How adoption of Latin script led to industrial revolution in the west

Yes,I am serious! If you do not believe me then show a little bit of patience and go through this post.

Let us go back 10,000 years. The human anatomy including the size of our brain has remained more or less unchanged from then to now. So, how did we create the civilization as we know today? It is definitely not because evolution in last 10,000 years. It is created primarily through the accumulation of knowledge through generations. It is through trial and error, through iterative refinement of what works and what does not. It has happened because of the collective intelligence of human civilization.

I am talking about the same collective intelligence that you keep hearing about in connection with Web 2.0. It is that intelligence where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It is that intelligence which has given shape to Wikipedia. It is that intelligence which has helped us create Linux. It cannot be understood by looking at the behavior of individual agents and has a behavior which goes against the conventional wisdom. If somebody, ten years back had told you that the most serious competition to Windows will come from an operating system collaboratively created by many thousands of individuals working voluntarily without any centralized control, would you have believed it? Similarly, it somebody had told you that Encyclopedia Britanica will be all but out of business because of an online encyclopedia where there is no designated expert, no formal review and where anybody can make changes to the content, I am sure you would have laughed at that person.

There are also many examples of collective intelligence in nature. Checkup the phenomenon of birds flocking, of anthill and how ants find food. The most interesting example is our brain. Our brain is made up of billions of neurons connected by trillions of synapses. Though we, to some extent, understand the chemistry of the brain, we have no clue on how it does what it does! Only thing that is clear is that the intelligence depends more on the number of interconnection than the number of neurons.

The key factor in moving the human civilization forward has been the level of communication between individuals. It all started when we invented our first communication technology that is the spoken language. It is not exactly clear when it happened, but it can be safely concluded that it was the catalyst for the start of human civilization. It was the means by which experience could be passed on from one individual to another. Before that only way to learn was to actually try out options or see somebody do it. Indian civilization perfected the art of transmitting scriptures verbally. The mechanism was based on how knowledge could be passed on orally from Guru to Sishwa. As a result of this mastery, some of the most ancient seat of learning was in this part of the world in Taxila and in Nalanda. People from all over the world came here to learn.

Next technology breakthrough happened when the art of writing was perfected. Writing was in existence for couple of thousands of years but it became really usable around 500 AD. Through spoken language, knowledge could be communicated to an individual who is physically present at the same place. However, writing opened up the possibility of passing the knowledge to someone who is physically removed or removed in time. Not only did this connect more individual but it also increased the number of connection. As a result human civilization collectively became more intelligent. This also led to the spread of the three of the major religion Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.

India paid the price of being too successful in its vocal tradition. It never really took to writing. The Guru-Sishwa tradition persisted as the primary method of knowledge transfer. That is why you will find very little written Indian history. We have to fall back on the account written by Megasthenis, Fa-Hian, Hsuan-Tsang and Al-Biruni  to reconstruct Indian history.

Meanwhile, China created the printing technology. Unfortunately, the Chinese script was pictorial and was totally unsuitable for mass printing. Gutenberg from Germany adopted that technology and created the movable type setting. It was only possible because the language had limited number of alphabets. Printing opened up the possibility of knowledge sharing from one to many. As a result, the western civilization collectively became much more intelligent than all the other civilization of that time. This led to the industrial revolution. Q.E.D.

With this I rest my case!

2 Responses to “How adoption of Latin script led to industrial revolution in the west”
  1. somu says:

    interesting point of view….but don’t you think thats just one of the reasons….after all printing in europe started only in the 14th century….

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  1. […] of India: Historically Indians have been more focused on oral communication than written one (see this). In China, expressing you view is not […]

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