Fjordman: The Chinese and the Irrational

Fjordman’s latest essay has been published at Vlad Tepes. Some excerpts are below:

The Chinese are practical people, which I for the most part mean as a compliment, and indeed often quite intelligent. One of the aspects of their culture that I find hard to relate to is their preoccupation with such things as “lucky and unlucky numbers.” Yes, you can encounter such notions in the West, too, but they are far more prominent in Oriental cultures. Many Chinese also seem to believe that luck is a character trait and that bad luck only happens to bad people.

From everything I have read, I have seen nothing to convince me that any other culture on Earth was moving in the same directions as Europeans did with the Scientific Revolution. Let us ask a provocative question: Would we have space travel today if we removed Europeans from the world? The answer is almost certainly no. China, the largest and richest country in Asia, was literally a couple of thousand years behind in certain crucial fields of astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and physics. Electricity was essentially unknown outside of Europe, as was calculus, the concept of gravity, modern material science and liquid hydrogen rocket fuel. My bet is that we would not have space travel, astrophysics or planetary science for a great many centuries to come without Europeans, as nobody else was independently close to making many of the crucial scientific and technological breakthroughs needed to achieve this.

Critics will no doubt point out that the ancient Greeks, despite their reputation for being rationalist and “non-magical,” could leave substantial room for superstition. This was true sometimes, just as it is true that a belief in occultism and horoscopes coexisted with the birth of modern science in Europe and is alive and well in parts of the Western world to this day.

Kepler was one of the greatest mathematical astronomers who ever lived, but there was also a mystical side to his cosmological ideas. As imperial mathematician in the 1600s he had to give astrological advice to the Holy Roman Emperor as a part of his duties, even though he himself was rather skeptical of horoscopes. Newton spent nearly as much time on alchemy or looking for hidden codes in the Bible as he did on mathematics. In the late 1800s the English chemist William Crookes, known for the Crookes tube, was a gifted scientist in addition to being passionately interested in spiritualism, including the possibility of talking to the dead. Science and non-science can and do coexist, occasionally even within the same individual.

And yet, there is something special about the European legacy of critical reason and the belief that reason, logic and public debate can be used to advance truth and insight into the natural world and the human world alike. After you subtract astrology and the notion that individual destinies are determined by spirits and stars, a belief that has been and partly still is very common around the world, a core of rationalism will emerge as one of the critical legacies of the ancient Greeks, running as a golden thread from them to modern Europe. It is easy to underestimate the importance of this, just as it is easy to take for granted many of the other unique advances made by Europeans, but we need to remember that there was never anything self-evident or inevitable about them. In the end, a (largely) rational understanding of the natural world was achieved in one civilization and in one civilization only: the European one.

Read the rest at Vlad Tepes.

5 thoughts on “Fjordman: The Chinese and the Irrational

  1. Chinese people have been influenced by Buddhism particularly its Karma theory.
    What you are in this life is what you were and did in your previous life, and what you do in this life determines what you will be in your next life, as life is
    a stream.
    As for lucky numbers, Chinese are the same as in the Bible–Number Seven! However, Number Nine (pronounced as Jiou )has the same
    sound as Jiou=Longevity.
    Chinese people believe that all religions, perhaps except Islam, have the same goal:
    Do all good, do no evil!

  2. Yes , this number / sounds / luck paradigm of the asians has astounded me. The lack of logic, and presence of magical thinking, is notable. While we westerners avoid 13 as unlucky, this is not as pervasive as the asian concepts of feng shui etc.

    I have done very well picking up real estate with addresses of 9/54, 74, 14 , and now 4 , where there were no asian bidders, due to the fact that for them 4 is unlucky or makes sounds like the word death ! Who can take people seriously when they base importnat decisions on such superstition ?

