The Scheme of Civilization in Five Epochs of Civilization
The book Five Epochs of Civilization tells the story of civilized societies in terms of five civilizations that have appeared successively since the formation of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian city-states in the 4th millennium B.C. It is also a discussion of how world history might be organized in coherent segments to describe humanity’s meaningful experiences.
A key principle in this scheme is the idea that civilizations change with the introduction of new cultural (communication) technologies. Writing in a primitive, ideographic form accompanied the rise of civilization itself. Two millennia later, the invention of alphabetic writing brought a turning point in human society associated with several philosophers and religious prophets. In the 15th century A.D., the direction of human society changed once again when printing was introduced in western Europe. Then, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of inventions related to electronic communication introduced an age of mass entertainment that is with us to this day. Another civilization is now looming on the horizon inspired by the development of computers and computer networks. You who are reading this book in electronic form are part of that experience.
Other histories have stressed the importance of writing and printing in human culture but none, perhaps, has captured their impact upon the structure of society as well as Five Epochs of Civilization. Modern society is evolving into an ever more pluralistic and complex set of institutions; and world history reflects that process. So the type of monolithic political empire found in the first civilization - say, in imperial Rome or Han China - tends not to last in modern times.
World religion, commerce, secular education, and popular culture exert diverse influences upon society as separate power centers. Each is intimately related to a communication technology that appeared at a certain point in time. The strands of world history run along those lines, explaining how our society came to be.
This kind of history not only illuminates the past but it also points a way to the future. Civilizations are communal entities that undergo life cycles. Each rises and falls in a predictable pattern according to its stage of maturity. Knowing what happened to civilizations in the past will therefore help to predict the course of today’s society as it develops further. Taking that approach, the book anticipates that major changes will take place, especially in commerce and education, as computer technology is applied.
Five Epochs of Civilization aspires to present an outline of universal history - a history suitable for all peoples, free of ethnocentric bias. It treats western ascendance in the economic, cultural, and political life of nonwestern peoples as a phenomenon of the third civilization. How well it has succeeded in expressing a true history of the world awaits the judgment of diverse readers.
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