Thursday, March 23, 2017

Marco Polo - The Traveler

The Mongols conquered China and then began to move westward toward Europe, leaving destruction in their wake. This had the unintended consequence of bridging the gap between China and Europe and making contact between the two cultures. The medieval church sent missionaries to bring Christianity to China, but nothing much came of it. But there were also those who went as merchants, with the intent to make money in trade. Marco Polo, with his father and uncle, was one of these. And his accounts contained things so strange as to be dismissed as fictional.  (There were some fabulous elements, mostly heard about second hand, but some of the true elements also appeared to be fabulous.)

From China Europe learned of things like black rocks that burn, printing presses, and gun powder. It is unclear how many how many of these types of things came over from China and how many were invented or discovered independently, but the Chinese at least  pointed the way. But the main thing this did was to show the Europeans that there existed things that were beyond their current knowledge and technological development, Which, I am convinced, helped encourage the scientific and technological revolution in Europe. Also, while I cannot prove it, I have often wondered if the knowledge of gunpowder did not contribute to the development of impetus mechanics, which opened the way for the Copernican revolution. Aristotle had claimed that an object would not move unless it was being pushed by something directly in contact with it. In the case of something thrown, the motion was supposedly the result of the air moving behind it and pushing it. Impetus mechanics laid the groundwork for the correct theory of inertia, that objects in motion stay in motion until the friction of the air and gravity bring them down. This allows the motions of the planets to be explained as their simply remaining in motion, and allows for the earth going around the sun and being just one more instance of such a planetary motion. Rejection of Aristotle in this area made it easier to reject him in other areas. But be that as it may, knowledge from China put coal on the fire of the scientific and technological revolution.          

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