Philosophy of History

I was going to write a blog on philosophy of history but hell, Stanford has a wonderful article on it. Just read that.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/history/

A few key points considered in the entry:

1. Human Nature: Is the nature of humanity from ancient times to present days unchanging? Is it is then our present understanding and our present feelings will help us in the interpretation of why the historical personalities behaved the way they did.

2. Teleology: Teleology implies a grand meaning to the events. Teleological pattern to history implies that history is moving in a large pattern or moving in a particular direction. The Hindu belief in the four cycles of time, Satya Yug, Dvapar Yug, Treta Yug and the Kali Yug can be interpreted as giving a cyclical pattern to the History. Teleology implies that there is a greater force that is taking history on a particular path. This assumption renders moot the idea that individual are playing any role in history as despite their actions or inaction, the history will progress to its already decided end. Eschatology of various religions (How the world ends?) also imply a defined end to history. Another interpretation believes that history is steadily progressing towards a better civilization. This belief has certain attraction to it with the lives of people improving over the course of human history. The argument against this belief is that the different civilization has different ideas of progress. Thus what a western society believes as progress may be interpreted as decadence by an eastern civilization.

The rest of the ideas in the article are too abstract and philosophical for my understanding. 🙁

Kardashev Scale, Dyson Sphere and the Stellar Engines

How developed are we? How do we compare the technological capability of two civilizations?

One answer to this question is in terms of energy consumption. Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev proposed the Kardashev scale as a mean to measure the advancement of an advanced civilization. He initially proposed three levels.

Type I: A civilization that is able to harness all the energy of a planet. Thus if we are able to use all this energy we can come under the category of a Type I civilization.

Type II: A civilization that is able to use all the energy from a single star will be a Type II civilization.

Type III: A civilization that is able to harness the power of an entire galaxy will be a Type III civilization.

Type IV: There are multiple definitions of a Type IV civilization. A civilization that can harness the energy of the entire known universe or the energy of a Local Supercluster of galaxy. Workings of such a civilization would be pretty much indistinguishable from that of nature.

Carl Sagan proposed a simple mathematical formula to calculate the Kardashev scale.

K = (Log W – 6)/10

Where W is the total energy usage of the civilization. According to this, humanity is at 0.72 on the scale.

What would these different civilizations look like?

Type I: The largest nuclear bomb, Tsar Bomba had an energy output of 420 PJ. Which is much more than what humans consume (174 PW). The power output was 1.4% of Sun. (Joule is a unit of energy while Watt of Power. 1 Watt = 1 Joule/Sec.)

Type II: A Dyson sphere could be the kind of device used by a Type II civilization. Dyson sphere consists of orbital satellites orbiting the star. These constructs would then trap and use the energy output of the star. There are variants of this construct with one being a shell around the star that totally covers the star. Dyson sphere is a Class B Stellar Engine. More on them later. Construction of a Dyson sphere is an enormous, giganormous undertaking. The engineering and the amount of material required for the construction would be immense. The civilization may have to strip material  from the entire planetary system to construct such a device. Self replicating, smart machines in a post singularity world could build such a construct.

A Dyson Swarm

Type III: A galaxy spanning civilization similar to one in the Empire, Robot and Foundation series of Isaac Asimov perhaps falls under it though their energy use may not be as high as that of the entire galaxy.

Type IV: The civilizations in “The Gods Themselves” and the sentient intelligence at the end of “The Last Question” may be considered as Type IV civilization. Time Lords from the Doctor Who universe are also a Type IV civilization.

There are certain flaws in this classification. As a civilization develops technologically, it becomes more efficient and thus reduce its power usage. So a Type II civilization may in the course of time becomes so efficient that it becomes a sub Type II civilization.

Stellar Engines:

Stellar Engines are the technological constructs that uses a stars energy on a massive scale. There are three types of stellar engines:

Class A: Shkadhov Thruster. They are huge sails that uses the stars energy to nudge the star and with it its planetary system and accelerate it. These work at the time scale of millions if not billions of years.

Class B: Dyson spheres. Matryoshka brain (Matryoshka are the Russian doll inside a doll inside another doll toy). Matryoshka brains are Dyson spheres made for data processing. Thus you have a super massive computer utilizing the energy from an entire star to carry out its computations.

Matryoshka Dolls

Class C: A combination of a Shkadhov thruster and Matryoshka brain. Travelling Brainiac (Brainiac is the super intelligent artificial intelligence from the Superman universe).

Historiography

The art of writing history is known as historiography. It includes critical examination of the various evidences and forming a narrative that fits well with the evidences. Historiography is also the history of historical writings. So when I talk about Egyptian Historiography, I am talking about the historical traditions of study of history in the Egyptian Civilization and various historical writings therein. It is amazing to see that the various civilizations independently developed history. Man had somehow been programmed to think of the past and try to make sense of it. The innate ability to look at things and understand how it works and modify it, has the evolutionary reason behind it that it increases his/her probability of survival in a ruthless primitive earth. Memory and communication also serves the purpose of transmitting the understandings of one generation or an individual to other individuals or generation of the group. Perhaps the study of history originated with the group trying to understand their past experiences to learn more from it. The experiences of one generation would have been passed over to the next generation in the form of stories which would increase the chances of those experiences to be remembered. History is the memory of mankind.

