From early Greek philosophy to the Golden Age of Islam, I often wonder how and what was the culture that contributed to these periods of explosions of free thought and innovation? What were the impetus of Greek ideas and the early stages of science during the Golden Age of Islam?
Greek Philosophy And Thought
Where would free and innovative thought be without the great Greek philosophers? Without Thales of Miletus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras, could the Golden Age of Islam have existed? Without Al-Zahrawi, Abbas ibn Firnas, Al-Biruni, Avicenna, Averroes, Ibn al-Nafis, Muhammad Ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, Alhazen, Ibn Khaldun could the Renaissance have existed? Without Leonardo Da Vinci, Nicolaus Copernicus, Andreas Vesalius, Francis Bacon, Thomas Aquinas, Isaac Newton, Galileo, Kepler, and Descartes would 19th and 20th-century modern science and philosophy have existed?
Socrates, considered the father of Western philosophy, gave us the innovation of the Socratic method. His ideas of logic and rationalism were radical and they eventually inspired the scientific contributions of future philosophers and thinkers. Origins of intellectual thought, humanism, social theory, economic ideas, and democracy can be traced back to ancient Greek ideas. The first democracy can likely be traced back to Athens. An attempt of moving from central authoritative power to a decentralized style of governance and representation was and is of enormous influence to Western democracies of today.
The Golden Age Of Islam — A New Innovation.
Mohammad was the initiator of a new shift in thought that emphasized erudition among not just the elite aristocrats, but of every single citizen. You could say Mohammad was a catalyst of literacy in the period of the world where literacy and erudition were a minority. Mohammad was not just a social innovator, but also an argument can be made, that he was also an economic innovator. I am willing to go one step further and call him a central figure in the formation of a precursor to a form of capitalism and free-market economics that we see today. During his time in Medina, Mohammad created a competing marketplace that eventually overtook other markets in Medina. This was primarily due to not imposing taxes on goods and services between the different merchants. It was radical, innovative, and brilliant.
Islam flourished and the empire expanded in the West to the Iberian Peninsula and the East near present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. The message Mohammad and his disciples preached over and over was a way of life, whether in the marketplace or everyday social interactions. The emphasis on learning to decipher some of the writings and mysteries of the world the Quran had mentioned created a culture of great philosophers and thinkers. As the Greeks did, handing the torch over to the citizens of the Islamic Golden Age, the torch was handed over to Western Europeans to eventually usher in the Renaissance.
Many great thinkers were influenced by the philosophers of the Arab-speaking citizens of the Islamic Golden Age. Thomas Aquinas, Fibonacci, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Copernicus contributed to the explosion of philosophy and art. With the help of Arabic translations of Greek texts, classical Greek philosophy was rediscovered and medieval Europe arose from the ashes of the Dark Ages and the eventual beginnings of the Renaissance. The Renaissance ushered in a rebirth of intellectual curiosity and free thought. Arguably the greatest technology to come out of this period was the printing press. The printing press allowed for mass communication to develop. It allowed the development of the middle class. It also removed the centralized accumulation of knowledge from the religious and political authorities, and distributed the rebirth of knowledge to the masses. A shift from centralized accumulation of knowledge to decentralized accumulation of knowledge was ultimately a net benefit to society.
The Age of Reason was an extraordinary period that brought us the likes of Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes, and Adam Smith. As the Renaissance was also known as the rebirth of intellectual curiosity, The Enlightenment can also be called the rebirth of humanism, which can trace its origins to Greek philosophy and thought. Humanism was a philosophy which emphasized that reason and autonomy are the basic aspects of human existence. A more modern and technological definition would be a shift from centralized thought, i.e., religious central authority and/or central governance, to a more decentralized individual sovereign thought. The Enlightenment inspired democracy. We have to remember the United States was formed during the Enlightenment. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison incorporated the ideals during the framing of the U.S. Constitution. I would argue that the statement, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” has a humanistic origin and influence.
