The ‘What If’ Questions That Shape History

The legendary philosopher and promoter of Secular Humanism Paul Kurtz died last October. He was someone who always cared less about God’s existence and more about what we ought to do with our lives after we’d figured out that God didn’t exist.

His final book, published yesterday, is called The Turbulent Universe. In it, he lays out his vision of a global ethics based on universal human rights, free inquiry, and living with exuberance.

Below is an excerpt from the book in which he questions the improbable events in our life:

The occurrence of the improbable in the universe is especially evident in the biosphere, which is more like a gambling contest than a well-designed formal plan. In the biosphere species emerge and become extinct. Contingencies are evident in the physical universe; turbulence is all the more evident in the arena of human affairs where uncertainty is invariably present. The human lebenswelt is replete with indeterminacy and chance; good and bad luck can enhance or wreck our lives.

The question has been raised: Is the uncertainty principle only due to our ignorance of the underlying causes at work, or does it have a real foundation in nature? Is the natural world unfathomable because we cannot fathom all that is at work, or is nature itself uncertain? All the crows that we have encountered thus far are black, but perhaps a pink crow may appear, or a real mermaid. We need an open mind. Our knowledge is surely fallible and subject to self-correction. A pink crow may appear some day as a mutant. The existence of lovely mermaids (half-woman/half-fish creatures in the realm of fantasy) is highly improbable, though we may encounter a persistent sea captain like Ahab from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick who will not give up his quest for the white whale. Do we need to drain all the seven seas to find out finally if mermaids exist?

There are, of course, singular, bizarre, totally improbable events that do occur. Are they that way because nature is that way? True, in human affairs, almost anything can happen overnight, and we are dumbfounded when it does. The twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed in 2001 in New York City. It was an improbable, unlikely event that burning fuel emitted from two 747 airplanes was hot enough to melt the supporting columns and that the buildings would collapse pancake-style. Some speculate that perhaps it was due to a conspiracy by the Pentagon and/or Massad (the Israeli intelligence service) to catapult the United States into a new war on terror. There is little concrete evidence for this conspiracy theory, though it is widely held.

Was the tsunami that suddenly struck the Indian Ocean in December 2005 and killed two hundred thousand innocent people a random event? Science tells us that it was caused by Earth’s shifting plate tectonics, which caused an earthquake that resulted in a tidal wave. So there is a causal explanation that geological science provides to explain this event, which seemed so unpredictable beforehand, though other earthquakes have been explained by the shifting of tectonic plates. That all of those people trapped on the beaches and shores of the Indian Ocean would be drowned was totally surprising and unexpected. This tragic event was due to the impact of the tidal wave on human affairs, and here the contingent seems like a genuine explanation. We do encounter flukes and accidents, and luck and chance do their work in the affairs of human beings and other life forms of the biosphere. The hypothesis that we have considered in this book is that contingency is real; that is, it occurs outside the biosphere in the nonorganic world. It surely occurs in human affairs and is virtually the central feature of the human drama, which novelists, poets, dramatists, and cinematographers have long explored. It is clear that truth may at times be more bizarre than fiction or fantasy. I have maintained that contingency is indeed a generic trait of nature.

It surely is intrinsic to the human condition. Steve Allen, the famous American TV personality and author, was driving home on October 30, 2000, bringing with him the galleys of his latest book Vulgarians at the Gate, which was on the seat by his side. Meanwhile, a car suddenly veered into the path of his vehicle and struck it. This caused Allen to lunge forward and stop hard, his seat belt restraining him from going through the windshield. The man who struck him got out of his car, recognized Steve Allen, apologized, and asked for his autograph. Steve Allen smiled wryly in his typical way and responded, “Wow, that is the best attempt yet to get my autograph!” He proceeded home, told Jayne Meadows, his wife, that he did not feel well, and took a nap. An hour later, Jayne tried to awaken him and could not. Frightened, she called 911 for help. He could not be revived. An autopsy performed later indicated that he died of an aneurysm in his heart, most likely caused by the impact. There are causal processes at work here. Two motorists have an accident and the laws of physics apply: the rate of acceleration of one vehicle hitting another. There is also a biomedical explanation of his death.

