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Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective (Anglais) Broché – 11 octobre 2010


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Revue de presse

'This is a well-researched, objectively written, eminently readable book. Anyone interested in any dimension of modern science and technology will find it useful.' Rajesh Kochhar, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali

'A magisterial comparative sociology of the relationship between specific social contexts and scientific creativity in seventeenth-century Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and China. With a remarkable eye for detail, Huff elegantly poses the big questions about the past, present, and possible future of modern science in a globalized world.' Zaheer Baber, University of Toronto

'Using the invention and dispersal of the telescope as a probe, Toby Huff examines the initial impact of this discovery machine in Europe compared with the Ottoman and Mughal empires and Ming China. He then turns to other scientific discoveries of the West and their surprisingly absent influence elsewhere. Huff's carefully documented research brings this material together in an altogether new way. His fascinating and lucid historico-sociological investigation casts brilliant light on the preeminence of the West today.' Owen Gingerich, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

'Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution disseminates genuine information about the crucial role played by the West in the history of science, showing that after many centuries of near scientific inactivity, the West, beginning in the twelfth century, saw the virtue of absorbing science and natural philosophy from Greco-Islamic sources. For the numerous reasons Huff presents, the culture of the West, with its corporations, universities, and other features, made it feasible for science to emerge as a powerful force. Huff presents this entire process in a lucid and engaging manner, using the telescope as the instrument that most vividly reveals the striking differences between Europe and the civilizations of China, the Mughals, and the Ottomans. I believe his book will have a significant impact on the history of science, and on history generally.' Edward Grant, Indiana University

Biographie de l'auteur

Toby Huff is a Research Associate at Harvard University in the Department of Astronomy and Chancellor Professor Emeritus in Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. He has lectured in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and lived in Malaysia. He is the author of The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West (Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 2003), co-editor with Wolfgang Schluchter of Max Weber and Islam (1999), and author of An Age of Science and Revolutions, 1600–1800 (2005).


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27 internautes sur 31 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Why the West? 18 novembre 2010
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This is a very well-researched book. The central question Dr. Huff seeks to answer - Why the West? - is an intellectual riddle that demands not only extraordinary historical and sociological knowledge, but also a high level of academic intelligence. In particular, Dr. Huff cleverly uses the arrival of telescope as a "Rorschach test of scientific curiosity" (p. 20), and shows how natural philosophers in Europe reacted enthusiastically to this "discovery machine" in the seventeen century, in stark comparison with unresponsive attitudes among the Chinese and Mughal Indians. The intense engagement of natural philosophers in Europe with the newly invented telescope demonstrated a high level of scientific curiosity and creativity in European society, not only in the fields of astronomy but also pneumatics, medicine, microscopy, and human anatomy.

This heightened level of intellectual curiosity, coupled with an elevated literacy rate and the unique creation of "legally autonomous" social entities such as universities, ignited an unprecedented intellectual vitality in Europe, which decisively left ancient non-Western civilizations in the dust in terms of modern scientific achievements. It also gave rise to global Western dominance in social, political, and economic realms for the next few centuries and to this day.

Readers will find in this book Dr Huff's meticulous poring over detail historical evidences and his constant probing of the central question "Why the West?" in keeping with an intellectual tradition initiated by Max Weber that remains central to our understanding of global society today.

Some readers may think this is yet another Eurocentric undertaking - Dr. Huff is acutely aware of this - but after reading the book, one cannot but to admit the evidence provided, and the arguments put forward, are compelling.
5 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
An excellent historical study 30 novembre 2013
Par Chris Crawford - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
The telescope was invented in 1608 by a Dutch optician. Word of this invention raced through Europe, causing quite a sensation. Galileo recognized the significance of this instrument and quickly figured out how to make his own telescopes, steadily improving their performance. And he pointed his telescopes at the night sky. He quickly made three discoveries that shattered the geocentric model of the solar system.

First, he noted that the moon was full of mountains and craters. Its surface was not smooth or orderly, it was a chaotic jumble. This contradicted Aristotelian notions of the perfection of the celestial spheres – but anybody could look through a telescope to verify the accuracy of Galileo's reports.