Did the concept of burying the dead, religious rituals came before an understanding of past/history? Did the Neanderthals have the concept of history? Did those cavemen knew about history and thus had the notion that what they did in the form of cave paintings, tools would be used by the future generations to understand their history? Did they experiment with various colors to find the ones that wont fall prey to the elements so that their work would last for a long time? Did they bury their dead so that someone in the future can know from the things that they left with their dead who they were? Did this desire for preservation of the culture result in the first written words? Human desire of fame, family, money arises from a innate feeling of preserving the memory of the individual. That, what I am doing should be known to as many people as possible so that, what I am or what I was should be remembered. Is that the reason for the success of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter? Is it the case that what we do on Facebook is no different than those cavemen imprinting their hand prints on the walls? Was the cave wall their version of Facebook wall? Too many questions and perhaps we will never know their answer.

But I am digressing. Historiography is also about how history happens. There are multiple theories for it. I am noting in brief a few of them:

  1. Hagel’s Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis: Attributed to German Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hegel who attributed it to Immanuel Kant, this theory posits that in any society in response to an idea (Thesis) their arises an Antithesis in reaction to it. The combination of these two ideas then forms the Synthesis, an amalgamation of Thesis and Antithesis. Thus the British Imperialism in India (Thesis) led to various antithesis (Gandhi’s nonviolent movement, armed revolt against the British rule) and resulted in a Synthesis of India’s freedom which retained many characteristics of the British rule including its laws.
  2. Plutarch: Plutarch believed that history is shaped by great individual and their characters. Thus an Ashok can turn the history on its head or a Buddha could challenge an accepted religion. It is the individual and their deeds that matters. Rest all falls in place.
  3. Alfred Toynbee: Toynbee believed that a society decays because of cessation of its creative minority from being creative. Thus they fail to face the next challenge that the society faces. He believed that any civilization faces a series of challenges and whether they are able to overcome it determines the future of that civilization. Thus the Egyptian civilization could not stand up to the spirit of reasoning that circulated in and formed the core of the Roman Civilization.
  4. Historical Force: This theory asserts that during the course of history some unstoppable forces arise that changes history. These forces could be an idea or could be an individual.

Sorry for not starting on Indian History. You will have to wait for it now at least for two more post.

Sources

For the forthcoming blogs on Indian History, I have considered the following source

  1. The wonder that was India, Volume 1 – A L Basham
  2. The wonder that was India, Volume 2 – S A A Rizvi
  3. The penguin history of Early India, From the origins to AD 1300 – Romila Thapar
  4. An advanced history of India – R C Majumdar, H C Raychaudhuri, Kalikinkar Datta
  5. A History of India –  Burton Stein
  6. NCERT History Books – Freely downloadable
  7. Wikipedia and any related sources from the citations

Due to copyright issues, most of the images and maps would be from the internet.

As I have said already, I am NOT an expert. I have not studied history professionally and I do not have a degree in it. These are NOT scholarly researched articles. They are just my attempt to write about things that I read, to better understand and learn them. Whatever I write would entirely be my own understanding of the things and would definitely may NOT be the absolute truth or your understanding of it. I do not intend any disrespect to any historical figure, culture or society. If you feel that something I have written is incorrect or hurts your beliefs or feelings, let me know through the comments and I will take a call on taking it down. I would try to be as impartial as possible and will try to look at multiple sources. The books that I have mentioned are huge ones and hence I may miss many important details.

As always comments, suggestions, disagreements are welcome.

Three Age System

Three age system is the division of the Human History into three distinct groups based on the prevalent material that was used for tool making. This system was first devised by Danish Archaeologist Christian Jurgensen Thomsen. Thus we have the three ages: Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.

The Stone Age is further divided into Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic. Paleolithic period extends from around 2.5 million years ago to the end of Pleistocene 11,700 years ago. Paleolithic stands for “Old Stone”. It comprises 99% time of human technology. Paleolithic marked the used of weapons like handaxe, bow and arrow, spear and harpoon. Use of needle was also observed. The economy consisted of hunting and gathering. Humans lived with exotic animals like Wooly Mammoth and Sabertooth during this period. The human density was very low (1 person per square mile) and they had loads of free time which is apparently unparalleled even in the modern times. Humans believed in the concept of Afterlife during the Paleolithic. Burial rituals and religious beliefs originated in the Upper Paleolithic.

Mesolithic or “Middle Stone” spanned from 18000 – 20000 BCE and ended with the introduction of farming. The oldest known evidence of warfare dates from the Mesolithic period in a place called Cemetery 117 in Sudan. Around 59 bodies were discovered consisting of 24 women, 19 men and 13 children. Age and sex three other bodies were indeterminable. Some 24 of the bodies had violent wounds with spear and arrow heads discovered in the bodies. It indicates that there were a disproportionately high number of unnatural deaths indicating endemic warfare. Boats were first used in the Mesolithic period. Bhimbetka rock shelters in India belong to this period.

Neolithic marks the first evidence of organized farming. Farming implements like plough, sickle were used as well as grinding stones for processing of the crop. Domestication of animals also began during this period. World’s first town, Jericho, also appeared in this period. Jericho is located near the Jordan river in the modern West Bank. The remains of the earliest archaeological sites shows evidence of walls protecting the town, a further indication of warfare during the prehistoric periods. The town of Jericho was also the scene of the biblical battle of Jericho, with the walls of the city crumbling at the blast of ram’s horn followed by murder of the entire city except a few traitors to the city. Jericho is also the name of an Israeli ballistic missile.  Modern Jericho is the site of frequent Palestinian Israeli conflict. Warfare and death are never far from Jericho.

Neolithic Millstone
Neolithic Millstone

Bronze Age began in the Indian Subcontinent with the Indus Valley Civilization (More on Indus Valley Civilization in a later blog).

Iron age marked the beginnings of cities and state and as a result, politics and statecraft.

In the next blog we will look at the Stone and Bronze age in the Indian History and truly begin our journey into India’s past.