The reason why I am thinking this, is that when we look at largely homogeneous societies, such as the Chinese people, they have very little variation between themselves. Brown eyes, brown or black hair, with very little variation. This is repeated across Africa and America (with our Native Americans). When we look at European peoples, there are large variations in eye colour, hair colour, skin colour and stature. For such a tiny continent with such a (historically) tiny population, this degree of variation is (at least, to me) surprising.
When we look at geography, Africa and North America are largely lacking in impassible mountain ranges that split up large parts of itself from each other. China does have some mountain ranges, but they are not only impassible, but also very long. When we look at Europe, the mountain ranges are impassible, but short. That is, it is hard to go over them or around them, but not impossible. It is also very broken up and scattered about, with various penninsulas (Finland, Sweden & Italy) along with many islands (Greece, Great Britan), all of which are close together but relatively isolated from each other.
And finally, when we look at cultural and industrial innovation, it is the speed of it which is important. Sure, China had an advanced culture over 4,000 years ago, but in the 200 years after the Middle Ages ended (the Rennaicance) in Europe, more independant advances of technology and culture arose than in almost 2000 years of Chinese history. From the 1300's to the 1800's, Europe has been the powerhouse of industrial and technological innovation, along with wide sweeps of cultual variances. It has changed more in those 500 years than any other culture in history.
I believe that these three things might be related.
I believe that Europe's fractured geography (along with its latitudinal location) has been the key to the rise of Modern Civilization.
First, by being severely fractured (but whose barriers are only hunderds of miles long, and not thousands), Europe caused its peoples to diversify in a very visual manner. Pockets of humanity tended to be on the small side, and different regions quickly developed their own "Look"; from the Irish redheads to the blond Swedes to the bronzed Italians. No-where else on earth do you have such a visually diverse group of indiginous humans in such close proximity (>1000km radius) than in Europe. The Geographical barriers between the different parts of Europe were *just* enough to keep people separated in the beginning, allowing them to evolve their own regional characteristics.
Second, by having barriers that were not *too* impassible, a certain amount of trade and cross-pollinization of ideas occured. As technology inproved, the ease of transport increased, and ideas that were formerly cut off (even across rather short distances) were allowed to mingle. As well, once transport became easy, the small stature of Europe ensured that different parts were actually quite close to each other.
Europe's position on the globe also helped. Survival in the tropics, especially in lush areas, does not require a lot of technology, but any technology must be advanced to survive for long periods the heat and dampness to begin with (wood rots, steel rusts, both at much higher rates than temperate zones... ask anyone in the lower 48 about their termite problems!). Survival in the arctic and desert regions, however, requires constant effort; they are resource-poor, and cultures must spend most of their time just securing resources. The temperate zones are "just right" for evolving cultures, as it pushes them to innovate in order to survive, but doesn't push them too hard, and allows abundant resources that do not break down easily in its climate. Temperate zones give cultures both a "push" to innovate, as well as a "pull" of enough time and resources to really be creative outside of survival-orientated channels.
Simply having impressive geological features doesn't help with both genetic AND technological innovation. China is seperated from Inda by the Himalayas (sp?). Their two peoples are very different in culture, industrial innovation and genetics. And yet, because the Himalays were TOO long, and TOO high, the two cultures were separated too far apart for them to easily connect until the latter half of the 20th century. The same goes for the Americas. The Rockies are impressive, and they certainly separated the Salish and Haida from the plains Indians, but the range was too large and too long to easily cross, even with technology. It has only been in the last 50 years that much of the high Rockies has been opened up to cross-continent travel. Africa doesn't have any truly massive mountain ranges, but not only is it *too* large, but it is also too variable in survivability (desert/savannah & jungle, with not much in between) and not "broken up" enough, geographically speaking, to nurture evolving cultures.
To summarize, I believe that the key to the rise of our modern, industrial civilization was based on three things:
- A small continent (Europe) that - once the technology existed - was very small, quick and easy to cross.
- A temperate ecological zone that pushed innovation for survival's sake, but allowed enough time and resources for non-survival innovation.
- And a large number of geological variables that - although they were rather insurmountable to ancient man, are not very long or deep (so that they were easy to get around once the technology existed).
This caused the following three effects:
- A "quickening" of different cultures that, initially at least, were geographically isolated, allowing them to develop different ways of looking at the world and different shapes/colours that made them stand out from each other.
- A cross-pollination of wildly different ideas, cultures and technologies, once passage across barriers became easy and convenient for even the common person (about 1300AD). This promoted creative thinking, as people struggled to understand each other and solve common problems.
- Speedy travel of ideas and technologies from one end of the continent to the other, due to the continent's small size (and the relatively short and narrow barriers)
In case you were wondering, this regugitation of mental detritus is a result of an accidental overdose of Rytalin (sp?) in preparation for a Final Exam at my local University (Relativity & Quantum Mechanics, if anyone is curious). I had laid down to sleep for the night, and my mind locked onto this concept. I just had to get it out of my head, as it was driving me bonkers. I also apologize for the meandering content, as I am usually much more concise.