Second, Galileo observed the motions of the four moons of Jupiter now named after him. They were clearly orbiting around Jupiter, not the earth. This too undermined classical notions of the celestial sphere.

But it was his third discovery, of the phases of Venus, that blew the geocentric model out of the water. Venus went through phases just like the moon — except these phases were clearly linked to the sun, not the earth. Venus was undeniably circling the Sun, not the earth.

Other Europeans replicated Galileo's findings. They improved on telescope design, looked at everything in the sky, designed microscopes for seeing the very small, and chattered away with endless excitement at these discoveries.

Proud of their fascinating new instrument, Europeans took telescopes to other civilizations, showing off their great discovery. The response everywhere was the same: "So what?" The Islamic societies saw nothing of interest in the telescope. Mughal India was bored by the very idea of looking at the stars. And Chinese civilization reacted with a combination of snobbery and dullardry. Anything not Chinese in origin was necessarily insignificant; and besides, looking at the stars was a waste of time. A few Chinese intellectuals grasped the significance of all this, but failed to convinced anybody else to pursue the new worlds opened up by the telescope.

The contrast between European excitement over the telescope and non-European disdain forms the core message of this book. Mr. Huff provides a detailed explanation of exactly how different cultures reacted to the telescope, and he compellingly demonstrates that only the Europeans had the intellectual curiosity to recognize the significance of the telescope.

Mr. Huff extends his analysis to other scientific fields; he even considers the growth of literacy in the different societies, and the message comes through loud and clear: Europeans were curious about the physical universe; others weren't.

The volume of information Mr. Huff brings to bear on the topic is overwhelming; I cannot imagine anybody possessed of a modicum of intellectual integrity doubting the overall conclusion that Europeans had much greater scientific curiosity than the other civilizations.

I can offer many minor criticisms of this book. The author is not a particularly good writer. He repeats himself like an absent-minded professor who can't remember what he said two minutes earlier. Some of his sentences are grammatical absurdities. Some of his explanations of the scientific issues are garbled, and in several cases I seriously doubted that he fully grasped the underlying science.

But this is not primarily a book about science; it is about history, and Mr. Huff's historical research is excellent. He taps sources from a huge range of material, showing that his conclusions are based on a very broad base of historical records.

Mr. Huff seems determined to demonstrate that China, India, and Islam were far behind Europe in terms of intellectual curiosity, at least over the last 400 years. I suspect that his overkill arises from the strong current of modern scholarly thought that seeks to give China credit for greater intellectual achievement than Westerners are wont to assume.

While I understand the importance of seeing Chinese intellectualism in its own terms rather than in terms of Western values, I don't think that we should go so far as to dismiss the obvious fact that, for several hundred years up to the present, the West was far ahead of China in scientific achievement. China is now rapidly catching up to the West, and has in fact fully caught up with the West in many areas. We can be certain that Chinese science will quickly begin to compete quite effectively with American science. But there truly was a serious deficiency for several hundred years that deserves serious consideration.

A previous reviewer condemned the book for its scientific errors. I find those errors trivial in nature and insignificant to the main hypothesis of the book. That reviewer had complained that Mr. Huff botched his explanation of a diagram from Newton's Principia. The botching consisted of confusing the specifications of triangles ASB, BAC, and CAD, a forgivable error in a diagram with 13 labeled points and a correspondingly large number of triangles.

I now believe that it is silly to ask "Where did China, Islam, India, and everybody else go wrong?" The abnormality was Western civilization; those other societies represent normal patterns of growth and progress. So what is it about the West that was so odd, so abnormal, that it produced an anomalous spurt of intellectual progress? I believe that the answer to that question can be found in the Greeks around 3000 years ago. I discuss this answer at great length in my hyperdocument "A History of Thinking".
9 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The problem of multiculturalism 25 septembre 2012
Par Grimmy - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
This must have been a very uncomfortable book to write in these days of multi-culti. It argues convincingly that the worldviews espoused by different cultures - Western Christian, Muslim and Chinese (Taoism, etc.) - had vastly different effects with regards to scientific progress. This is not a new observation (e.g. Joseph Needham), but here it is traced through the reception of the telescope and other scientific instruments and discoveries in these societies.

