There is an old saying in China, “Thirty years to the east of the river, thirty years to the west of the river”, which talks about the rotation of “feng shui”. Indeed, the world is full of recurring phenomena: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, plants and flowers bloom and fall, the ocean tide rises and falls, the clock swings back and forth, the stock market has peaks and valleys… They all reflect some kind of volatility, rhythm and Periodicity. The author calls the phenomena and mechanisms with these properties the “pendulum effect”. If you look at human history, especially the history of scientific civilization, from this point of view or perspective, you will find that there seems to be a so-called “pendulum effect” in history. If this effect does exist, then understanding it will help us correctly understand the rise and fall of the development and evolution of scientific civilization, help us grasp the basic laws of scientific development from a macro perspective, and proactively adapt to the general trend of its future development. situation. The issue of the pendulum effect of scientific civilization discussed here is not entirely the same as the issue of “shifting the center of science.” The latter covers a narrow scope, mainly the growth of scientific knowledge, research paradigm transformation, technology accumulation and regional transfer in a certain civilization or type of civilization; it does not fully integrate the matrix of science and civilization and the basic elements of culture. When examined together, cross-civilization (cross-cultural) exchanges and interactions are rarely touched upon.
The “pendulum” phenomenon in the history of science
Generally, it is believed that the early stages of ancient science originated in ancient Egypt on the Nile River and Mesopotamia in the Mesopotamia. Before the middle of the second millennium BC, there was the heyday of Egyptian scientific civilization, but its development was later hindered and it gradually died out. A little later, the Sumerians in Mesopotamia created another center of scientific civilization.
As time went by, quite a few civilizations later acquired knowledge and skills about nature, showing a polycentric trend of scientific civilization. They mainly include China, India and ancient Greece. Among them, China and ancient Greece took another important step forward. In the 6th century BC, both the Chinese and the Greeks went beyond the stage of relying on myths to explain nature, and formed their own pictures of the world on completely different basis.
In Greece, traditional religion and philosophy separated into a living natural philosophy. In particular, the introduction of “atomism” marked the peak of the first great period of Greek science. By the time of Alexander, in “Hellenistic” scholarship, the “ingredients” of Greek science had an overwhelming dominance, and were obviously different from the intuitive, empirical, and fragmented knowledge of the ancient Egyptian and Babylonian periods. The brilliance of Greek science shows a turning point in human scientific civilization. However, by the time of ancient Rome, the Greek academic tradition ceased. By the time the Western Roman Empire fell, all science and philosophy since ancient Greece had been lost. The West then entered the long “Dark Age” of the Middle Ages. As the famous British historian of science WC Dampier said, the Middle Ages “was a dark valley through which mankind descended from the peak of Greek thought and Roman rule, and then struggled up the slope of modern knowledge.”
Just when Europe (Southwestern Europe to be precise) fell into the dark valley, the Arabs began to conquer Asian countries, and academics entered a period of prosperity. As early as the 8th century AD, under the rule of Mansur of the Abbasid Dynasty, the Arabs began the activity of translating Greek and ancient Syriac works into Arabic. This high-level translation activity lasted for more than a century. By 1000 AD, nearly all Greek medical, natural philosophy, and mathematical works had been translated into usable Arabic. Not only that, the Arabs also expanded the content of the text. For example, in the work of the great “encyclopedic” scientist Abu al-Biruni, Archimedes’ work on the balance of heavy objects in liquids was supplemented with a concept that approximates the modern “specific gravity”; Ibn Khaitam added The geometric interpretation of light developed into an interpretation of vision. In addition, Thabit Cura and others also made some corrections to the theoretical model of Ptolemy’s Almagest. Generally speaking, Arab science has injected fresh elements of experience and practicality into the sparse, rigid, and over-conceptualized ancient Greek knowledge system at the spiritual level, improving the overall scientific level of the latter.
It should be pointed out in particular that in the first millennium AD or even longer, China’s science and technology, as the main representative of Eastern scientific civilization, was at its peak. Here I only quote the views of the famous British historian of science Joseph Needham for support. He pointed out in “Science and Society in the East and West” that from the 1st century BC to the 15th century AD, Chinese civilization was much more effective than Western civilization in applying human natural knowledge to human practical needs. “We know that during the first millennium AD, technology and inventions were mainly transmitted from the East to the West. It was not until the 17th and 18th centuries that this process was reversed.”