Thus, there are two intertwined causal sequences: (a) the laws of mechanics enable physicists to estimate the acceleration and force of the impact; (b) the biological science of cardiology is able to locate the place of the aneurysm in the heart and postulate that it was most likely caused by the sudden pressure of the seat belt. There are also, of course, human explanations. The offending motorist was not attentive enough to guard against hitting Steve Allen’s car; nor did Allen see him coming. These are generally known as intentional explanations. Here we need to move on to the ethical level in order to interpret behavior and perhaps affix blame. Were the actions of the motorist intentional or unintentional? This is important in the social context in order to ascertain liability by the motorist and his insurance company.

Here there are causal sequences at various levels, drawn from different kinds of explanations: physical, biological, psychological, and motivational; and these sequences interact at one moment in time, converge and collide. Perhaps it was an improbable event, unexpected surely, a freak accident. Was it due to real chance? There are many factors that are relevant in interpreting events in the context of human behavior. I have called this general mode of explanation coduction, since in any complete explanation we coduce, or combine, many kinds of explanations from many levels of analysis, and we do so all the time. So a single cause may not be sufficient by itself to provide a full explanation. The tsunami, in which thousands were killed, can be explained by geological causes — an earthquake and a tidal wave. But the subsequent catastrophic mass drowning was also due to sociological and economic causes, which motivated people to build homes and hotels on the beaches. It was also due — in a negative sense — to the failure to establish a warning system and the lack of public education about the dangers that such tidal waves could have to life and limb.

There are abundant illustrations of coductive explanations that apply to historical events. As we have seen, the emergence of Nazism in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s was due to many political, economic, psychological, and sociological causes: the Versailles Treaty, which exacted what many Germans thought were excessive reparations; the resentment built up because of defeat in World War I; the desire for revenge; the fear among many industrialists of communism and socialism; runaway inflation; and so forth. A key factor was also the appearance on the scene of Adolf Hitler, an impassioned orator who shared all of these sentiments. And added to the goulash was virulent anti-Semitism.

Noted American philosopher and social critic Sidney Hook has written about the Hero in History, pointing out that many decisive historical events were due to charismatic individuals who used the power of the state to fulfill their ambitious, sometimes idiosyncratic goals, rather than attributing them to underlying historical causes and trends.

In an ultimate sense, the role of chance, personal miscalculations, and psychological factors may be crucial. Thus Alexander, Napoleon, Lloyd George, Hitler, Stalin, de Gaulle, Kennedy, and other powerful leaders played causative roles, and we can always reconstruct historical events and ask, “What if particular historical events had not happened?”

We can repeat the exercise: What if the French fleet under Comte de Grasse during the American War of Independence had not blockaded Chesapeake Bay in 1781, which led to the defeat of the British Army and the surrender of General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown? Would defeat of the American Continental Army at Yorktown have precluded the founding of the United States?

What if the French had decided not to defend Indochina in 1945? Would this have helped France to remain in Algeria, and would it have allowed the United States to avoid the costly Vietnam War?

What if President Kennedy had not been assassinated by a disgruntled malcontent named Oswald? Would the Vietnam War not have been escalated? This tragic war killed 58,000 American GIs and two to three million Vietnamese.

What if Joseph Stalin had not seized power as general secretary of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union? Would the tyranny that developed not have led to the near-total discrediting of the Russian Revolution of 1917? If Lenin had not died (or been poisoned), would Stalin have been thwarted in his ambitions?

Here is a line of hypothetical questions relevant to the late Cold War period: What if Mikhail Gorbachev had sent Russian troops to quell the uprising in East Germany in 1989? Would this have forestalled the collapse of the Soviet empire?

What if George W. Bush had not invaded Iraq for a second time in a debilitating war? Would an estimated fifty thousand US casualties, hundreds of thousands of deaths of innocent Iraqi citizens, and millions of refugees have been avoided?

