles, passing by degrees from the writings of philosophers into every class of society whose instruction was not confined to the catechism and the scriptures, became the common creed, the symbol and type of all men who were not idiots on the one hand, or, on the other, assertors of the policy of Machiavelism. In some countries these sentiments formed so nearly the general opinion, that the mass even of the people seemed ready to obey their dictates and act from their impulse.
The love of mankind, that is to say, that active compassion which interests itself in all the afflictions of the human race, and regards with horror whatever, in public institutions, in the acts of government, or the pursuits of individuals, adds to the inevitable misfortunes of nature, was the necessary result of these principles. It breathed in every work, it prevailed in every conversation, and its benign effects were already visible even in the laws and administration of countries subject to despotism.
[T]here are some common animal behaviors that seem to favor the development of intelligence, behaviors that might lead to brainy beasts on many worlds. Social interaction is one of them. If you're an animal that hangs out with others, then there's clearly an advantage in being smart enough to work out the intentions of the guy sitting next to you (before he takes your mate or your meal). And if you're clever enough to outwit the other members of your social circle, you'll probably have enhanced opportunity to breed..., thus passing on your superior intelligence. ... Nature—whether on our planet or some alien world—will stumble into increased IQ sooner or later.
For three million years we were hunter-gatherers, and it was through the evolutionary pressures of that way of life that a brain so adaptable and so creative eventually emerged. Today we stand with the brains of hunter-gatherers in our heads, looking out on a modern world made comfortable for some by the fruits of human inventiveness, and made miserable for others by the scandal of deprivation in the midst of plenty.
The language of science is universal, and perhaps scientists have been the most international of all professions in their outlook... Every time you scientists make a major invention, we politicians have to invent a new institution to cope with it—and almost invariably, these days, it must be an international institution.
Such biological ideas as the 'survival of the fittest,' whatever their doubtful value in natural science, are utterly useless in attempting to understand society ... The life of a man in society, while it is incidentally a biological fact, has characteristics that are not reducible to biology and must be explained in the distinctive terms of a cultural analysis ... the physical well-being of men is a result of their social organization and not vice versa ... Social improvement is a product of advances in technology and social organization, not of breeding or selective elimination ... Judgments as to the value of competition between men or enterprises or nations must be based upon social and not allegedly biological consequences; and ... there is nothing in nature or a naturalistic philosophy of life to make impossible the acceptance of moral sanctions that can be employed for the common good.
A parable: A man was examining the construction of a cathedral. He asked a stone mason what he was doing chipping the stones, and the mason replied, “I am making stones.” He asked a stone carver what he was doing. “I am carving a gargoyle.&rdquo. And so it went, each person said in detail what they were doing. Finally he came to an old woman who was sweeping the ground. She said. “I am helping build a cathedral.”
...Most of the time each person is immersed in the details of one special part of the whole and does not think of how what they are doing relates to the larger picture.