Without exception, whether it is Arab-Islamic or China’s scientific civilization also has periods of stagnation and decline. The Arab-Islamic scientific civilization experienced a sharp decline by 1050. By 1258, Baghdad was captured by the Mongolian army and gradually withdrew from the stage of history. By the 15th century, it had completely disappeared. By the 16th century, the development of Chinese scientific civilization had slowed down. By the 17th and 18th centuries, Western scientific civilization had overtaken it and clearly occupied a dominant position. The “flame” of the “scientific revolution” praised by historians of science continued to burn until the 19th century, and its light eclipsed all other parts of the civilized world.
Looking at ancient scientific civilization, it is not difficult to find that in the exchanges and interactions of early scientific civilizations, there was already a rough “East-West” “swing” model. That is to say, the “pendulum” of scientific civilization swings between the “East” (mainly referring to Asia) and the “West” (mainly referring to Europe) on the Eurasian continental plate: one period swings to the east, and the other period swings to the west. ;The cycle goes back and forth. If we use a fashionable term to describe it, this swing seems to be “beating” back and forth between two “attractors” in the east and west.
Of course, the so-called “East” and “West” are historical concepts. Early manifestations were concentrated along the Mediterranean coast at the junction of the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. Later, for a long period of time, it mainly referred to the two geographical units of Asia and Europe. In modern times, the “core zone” referred to by the concepts of East and West has become broader, even somewhat arbitrary, and has been given more cultural and even ideological meanings.
Regarding the historical process of the “swing” of human scientific civilization, George Sutton, the “father of the history of science” and the famous American science historian, has a very insightful summary in his book “The Life of Science”. First, he believed that science originated in the East. “If we look at the history of science from a very broad point of view, we can divide it into four stages. The first is the empirical development of knowledge in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The second is the rational foundation established by the Greeks , this foundation has amazing beauty and power. The third stage is the Middle Ages, which until now is not well understood by people… The fourth stage is the stage of modern science. It should be noted that among the four stages, the first stage It is completely Eastern; the third stage is mainly Eastern, but not entirely; the second and fourth periods are entirely Western.” In his view, the next scientific civilization will once again change the world. To the east.
Seeing clearly the swing phenomenon of scientific civilization requires a grand vision and a progressive concept. Although some historians uphold a progressive view of history, they regard historical development as linear and cannot correctly view the “twisting” and “circling” phenomena that have occurred in history; some regard history as completely random and The process of “collision” cannot correctly view the “breaks in human understanding” and “emergent” changes. For example, the famous French philosopher Michel Foucault holds the latter view.
The process and main characteristics of the pendulum
Every “pendulum” of scientific civilization is a complete process, that is, from germination, formation, prosperity, and then decline; a complete process seems to start from the starting point, go around in a circle, and then return to the “original point.” For example, this is the case with the civilizations in the Mediterranean region and surrounding areas. They alternate with each other, with ups and downs. Summarizing the processes and laws of the development of different scientific civilizations, the following main characteristics can be drawn:
First, the development of science is nurtured in the historical process of civilization. Civilization is the matrix of science; different civilizations shape different types or paradigms of science, and are associated with the rise and fall of scientific development. Archaeological, prehistoric and anthropological research shows that rice cultivation began in the Yangtze River Basin of China between 8000 and 7500 BC; wheat cultivation began in the Yellow River Basin in 7000 BC. From the 3rd century AD to the 5th and 6th centuries AD, the population in the southern part of the Yangtze River Basin increased dramatically (this was due to the reclamation of the vast southern land and the development of agricultural technology). According to Jia Sixie’s “Qi Min Yao Shu”, as of 530 AD, there were more than 37 known rice varieties, and the use of fertilizers, the promotion and application of transplantation technology, and the adoption of technologies and methods such as grinding grains into flour have changed. It’s quite common. This shows from one side that the development of agricultural economy and agricultural civilization has promoted the progress of agricultural technology and given a strong impetus to scientific and technological civilization, making ancient Chinese scientific civilization in the “leading” position in agricultural civilization for a long time, resulting in The four great inventions of gunpowder, compass, papermaking and printing have made significant contributions to the progress of human civilization. None of this is accidental.