Accordingly, human affairs are contingent — often dependent on singular events or personalities — and there are thus plausible countervailing hypothetical explanations. It is clear that human history involves not only economic, political, social, religious, scientific, and intellectual influences and trends in history but also unique events of real individuals, obdurate historical processes, and recalcitrant facts. So there exists brute facticity in human affairs, and que sera sera is not binding: “What will be, will be” is not necessarily the case, for it also depends on what human beings do. And the role of other unexpected singular events, odd personalities, strange quirks, and bizarre happenings may not have led to what eventuated. All too often bizarre happenings intervene: the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! series applies so graphically to history and life.

An especially dazzling illustration of this is the role of scientific discovery and the unpredictability of technological inventions and innovations that issue from it. Thus there are “intellectual” causes at work in human history. Marx’s economic (or sociological) interpretation of history emphasizes the central role that the forces and relationships of production in the base play as the decisive causal factor in social change. He places in the superstructure religious, political, moral, intellectual, and cultural factors. He said that it was the economic factor that was most pivotal. Yet scientific research, which is dependent on intellectual discovery, is surely a “force of production” and indeed along with technological innovation should be part of the base.

There are some telling illustrations of the role of scientific discovery in technological and economic changes: What if Alexander Fleming in 1928 had not accidentally discovered penicillin while working on a mold of staphylococcus bacteria and observing a bacteria-free circle? The cure of infectious diseases might not have been developed until much later, with many more people dying in the interim.

What if Galileo had not made his discoveries in astronomy and physics? The science of mechanics, which subsequently led to changed principles of warfare and the Industrial Revolution, might not have developed until much later.

What if Nobel Prize–winner Herbert Hauptman had not codiscovered the structure of crystals in 1985 on which a significant part of the pharmacological industry has based so many effective medicines and therapies?

What if Darwin had not gone to the Galapagos to lay the foundations of the theory of natural selection? Well, you may respond, it can be argued that Alfred Wallace had also discovered it. Yes, but it might not have had the profound impact that it had, especially if a remark by Bishop Wilberforce had not mocked evolution and if T. H. Huxley, the bulldog defender of Darwinian theory, had not put him in his place. This had a major impact on our understanding of human nature and has helped to undermine religious doctrines of creationism and intelligent design.

Perhaps more pointedly: What if Karl Marx had not written the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital and other tomes found in the British Museum? Would communism not have developed the way it did?

And what of the later development of powerful religious institutions? What if the camel herder Mohammed (who perhaps was suffering from depression and hallucinations) had not considered his “visions” of the angel Gabriel as genuine revelations transmitted from Allah, and had not gone on to raise an army to conquer Arabia and thus fulfill divine commandments? If not for Mohammed’s subjective experiences, Islam might not have developed as a world religion.

What if Jesus had not believed that he had a special mission and had not died on the cross (perhaps he never lived in the first place), and what if Saul of Tarsus had not thought that he had a message from Jesus on the road to Damascus (was it due to an epileptic seizure?) and had thus not become St. Paul, the key founder of Christianity?

As can be seen, contingent historical events often lead to totally unanticipated consequences, much to the surprise of everyone, and after-the-fact reconstruction of origins leads to a second astonishment at the powerful developments that simple beginnings may, over time, accrue. It is difficult to predict where a human invention, discovery, or random event will eventually lead. Que sera sera will not necessarily be; it depends on accidental historical facts and chance at any one moment in time.

If you’d like to win a free copy of The Turbulent Universe, just leave your best “What if…?” historical question in the comments (e.g. What if Lee Harvey Oswald had misfired?). Just use the hashtag #Turbulent after your comment and I’ll contact one random winner next week!

(Excerpt reprinted by permission of Prometheus Books.)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jstaerker John Staerker

    What if the Mayflower ended up further south, where the land is more hospitable? #Turbulent

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5509de8970c ミッコ
  • http://www.lxndr.com/ Alexander Unwyn Cherry

    from what I’m told, the United States almost backed Germany in World War I. So the question for me is: What if that happened?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    what if games are a tad sophomoric most of the time, imho. they can be fun, but the truth is that the more one looks at a particular time and place in history, the more it becomes clear that because there are usually so many forces causing X to transform into Y, the lack of sub-factor Z isn’t always that much of a game changer.

