I spent last weekend in Paris. Only on my return did I realize this was my first time in France as a tourist, rather than a business visitor. My wife and I had the opportunity to spend some sustained time in the Louvre, which is a wonderful repository of human achievement.
I stopped halfway through the Greek sculptures to ask myself how much we've improved as a species in the last several thousand years. Clearly, we've seen advancements in mathematics, including the algebra and the (recent) development of the fundamental theorem of calculus. As a result we've seen significant advances in sciences, especially in conjunction with the adoption of inductive reasoning. Along similar lines, we've seen progress in medicine, which has extended our lifespan and often (though not always) our quality of life.
In contrast to the ancient world, we've virtually eliminated human slavery, which seems to me to be our most important social advance, since it implies at least the idea of basic and universal human dignity. At the same time, we keep finding reasons to kill each other en masse, as the horrors of the twentieth century remind us. Those retrograde instincts of hate, dogmatism, and fanaticism to which we all may be susceptible to some degree threaten to pull us back to barbarism and to make our scientific advances tools of evil.
In some ways, a uniform measure of progress may be an impossible thing to measure, but it is clear that there is a basic human drive toward humanism, greatness and beauty. The
Louvre is a fine place to rediscover that fact.