The two most significant transitions in the history of mankind were the invention of agriculture – which happened before history, independently in several times and places and spread rather gradually; and the industrial revolution – which was lavishly documented, happened in England and spread very rapidly.
My understanding is that such revolutions are made from breakthroughs that are the product of creative geniuses, of individual and specially gifted men. Without the geniuses, there is only incremental improvement of existing methods.
But geniuses come in many types. Clearly, genius in painting and literature does not make an industrial revolution. So, the question is what kind of geniuses made the industrial revolution?
For once, I actually disagree with Charlton (on the latter point). Creativity arises from a remarkably small number of factors. I prefer Cooijmans’ take on genius as, primarily, a phenomenological consequence of consciousness. It only appears different in practice because it’s expressed through different cognitive/personality styles and in different fields of study. E.g. an INTJ mathematical genius will seem different from an ENTP agricultural genius, but the underlying process is the same.
This is why I’m stating categorically that Beethoven’s genius was made of the same stuff as Newton’s genius. Creativity is simply something geniuses do as a reaction to perceiving the world, like when the doctor taps your knee to test your patellar reflex. Put Newton behind a piano for twenty years, and he’s going to compose original music. Because his brain is wired differently than Beethoven’s, it might not be good music, or important music, or revolutionary music, but it would be silly to assume he’s going to be satisfied by playing someone else’s music forever. Ditto Beethoven, vice versa.
Tap two different knees the same way and they respond differently, maybe because one man’s leg is twice as massive as the other man’s. That’s what I mean by various “expression”, via different hardware. Tap the same knee in two different ways, and it responds in two different ways. Put Newton to work on a farm for twenty years and he’s going to innovate something, it just might not be physics.