Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Launched the Industrial Revolution?

According to Matt Ridley, you can't attribute this to the Royal Society:

It used to be popular to argue that the European scientific revolution of the 17th century unleashed the rational curiosity of the educated classes, whose theories were then applied in the form of new technologies, which in turn allowed standards of living to rise. But history shows this account is backward. Few of the inventions that made the industrial revolution owed anything to theory.

It is true that England had a scientific revolution in the late 1600s, but the influence of scientists like Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke on what happened in England's manufacturing industry in the following century was negligible. The industry that was transformed first and most, cotton spinning and weaving, was of little interest to scientists. The jennies, gins, frames, mules, and looms that revolutionized the working of cotton were invented by tinkering businessmen, not thinking boffins. It has been said that nothing in their designs would have puzzled Archimedes.

Trial-and-error engineering was well known for being dependent on logarithms and their incarnation in slide rules. Did logarithms set off both the industrial revolution and the scientific revolution? (The timing is right.) Was the pause in science simply due to a lack of logarithms?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the contribution of Royal Society scientists to the industrial revolution was simply the idea that new technology could make things better, and was worth investigating.

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anton Sherwood said...

Someone or other – Dyson?? – observed that in modern times about three scientific revolutions have been driven by theoretical paradigms (Darwin, Planck, Einstein) but many more than three by new instruments (telescope, microscope, atom-smasher ...).

2:29 AM  

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