    a lot of people forget that Kennedy was actually pretty pro-war in vietnam. or that there was this guy name Engles, writing at the same time as Marx in much the same vein. if susan b anthony hadn’t led the feminist movement in the US, others would have- she hardly operated all by herself. MLK had a lot of qualities that made him special, but the movement itself was borne out of a type of frustration and readiness for change that any number of other leaders might have emerged to take his place, had he been shot much sooner than he was.

    sure, the lack of these people in history would’ve meant a different direction for all that they had an impact upon, but i was under the impression that science has shown more and more that most of the time, what happened was bound to happen that way, due to the immensity of the number of forces at work in any big evolution or change. it’s a mistake to say “henry the 8th is the reason protestantism flourished” or “ursula le guin is the reason there are women writers in sci fi today.” the forces leading to most major developments in history are more like a wave, and if one part splashes harder than the rest, we tend to remember that, rather than the whole wave.

    personally, i blame the way history is taught for this habit. esp in american schools, where “in depth” studies are pretty much out the window in the age of standardized testing and cliff’s notes versions of practically everything. students get “the civil rights movement” in three paragraphs, two of which are about MLK.

    understanding history properly takes a lot of time, reading and research. that’s either a good thing or a bad one, depending on how much you like detail, in all its messy, chaotic, inexorable glory.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

      ” the lack of these people in history would’ve meant a different
      direction for all that they had an impact upon, but i was under the
      impression that science has shown more and more that most of the time,
      what happened was bound to happen that way,”

      Not quite. We can set bounds on what can possibly happen and what is likely to happen in any given physical system. But within those boundaries, history is chaotic. And some systems are chaotic on very short timescales.

      e.g. I can tell you to 10 million km.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

        i’m an historian, not a scientist, and i’m sorry but i’ll have to disagree. the author himself admits that many complex forces determine the shape and scope of history. it’s quite rare for a single person to utterly grapple with all the tentacles that create a situation at the same time, and refocus them in a totally new direction.

        it’s the “moment” and not the person, is what i’m saying. the moment is the result of many, many factors. the person is a lucky or unlucky person standing in the middle of the vortex at that time. mostly, it could be anyone.

        shorter me: the Simpsons episode where Homer has the time traveling toaster is funny, but i don’t think it’s that accurate.

        like i said, history isn’t taught correctly anymore, much like science. i could give you my version of chaos theory based on the three books on the subject i read about it; any scientist would clean my clock with all the misunderstandings and oversimplifications that would be contained therein.

        similarly, Dr Kurtz, while wonderfully versatile and articulate (if a tad verbose) is a philosopher. their job is to make Grand Theories of (everything). he’s obviously good at that. but just like i would not want to ‘boil down’ the civil rights moment or the history of european christianity into the significance of the life of one person, i can’t accept what i (perhaps mistakenly) perceive as his thesis in this excerpt. which seems to suggest that history is a series of “what if” moments as viewed from an alternate universe.

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

          What if George W. Bush had not invaded Iraq for a second time in a debilitating war? Would an estimated fifty thousand US casualties, hundreds of thousands of deaths of innocent Iraqi citizens, and millions of refugees have been avoided?

          this is a perfect example of what i mean. the simple answer is: yes.

          first off, it’s a mistake to think GWBush was the guiding force behind the iraq war, “because Saddam wanted to hurt my daddy” or whatever we currently ascribe to his justification for that way. bush barely acted in his capacity as president. he will likely be seen as the least presidential president this country has ever had (i hope).

          does anyone, at this point, really doubt that the iraq war was mostly about money? and not just for one lucky recipient of bales of $100 bills “lost” on some air force flight? let’s say chimpy had died the day after taking office. does anyone really think Darth Cheney and Rummy would’ve payed great attention to the pre-9/11 briefing? indeed, it was DC and DR who were major forces behind “linking” iraq to 9/11, which we all know now was utter BS.

          the confluence of forces that led to that particular republican administration and what it did over 8 years is a long list of things. take GW out of the picture, and you mostly get the same result. maybe a smarter puppet. a more articulate one. maybe a slightly different cabinet. but the PNAC group went back way, way before 9/11, and indeed scripted much of what happened after that sad day.

          chimpy was only “the guy in the moment.” it could’ve been any white guy over 5’11″, willing to run as a republican, with a face for TV and a willingness to let warmongers and for profit mercenary firms tell him “we need a war.”

