Notes for a Projected Book Review
Today, most scientific research is sponsored either by governments or businesses. They put up these bucks because experience has shown that research can lead to military, economic or other advantage. Harari argues that Western science acquired its distinctive character and began its era of rapid progress only when it linked up with the forces of imperialism and capitalism. In that regard he says the discovery of the New World by Columbus "was the foundational event of Western Science."
He illustrates his thesis with the voyage of Captain James Cook, which had as central objective the observation of the transit of Venus from the South Pacific, in order to determine the distance to the Sun. That voyage also discovered many previously undiscovered lands, and carried a variety of scientists to catalog discoveries. Cook also demonstrated the efficacy of citrus fruit as a preventive and cure for scurvy, a disease which previously had killed roughly half the sailors on long ocean voyages. It also laid the foundation for the colonization of Australia, the destruction of all the native cultures, and the near extermination of the indigenous inhabitants.
Europe's conquest of the world occurred while Asia was sleeping. One hundred years after Columbus, Asia's economy still dwarfed that of all of Europe. Even tiny European countries like Denmark and Scotland sent expeditions to explore the New World, but not one Islamic or Asian power did, until 1942, when Japan conquered two small Alaskan Islands, "capturing ten American soldiers and a dog." Little did Asia suspect that it would be next on the menu.