Second, the swing of scientific civilization shows an “alternative evolution” trend. That is to say, scientific civilization coexists in multiple regions and multiple lines at the same time. Each of these civilizations plays a different role, and often “you sing and I come on stage”, playing together the “symphony” of human scientific civilization. In this process, when a certain scientific civilization is at the “trough”, another scientific civilization is at the “peak”, and they influence and transform each other. Regarding this situation, if we temporarily put aside some details and grasp it from a macro perspective, we can clearly sort out the main axes of the alternating evolution of the two “braided” structures such as “East-West”. In one period, Eastern scientific civilization held a dominant position and Western scientific civilization was in a non-dominant position; in another period, the opposite was true. Taking mathematics as an example, according to mathematics historian Li Wenlin, in the history of mathematics for thousands of years, algorithmic tendencies and deductive tendencies have always taken dominant positions alternately. “Generally speaking, the primitive algorithmic period of ancient Babylon and Egypt was replaced by Greek deductive geometry; in the Middle Ages, Greek mathematics declined, and algorithmic tendencies flourished in China, India and other regions; we should look at the 17th and 18th centuries It became the heroic age of seeking infinitesimal algorithms; and from the 19th century, especially from the 1870s until now, the deductive tendency has regained its dominance at a level much higher than Greek geometry.” Perhaps, entering the 21st century Finally, we will usher in a new “algorithm era”.
Third, civilizations that are waxing and waning each have a “transition period,” and some are relatively long. For example, there was a long “gap” between the decline of ancient Greek-Roman science and the rise of Arab-Islamic science. The shape of Arab-Islamic science was entirely due to the “translation movement” that lasted for hundreds of years. Its translation is so extensive that it is rare in the world, so much so that it reaches an interesting situation: in the Baghdad market, people can exchange a donkey for a copy of Ptolemy’s “Almagest”. This extensive and long-lasting translation activity is regarded by historians as a kind of “cultural transplantation”. Similarly, the transformation of Western scientific civilization after a long period of silence also experienced a relatively long transition period (13th to 15th centuries). In this process, Europeans gained many “conveniences.” For example, through the Arab region, the cast iron technology that had been widely used in China for a long time was spread to Europe in 1380 AD. In addition, practical technologies such as ship masts, rudders and compasses for maritime navigation also spread to Europe. These technologies greatly improved the technical advantages of Western European navigators in building ships that sailed in Atlantic waters. For example, the much more efficient stern rudder made up for the shortcomings of traditional stern propellers. In view of this, the famous “global history” scholar William McNeil lamented: This kind of cross-cultural reference has indeed inspired the innovation of Western European civilization. He believed that AD 1500 was more suitable than any other historical moment as the dividing line between modernity and pre-modernity.
Fourth, the development of different scientific civilizations has a trend of “cyclical growth” in space, that is, the geographical scope of the pendulum will become larger and larger. In ancient times, the Mesopotamian civilization spread radially to both the east and west because of its unique geographical relationship and civilization potential. Ancient Persia was undoubtedly one of the “relay stations” for the spread of Babylonian ideas to India and China. Due to the spatial distance, China historically had more contact with the nearby Indian civilization, but had less or only indirect contact with Europe. It was not until the late Ming and early Qing dynasties that this situation fundamentally changed. If we say that the period from the 3rd century AD to the end of the 7th century AD was a great era of exchanges between China and India, the 8th century AD to the 17th century AD was a great era of exchanges between China and Arabia, then the period from the 16th century AD to the 18th century AD was a great era of exchanges between China and Europe. .
In addition, there is a “cyclical decline” trend over time. That is, the period of the pendulum is getting shorter and shorter, and the development speed is getting faster and faster. Until today’s world has entered the era of “Great Acceleration”.
The cause of the pendulum
Why does the pendulum phenomenon occur? This must first be traced back to astronomical and physical geographical reasons.