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

          You seem to be misunderstanding me. History is chaotic. There are bounds to that chaos, so we can put limits on what can happen and what is likely to happen. But within those limits, _prediction can very rapidly become impossible_.

          It is in large part _because_ there are so many factors contributing to any event that things are chaotic. History _is_ a series of what if moments: every time a particle interaction happened, things could have gone differently, limited by the laws of physics. When you have a large number of interactions, you can often average over them and then their properties are predictable. But other times, randomness matters.

          The Simpson’s “Time and Punishment” sketch doesn’t work because it changes things that can’t be changed – there is no physical process that allows a rain of donuts, and because it left things unchanged that _would_ be changed – the Simpson family wouldn’t have existed in any timeline changed that far back.

          In reality, though, many things in everyday life and in the history of life on Earth _have_ been determined by randomness. A certain energetic particle interacts differently with my friend’s body and he doesn’t get cancer when he did. Slightly different diffusion of neurotransmitters in my parents’ brains at one time and my brother would have a different sibling than me. And if the photon-moving trick were applied to an asteroid 66 million years ago, the dinosaurs would not have gone extinct when they did and there would have been no humans.

          All of those things were caused by random events in chaotic systems, where a wide range of outcomes were possible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.potter.73 Matt Potter

    A line that really stuck out to me was “Our knowledge is surely fallible and subject to self-correction.” What a world we might live in if societies and religion adopted such a motto.

  • Steve Bowen
  • http://twitter.com/Data_Jack DataJack

    Why are we using hastags in comments? :) Anyway, what if Bush had lost to Gore? #Turbulent

  • JesseS

    What if…

    … no one had ever discovered fire.

    • Pseudonym

      Fire is a natural phenomenon, so this was kind of inevitable.

  • Kengi

    I always enjoyed alternate history stories which are a staple of Sci-Fi books.

    Here’s a great link to the speeches prepared by Eisenhower in case D-Day failed and the speech Nixon would have given if Apollo 11 had failed:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/01/doomsday-speeches-if-d-day-and-the-moon-landing-had-failed/251953/

    There’s also a great book called Almost History that goes over those stories as well as other famous Plan-B’s and interesting twists which almost happened. It doesn’t look like it’s in ebook format, but if you are a general history buff it’s worth a paper copy if you find one.

  • Black Antelope

    What if Kublai Khans invasions of Japan (1274&1281) had not been thwarted by repeated typhoons? #Turbulent

    It seems the height of bad luck to loose 2 separate invasion fleets to bad weather, and these were some of the largest armies of the time (the larger second fleet lost 130,000 of its 140,000 men to the storm. For reference the 4 Mongol invasions of Europe were 10,000-70,000 strong), far larger than the defenders could muster, let alone co-ordinate. A Mongol victory would have dramatically altered the development of Asia, and might have led to a more rapid development of gunpower and a far more stable Mongol Asia.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      i dunno. the Mongols were pretty quickly, historically speaking absorbed/enamored of some of the societies they conquered. it’s hard to tell the difference between the ‘native’ chinese dynasties of pre-mongol china, and the later post mongol ones, a few generations in.

      conquerors, esp “barbarians,” like to assimilate to what they have conquered. sometimes, that works both ways. see also: the last emperor. that dynasty was essentially manchurian, with “mongol” roots.

  • Kengi

    What if the Apostle Paul hadn’t eaten those strange mushrooms that one afternoon? #Turbulent

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1059025518 Laura Fearn

    What if the illusion of life is about to come to an end when I wake from this dream?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

    What if just the wrong dust grain was knocked loose from the surface of one particular near-Earth asteroid by a photon hit in the early 19th century? #Turbulent

    Answer:

    At 00:15 UT on 1908 June 30, St. Petersburg would have been entirely flattened by a 10 megaton TNT-equivalent airburst detonation. In reality, the impact event happened over empty taiga in Tunguska, central Siberia, but it is very easy to move asteroids that size by thousands of kilometers over a century by slightly changing how the radiation pressure from incoming and outgoing light changes their trajectories. Moving the Tunguska impactor around at random is unlikely to hit St. Petersburg; but I could work out the approximate changes necessary to make it hit St. Petersburg or Beijing or any other place in the hemisphere facing towards the object as it came in.