Other scholars and authors have shown that science and reason in the West was perpetuated through the Church, and that because of that the idea of the "Dark Ages" is a fiction (The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional and Intellectual Contexts (Cambridge Studies in the History of Science), The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450, etc.). Here, we see that whereas the telescope opened up a cornucopia of scientific excitement in the West, it was met with indifference in these other cultures.

They were not short of geniuses - they were short of worldviews where such things mattered. The sad history of the Jesuits' tireless efforts to bring modern scientific knowledge to China is a stark example of how a culture that did not acknowledge a reliable, loving Creator-Lawgiver also ended up rejecting the implications of that view - a natural world that operated according to discoverable laws. The Islamic lands, similarly, while giving birth to great minds like Avicenna and Averroes (often claimed as Muslims but this is debatable, since one of them wrote a book or two ridiculing Islam), and making strides in fields like optics, could not sustain their progress in the sciences due to religious constraints on education, Occasionalism and the death-grip of neo-Platonism.

As Huff writes, "It is apparent that both Chinese and Islamic mentors of educational virtue were fearful of foreign influences. Both began with the assumption that they already possessed all the wisdom necessary for life." For all our blather about Western cultural imperialism, we should remember that most cultures have their own version of cultural imperialism. The Chinese version shut out new knowledge on astronomy for many years. The Islamic version shuts out knowledge and learning about other cultures, since it considers itself the divinely ordained culture in language and lifestyle. In addition, it cannot long survive contact with a culture of questioning and reason, which is why it always viewed "philosophy" with animosity.

Some will look at this book and immediately label it as imperialist nonsense. But the history is there and the facts are there, and it is these that must be weighed. George Saliba, coming from the side of Islamic superiority, where, in contrast, apparently all scientific knowledge originated in Islam, has contested Huff's argument; the reader is encouraged to decide whose argument prevailed. But I do note that some of Saliba's claims rest on very thin ice.
3 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A refreshing break from stultifying political correctness 9 mars 2014
Par Dr. Atanu Maulik - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
The extraordinary flowering of scientific discoveries coming from Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries is one of the defining events of the history of mankind. It created the foundations of the modern world and led to the rise of Europe and its offshoots to global primacy which endures to this day. In this well researched book, the author compares and contrasts the political, social and educational institutions of Europe with that of China, India and the Muslim world in a effort to answer the question: why the Scientific revolution took place in the west and not elsewhere ?

The author used the invention and the spread of the telescope as a probe of the scientific aptitude of the various cultures. He shows that while the telescope fired the imagination of Europeans and led to an avalanche of discoveries which fundamentally changed their worldview, it barely caused a ripple elsewhere. For example, the telescope reached the court of Mughal emperor Jahangir in India in 1615, but it had no impact whatsoever on the Indian elite.

The author argues that the emergence of unique autonomous institutions (corporations) like merchant guilds, professional societies and Universities with a strong emphasis on the teaching of the workings of the natural world in Europe during the middle ages, the parallels of which are not to be found anywhere else, created the fertile intellectual milieu which enabled the rapid rise and spread of science and the scientific method later on.

Some of the explanations of scientific principles lack clarity and contain inaccuracies. But this is NOT a textbook of science., but a book on the history and sociology of science and in my opinion, it succeeds brilliantly in its original purpose. This book presents a refreshing break from the stultifying climate of political correctness which so dominates the intellectual space these days. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in knowing why the world today looks the way it does.
2 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Read this book! 22 août 2014
Par Carol Crystle - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
I can't recommend this book highly enough. Every European and American should read it. I recommend that parents give it to their children as they head off to college. The book discusses the scientific developments in 17th century Europe, traces their development from medieval roots, and compares what was going on in Europe with what was happening in China, India, and the Islamic world. It will lead to an understanding of and appreciation for what we owe to our European heritage--a politically incorrect subject nowadays. I recommend also the author's other book: The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West. Both books cover not only scientific developments, but also compare the development of legal and educational systems in all three civilizations.
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