Some scholars have noticed that astronomical factors lead to cyclical changes in the climate on the earth and their impact on human history. However, the scale of this factor is too large to directly explain the cyclical changes of scientific civilization. Rather, physical geographical (ecological) factors are worth considering. Due to the tilt of the earth’s axis, the rotation and revolution of the earth, the vertical height of the earth’s surface, etc., the amount of solar radiation received by the earth’s surface varies greatly. This is called “differentiation” or “zonal” difference in geography or surface in physical geography. Some differences are only regional, others are global in nature. For example, the earth’s surface is clearly divided into two parts: ocean and land. Correspondingly, there are two major types of natural geographical (climate) environments: ocean type and land type. People have noticed that Asia is a typical “continental monsoon zone” and Europe is a typical “maritime climate zone”. Geographical differentiation is not only one of the basic characteristics of the geographical environment, but also a natural condition for economic, social and humanistic “differentiation”.
From the perspective of biological evolution, the survival and reproduction of organisms must first adapt to their surrounding environment, but adaptation to a single, localized environment can easily lead to the “specialization” of the organism’s behavioral capabilities; the smaller and cramped the space, the harder it is to adapt. The ability becomes more specialized. However, over-specialized abilities lack flexibility and cannot effectively adapt to changing environments, which is not conducive to the evolution of organisms.
Human civilization is also an organism similar to living things. Different civilizations or cultural circles have developed on the basis of adapting to different environments. They all go through various stages of growth, development, aging and death. The so-called “advantage” status is mainly reflected in the development and utilization of nature’s energy by civilization; advantageous civilizations often have stronger abilities to develop and utilize energy. But they are also unable to escape the constraints of biological laws. That is to say, the specific environment it adapts to gives it a “comfortable” living space, but also leads to its over-dependence on the environment and the “specialization” of its coping ability. For example, the grassland (nomadic) peoples have strong adaptability to their environment. They have a set of horse riding, archery skills and the ability to run quickly that are very suitable for grassland life, forming a unique grassland cultural system. This system has allowed it to live and reproduce for thousands of years, and even often launch attacks on other more advanced civilizations (such as the agricultural civilization in the south). However, once it enters other regions and cultural systems, it “only knows how to bend a bow and shoot big eagles.” “The weakness of “professionalism” is also exposed. In history, the Mongol Empire relied on iron cavalry to gallop across the Eurasian continent, but it died down after just 100 years.
It can also be seen from this point that in the process of the spread of a certain dominant civilization to the outside world, as its territory continues to expand, its adaptability to the new geographical environment is far less than its origin, so its ability to obtain energy begins to decline. Coupled with the superposition of energy consumption factors caused by geographical expansion, the influence of civilizations that were once dominant or higher began to weaken. On the contrary, on the basis of fully absorbing the advantages of advanced civilizations, the less dominant civilizations in the affected areas can gather a force to become a higher-level, dominant civilization, and then replace the foreign “superior” civilizations. Examples abound. For example, after the Alexander period, the Greek civilization that once conquered the Syrian civilization was disintegrated by the former.
Compared with material and institutional civilization, scientific civilization focuses more on ideas and information. It emphasizes the novelty and creativity of concepts, information, and technological processes. But to do this, it is often not enough to just stay in the same environment and the same civilization. It is also necessary to “jump out” of the original environment and civilization system, obtain more new information and stimulation from the outside, and form the so-called “culture”. Hybridization”. This kind of cultural hybridization initially only occurred between two or more civilizations that were relatively close in space. However, precisely because of the close distance between the two, the degree of physical geographical and cultural differentiation was not obvious. Scientific civilization The innovative stimulus required for development is less intense. Therefore, if scientific civilization wants to achieve great development, it must expand a larger space for civilization.
We have seen that due to geographical isolation and other reasons, the scientific civilizations at both ends of the Old World were able to achieve their full development without being “interrupted” by the outside world, allowing each to achieve the development of scientific civilization on the basis of fully adapting to the local natural and ecological environment. The ultimate state shows the unique nature of civilization. Needless to say, the Chinese civilization located at the eastern end is independent due to its geographical isolation; Western Europe, located at the extreme western end, was also isolated due to its strong oppression by the Arab-Islamic civilization in the Middle Ages, forming the so-called “periphery”. effect”. Finally, with the development of transportation technology and industry, the improvement of communication means, and the partial elimination of geographical obstacles, the civilizations at both ends collided and created “sparks” through encounters, and formed a new scientific civilization at a higher level, which provided the basis for modern times. The development of science has created conditions. This is exactly the “meeting of two poles” summarized by Marx.
