History of Science
In the comments here, you’ll find discussion about the role of science in the Dark Enlightenment (central, as far as I’m concerned), but also a nod toward the history of science, which should, I think, be engaged more often in the reacto-sphere. The history of science offers a chance to explore important questions: What are the optimal economic and political circumstances for the flourishing of discovery? Does science progress because of or in spite of larger social contexts? How have different individuals and generations dealt with the conflicts between science and faith? Who has silenced science throughout history, and why? How often do political leaders use science to make policy (or for political ends), and what have the consequences been? So on and so forth. Thomas Kuhn has given us plenty to think about in terms of the philosophy of science as it has evolved throughout history, but looking at the history of science through a social and political lens can be just as illuminating.
Of course, the history of science is messy business. Mapping any narrative onto it requires plenty of selection and deflection. But I think it’s a subject worth exploring, and it’ll certainly become a running theme here at Habitable Worlds.
For now, I’ll just note that the Wikipedia entry for Timeline of Scientific Discoveries is fascinating. I’m sure it’s incomplete and problematic (how is ‘scientific discovery’ being defined?), but even so, there’s an obvious trend. Arabs (Persians, more likely) dominate the short list of discoverers prior to the 15th century. And then, as soon as the 1500s arrive . . . it’s Europeans all the way down. What happened to the Muslim world after the Caliphate and the golden age of Islamic learning? There seems to have been a cultural collapse larger and longer-lasting than anything experienced in the Occident. There are lessons to be learned here . . .