Their inventors were not scientists

Thursday, November 16th, 2023

Was science really the key to the Industrial Revolution?

Most of the significant inventions of the Industrial Revolution were not undergirded by a deep scientific understanding, and their inventors were not scientists.

The standard chronology ignores many of the important events of the previous 500 years. Widespread trade expanded throughout Europe. Artists began using linear perspective and mathematicians learned to use derivatives. Financiers started joint stock corporations and ships navigated the open seas. Fiscally powerful states were conducting warfare on a global scale.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    One of the motivations for the development of thermodynamics was the existence of successful steam engines.

  2. Bomag says:

    Seems like a distinction without a difference.

    Their “calculating paradigm” maps to the development of science in general.

  3. David Foster says:

    Exploration and trade were highly dependent on celestial navigation, which was in turn dependent of accurate prediction of the paths of stars, planets, the moon, and the sun…don’t know if you’d call that science or pure math, but seems to me it partakes of both.

  4. Ceck says:

    This is really an excellent and thought-provoking article. From my first quick skim, it seems to deal with a very long span of centuries — at least the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries. It seems to be dealing with the long, slow improvement of math and measurement prior to the *first* Industrial Revolution, which started in the mid-eighteenth century.

    Within that 13th-to-16th-century period, exploration was very slow and limited. I don’t think the science of that period would be recognizable to people educated in 20th-century paradigms of science. It’s difficult to debate where to draw the boundary of “science.” Aristotle, to my mind, was not doing “science,” but reasonable scholars could disagree with me on that. Perhaps after I have gone through the article in detail I might be able to engage more usefully with issues in thermodynamics and celestial navigation.

    Thanks very much for posting this link!

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