Take mathematics as an example. Although the mathematical tools used by Kepler and Galileo, the founders of modern science, when they made major breakthroughs were mainly Greek geometry, Eastern numbers and algorithms were also influential. This is especially true of Kepler’s work. This is what the famous philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn called a “necessary tension” that enables European scientists to maintain scientific thinking. Fundamentally, this “tension” stems from two cultures and two cultures. The tension between great civilizations stems from what the philosopher of science Larry Laudan calls “the synthesis of two research traditions.”
How to prepare for the next swing
In addition to the aforementioned Sutton, the famous British historian Arnold Toynbee and the German existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers also set their sights on the development of future civilization, including scientific civilization, in the East. The views of historical philosophers cannot be ignored. How should we view the future development trend of scientific civilization? If there is a trend towards Eastern civilization, in what form will it manifest itself, and when will it arrive? We are not prophets or fatalists, and we can only draw a possible outline of the future.
It has to be said that as early as the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, some keen thinkers and scientists had noticed the problems stemming from modern Western scientific civilization. For example, Engels critically pointed out the limitations of the “metaphysical way of thinking” in European natural sciences in the past 400 years. Together with Marx, he created the dialectical materialist view of nature and scientific methods to correct and replace the old, metaphysical view of nature and its methods. Changes in views of nature, ways of thinking, and scientific research methods can serve as a “barometer” for the shift in scientific civilization.
Taking modern physics as an example, its development is indeed closer to the Eastern research paradigm that is holistic, dialectical, and transcends the “subject-object” dichotomy. In the exploration of the microscopic world, W. Heisenberg challenged the long-standing concept of certainty in the scientific community with his “uncertainty principle”. He admitted that modern physics research has come into contact with mankind’s ancient Eastern thoughts in many aspects. He gave an example: “Japan’s huge contribution to theoretical physics since World War II may be a sign of some combination between the traditional philosophical thoughts of the Far East and the philosophical foundation of quantum theory.” Creating a dissipative structure The theoretical Belgian physicist I. Prigogine pointed out in the preface to the Chinese version of his book “From Existence to Evolution” that his “description of nature in the book is very close to the Chinese description of nature in nature”. Traditional Views of Organization and Harmony.” In view of this, American physicist F. Capra, author of “The Tao of Physics”, concentrated on studying the relationship between the Eastern view of nature (which he called “Eastern mysticism”) and modern physics. Based on the similarities and interrelationships between them, I believe that to some extent, modern physics is not only the view of nature, but also the way of thinking, which is a “return” to Eastern mysticism.
As far as Europe and the United States were dominated by one country in the past, the 20th century has begun a certain degree of “displacement” toward the East. If the Soviet Union is counted as an Eastern country (Russia spans the Eurasian continent and often regards itself as an Asian country), then the Soviet Union, as a socialist country, has accelerated the pace of industrialization and thus closely followed the two world industrial revolutions. of waves. After World War II, it was supplemented by Germany’s advanced technology, and it gained obvious advantages in the third industrial revolution. It dared to “compete” with the United States in fields such as nuclear technology and aerospace technology. For this reason, the sociologist of science JD Bernal once predicted that the Soviet socialist countries may become the center of world science in the future.
As a major country in East Asia, Japan has become an economic power after the United States and the Soviet Union after 10 years of recovery and 18 years of rapid growth after World War II. In terms of science and technology, Japan attaches great importance to the introduction of advanced foreign technologies, while not forgetting its own innovation promotion. By 1980, Japan’s development speed in the fields of semiconductors, electronic computers and other electronic technologies (including the development of fifth-generation computers with artificial intelligence) began to exceed that of the United States, forcing the United States to regard Japan as its main competitor. What is even more striking is that at a time when Japan’s economy is generally considered to be in a “downturn”, its scientific research development has gained momentum. In the past 20 years since entering the 21st century, Japan has won a total of 20 Nobel Prizes in Natural Science.
