Monday, April 8, 2013

The Measure of Civilization by Ian Morris

This book is really supporting evidence for his popular book of "Why the West Rules for Now". Morris chose 4 traits to measure civilization. They were energy capture, social organization, information technology and war-making capabilities.

The last two traits did not come into their own until rather later than the first two. Information technology had no effect on civilization until around 3300BCE. War-making capabilities had not real effect until 3000 BCE.

By energy capture, the author means the full range of energy captured by humans. Humans capture energy using food, whether eaten directly or given to animals. Using fuel for cooking, heating, cooling, firing kilns and furnaces or powering machines and includes wind and waterworks as well as wood, coal, oil gas and nuclear power is another form of energy capture. The last form is in raw materials. Raw materials are used in construction, metalwork, pot-making, clothing or any other purpose.

With looking at social organization, the author talks about the long tradition of research in social sciences that has shown the strong relationship between the size of the largest settlements within a society and the complexity of its social structure. This part looks mostly at city sizes to judge a society's social organization.

For tens of thousands of years, the transmission and storage of information depended entirely on speech and memory. The first unmistakable evidence for communication through material symbols goes back nearly a hundred thousand years. However, symbols of this kind remained not only rare but simple until about fifty thousand years ago, when they suddenly become common wherever we find humans. The ability to store and transmit information is a fundamental part of the concept of social development.

As far as war making capabilities, we were not very effective before 3000 BCE and our war making capabilities, sky rocketed after 1800 and then took another leap in 1900.

On YouTube there is an interesting conversation called Conversations with History with Ian Morris. Conversation is called Pattern of History. Lecture by Ian Morris sponsored by the Long Now foundation. The first 2 minutes is a short video of a plane.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Morris. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.