Our present-day modern era is considered to have started with the Industrial Age, roughly beginning around the mid-18th century, extending to our present-day information age. The modern era can be seen as the eventual rise of digital technology and biotechnology. Before Einstein, there were Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell. Isaac Newton’s discoveries about gravity and optics were the foundations that led to one of the originators and greatest contributors to the technology age, James Clerk Maxwell. When Einstein said that he stood on the shoulders of giants, he was referring to Newton and Maxwell. Maxwell added to the discoveries of Newton and went on to unify electricity, magnetism, and light to form electromagnetic field theory. The unification contributed to the discovery of electrical power, television, and radio.
Here we are now, almost 2500 years after Socrates and almost 200 years after Maxwell. From electricity→ photography→ radio→ television→ computers→ internet→ smartphone→ Bitcoin. I would interpret that all the great philosophers and thinkers were trying to discover and decipher the mysteries of the world to create a net positive for their societies. One emergent consequence I have noticed from most of the great ideas from classical antiquity to the present day was the emphasis on decentralization and its contribution to a net positive effect for society. I give examples in the article, such as the Socratic Method, Islam’s early focus on learning and literacy during its Golden Age, the printing press, and The United States of America. Other examples in the modern era include the personal computer, the internet (or world wide web), and now blockchain technology, more specifically Bitcoin.
The Legacy Of Satoshi Nakamoto
For the sake of simplicity, we will assume Satoshi Nakamoto was a person and since Satoshi is a male name in Japanese, we will assume he is a male. I would put Satoshi on par with the great thinkers and philosophers of the past. Given what Satoshi has created, I envision him as a polymath and an erudite. We know he had to have a clear grasp of mathematical and cryptographic principles, but he must have known about economic, societal, philosophical, and psychological aspects of society. I would assume he understood the history of societies in the past, their creations, and their downfalls. He had to know the obstacles which leaders in society place to keep the status quo. Satoshi’s creation, Bitcoin, was and is a great idea. Not many deny the beauty of the 21 million cap and deflationary nature of bitcoin, the security features, and the bypass of legacy finance through the brilliant idea of self custody. But let’s stop for a moment and take a deep breath. I, and so many, believe the greatest part and feature that was introduced into Bitcoin was the pseudonymous nature of Satoshi Nakomato and the decentralization of Bitcoin.
Satoshi Nakamoto leaving his identity concealed – what a wonderful feature. Thank you Satoshi Nakamoto for doing this. I wanted to reflect and try to find a period or instance in time where ideas were laid out pseudonymously. I recall during the time of Isaac Newton’s writings, there was a practice of publishing an idea or scientific article under a pseudonym. The reason was, understandably, the readers would focus on the idea rather than the author. Publishing under one’s real name can invoke an attack on the author rather than the idea. This focused the public discourse to revolve around the merits of the actual idea. Satoshi had to have known this about society. He knew the potential societal-changing ramifications of this idea were enormous, and his identity would impede the public discourse.
I want to conclude my thoughts around the most powerful aspect of Satoshi’s creation, which is the decentralized nature of the Bitcoin network. You may have already had this prior before reading this article. Or at least noticed it during the early parts of this article, where I mentioned the importance of decentralization as being a net positive for society. In hindsight, it is obvious now, but it was not so much back in 2017 during the proposed larger block size debate. What I did not realize, for a great idea to stay great, decentralization needs to be part of it. Free thought, literacy, the printing press, democracy, computers, the internet, and Bitcoin are all great ideas, but without a decentralized component to the underlying idea, they are not likely to go far. Blockchain technology is a great idea and bitcoin has captured it. Can bitcoin last 100, 200, 500, 1000 years? No one knows. What I am somewhat confident about is, if a new idea comes along that is better than bitcoin, it will likely be a technology that does not currently exist, and it will have a decentralized component to it. I think the greatest net benefit Satoshi’s idea has contributed is that all great societal-changing ideas must have decentralization as an inherent and essential component.
This is a guest post by Saleh Isam. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC, Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.