In the 1990s, with its accession to the World Trade Organization and its integration into the process of economic globalization, China’s economic strength, total trade volume, and comprehensive national strength have jumped comprehensively, becoming the second largest world economy. It provides a strong material foundation for the development of science and technology. As a developing country, China has the “later-mover advantage” and can avoid the “baggage” and detours of previously developed countries (including Japan) and share the so-called “privileges of historically laggards.” As it enters an emerging civilization stage based on technologies such as electronic storage and new energy sources such as atomic energy and solar energy, China is realizing “drawing the latest and most beautiful pictures on white paper.” China has become the world’s manufacturing center. High-tech industries are developing rapidly, and some areas are catching up.
Fundamentally speaking, the “modernization” that is being vigorously promoted in today’s world is essentially a process of advancing regional culture and technology (including social systems) that originated in Europe and the United States. After entering the second half of the 20th century, this specific meaning of “modernization” and “globalization” has increasingly exposed its own shortcomings and faces severe challenges. According to some scholars, this kind of modernization and globalization belongs to a “high-entropy culture” – excessive consumption of energy will eventually lead to irreversible disorder in nature and society. Although economic globalization has stimulated market vitality, it has also caused a large number of social problems and damage to the natural environment. The whole world seems to have entered a period of great acceleration without a brake system, causing or is about to cause disturbing turbulence, disorder and loss of control.
The emergence of these problems is obviously related to scientific civilization. If a scientific civilization has problems, should we seek a new scientific civilization? Toynbee made it very clear: “The degree of industrialization or mechanization of a society may be far less important than the degree to which this society solves the pollution problems, resource consumption problems and social contradictions that currently accompany the industrial system. Originally proposed by the West to the world question, there may be a non-Western answer in the future.”
If the development of history is as Toynbee pointed out, then what unique “contributions” will non-Western civilizations or Eastern civilizations have? Many people have emphasized that the holistic thinking of Eastern peoples can help avoid and overcome the shortcomings of Westerners’ analytical and reductionist research methods. However, fuzzy science, chaos science, fractal theory, catastrophe theory, complexity research, etc. that embody the characteristics of integrity and dialectics that our contemporary people talk about are mostly concepts or research frameworks proposed by Western scientists. This is related to the endogenous logic of scientific development. Therefore, it is not enough to just stay at the level of thinking, research methods and knowledge creation. Secondly, focusing on practical experience and technological application is a major feature of Eastern scientific civilization. It contributes to the integration of science and technology (experiments), and helps science and technology benefit mankind, etc. However, it should also be noted that these “advantages”, in addition to accelerating the transformation of technology and forming strong manufacturing capabilities, can also easily develop a strong utilitarian tendency and pragmatic attitude.
In fact, the most praiseworthy thing about Chinese culture is its broad spirit of humanistic care, its concept of “Tao” in which “man and heaven and earth are intertwined”, and its “view of the world” in which “the small self” resides in the “big self”, etc. , not just at the “technical” level. Integrating this cultural essence into contemporary scientific and technological culture requires us to pay more attention to the spiritual aspects behind science and technology, and to pay attention to the all-round development of human beings (and the coordinated relationship between humans and nature); we must not let the means overwhelm the ends, or change the ends. Got to be blurry. To this end, we should focus on exploring the ethical resources of “goodness” in traditional excellent culture and transform them into a “technology for good” in order to create new science from the broad perspective of “heaven-earth-man” civilization.
Regarding the specific time, some scholars at home and abroad have made some speculations, but none of them have become reality. The reality is that the development momentum of European and American science and technology, especially the United States, is still strong. However, some Western scholars have judged that after the first few decades of the 21st century, scientific “power” resources will gradually disperse to the core and major countries of non-Western civilization. Some scholars believe that this process will continue until the end of this century.
In any case, the revival of Eastern scientific civilization may have to go through a relatively long period of civilization brewing; and only through such a historical cloud that is both “butterfly change” and rebirth can we see the “magnificence” of new scientific civilization. After all, historical evolution is complex. The essence of history is often hidden in appearances, and history even blazes a trail for itself through many unexpected factors, accidental events, and human intervention. Some calm waters lurk rough waves, and some dazzling scenes may only appear briefly; sometimes rising means falling, and detours indicate progress. If it is just out of some good wishes, it is often impossible for us to make a clear judgment; if we just talk about an ancient “fatalism”, we will do nothing; if we have the mentality of eager for quick success and quick gain, in the end it is “haste, speed”. Not up to it.”