  3. Tocqueville–
    In order to enjoy the priceless advantages guaranteed by freedom, one must submit to the unavoidable evils it produces. The wish to achieve the former while escaping the latter means submission to one of those illusions which sick nations use to sooth themselves when, tired of struggling and exhausted by their efforts, they seek the means of combining hostile opinions and opposing principles at the same time, in the same land.
    When Europeans landed in China three hundred years ago, they found there that almost all the arts had reached a certain degree of perfection and were surprised that they had not improved beyond that point. It was an industrial nation where most scientific processes had been preserved, while science itself was dead. That explained the unusually static quality of mind of this nation. The Chinese, in following the path of their ancestors, had mislaid the reasons for the direction the latter had chosen. They still used the formula without asking why; they kept the tool but they had lost the skills to adapt or replace it. The Chinese were, therefore, not able to change anything and had to abandon any notion of improvement. The well of human knowledge had dried up and although the flow still ran, it could neither increase its volume nor change its course.

  4. Who can honestly say we would not have had space exploration without Europeans? It seems the writer only knows Chinese history from the Qin dynasty onwards.
    Since the 1700s China has been through hell and back as a country, culture and civilisation, partly due to its own failings and party because of foreign interference. The last 250 years has been China’s “Dark Age” just as ours in the West was from the 500s until the 1300s roughly. Yet it remains – Europe’s great uniting power the Roman Empire collapsed and we have not seen anything like it since. China is still one country despite the madness of Communist rule (which is now more of a Fascist state with some concessions – still a concern but they are in no rush to repeat the Soviet Union’s mistake of overnight change – they have no history of democracy so we cannot expect them to just adopt it because it suits us….they do need to work on their human rights for certain though).
    We often look upon China with a sort of quaintness but the facts are very different. Europe’s agricultural revolution for example, was sparked off because of two simple Chinese inventions reaching Europe: The Wheelbarrow and the Seed Drill. The agricultural revolution in turn gave many Europeans more free time to devote to study and art – that sparked the Renaissance and saw Europe advance significantly for the first time since the Roman Empire fell. There is a documentary called “The Things Europe Never Invented” which is very interesting and non-political (like so much history)…credit were it is due. They often respect our achievements more than we do to be honest.
    Rationalism is a predominantly European beast for certain but it exists in Chinese philosophy too – to dismiss the Chinese as superstitious is a somewhat condescending, especially when the greatest western power today is full of national days of prayer and movements to teach the scientific fact of evolution as a “theory” and put Mesopotamian/Semitic creation myths alongside it as an alternative.
    Most educated Chinese treat their superstitions as cultural not literal, and education is a fast growing concern in China – and not the kind of college drinking club media and social studies education we see dominating our Western society – most graduates are in science and engineering…China is already the number two publisher of peer reviewed papers by volume with an ever increasing quality being seen as well. It’s not a wild statement to say that within a decade China will be publishing more scientific papers than the current world leader the USA.
    History shows us that for 2500 years the Chinese were leaders or significant contributors to all areas of human endeavour – it was only by the 1700s that Europe took over. It’s not a coincidence that by this time China was being ruled by insular Manchurians and attacked from without by dozens of western countries…no Chinese Army ever marched to Europe to flood our markets with cheap opinion and force unfair trade deals yet at several times in their history they could have easily done that.
    Only two civilisations have produced Opera…European and Chinese. Together we have the most developed cultures on the planet and would do well to start finding common ground and stand together in the face of growing Abrahamic religion, multiculturalism, globalisation and a world dominated by the selfish, uncultured and backwards.

  5. “no Chinese Army ever marched to Europe to flood our markets with cheap opinion and force unfair trade deals yet at several times in their history they could have easily done that.”

    On the face of it, this assertion seems highly debatable, since no Chinese empire was ever based on international trade. The Chinese mentality has no foundation in the one natural right that is the basis of civilization: the unalienable and “transcendent”, natural right of self-ownership (extended to individual property rights, economic freedom, etcetera).

    Kind regs from Amsterdam,

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