  • James Maehling

    What if Albert Einstein had told FDR that an atomic bomb was not feasible?
    #Turbulent

  • advancedatheist

    Kurtz impressed me as a mediocre figure who rose to prominence as a spokesman for humanism & skepticism in the 1970′s and 1980′s when few Americans wanted to advocate those philosophical positions. With a sparse field to choose from, a relatively weak competitor like Kurtz stood out by default. Now that just about every hick town in the U.S. has atheist and humanist groups, and the leaders of some of them like Tulsa’s Seth Andrews have attracted national followings because of the internet, I doubt that if Kurtz started his career today, he would have risen very far based on his own merits.

    And I’d say the same for Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Looking at her writings and the videos of her media appearances now, you really have to wonder what people saw in her decades ago.

  • Pseudonym

    On 26 June 363, at the Battle of Samarra, the Roman emperor Julian decided to chase the retreating Sassanid army. He did not stop to put his armour on first.

    Had he taken the time to do so, he would not have been fatally wounded by a spear and died at the age of 31. He may have gone on to have a long reign, and had the opportunity to pick his own successor. And if that had happened, Christianity may never have become the dominant religion in Europe.

    #turbulent

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      just finished a volume on this one: Julian was losing the battle with christianity as it was. living another 30 years would’ve made no difference. the vital essence of pagan thought was passing, of its own accord and weight.

      remember: he had to pay “celebrants” for his pagan churches and schools, to pretend to be devout. christians of the time really were, and really were a growing, popular alternative.

      (this does not make me happy to say, btw)

  • SinclairLew

    What if Columbus had died at sea, never reaching America? #Turbulent

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9204440 Kacy Sandidge Ellis

    What if Hitler had been accepted into art school? #Turbulent

    • Pseudonym

      I think the world lost a potentially quite successful architect because Hitler decided to go into politics.

  • Nilanka15

    What if, during the formation of the solar system, our sun accreted slightly more/less mass than its current state, thus altering the “Goldilocks Zone”, making life (as we know it) on Earth impossible? #Turbulent

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

      Planet formation is chaotic too. Change the mass of the young Sun, you also change the mass of the protoplanetary disc around it and the orbits of the material in it. Result: a different set of planets forms. No Earth.

      You’d still expect some planets, since most stars have planets. I can’t accurately assess the odds of life evolving on one of them, though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lance-Gritton/100000171962339 Lance Gritton

    What if a cold snap grounded all air traffic on 9/11…

  • Scout

    What if George W. Bush had paid attention to that memo: Bin Laden determined to strike. (I know it’s a stretch) #Turbulent

  • BJ Johnson

    What if the authors of the New Testament had actually met Jesus?

  • Logan Blackisle

    What if the plague that hit the Native Americans before Columbus arrived never hit? #Turbulent

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

      What plague was that?

      By far the largest plagues in the Americas were in the 1500s and later, when large numbers of Europeans and their associated livestock brought over microbiota that the American populations had little resistance to. There was a >90% population decline, but that was all _after_ the Columbian period.

      • Logan Blackisle

        Smallpox; it wiped out roughly 95% of the population. Which means, my ‘what if’ amounts to: imagine if the Native Americans were 20 times as numerous when the Europeans invaded.

        I don’t know how to embed links so:
        1) http://www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/variables/smallpox.html

        2) http://www.examiner.com/article/apocalypic-mysterious-plague-killed-millions-of-native-americans-the-1500s

        3) http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/article/american-history-myths-debunked%3A-the-indians-weren%E2%80%99t-defeated-by-white-settlers-113869

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

          The smallpox came _after_ large-scale European arrivals across large areas of both continents (the Norse activities in Vinland apparently didn’t provide enough of a vector). Hence my confusion as to your original what-if.

          Making the population of the Americans 20 times higher c. 1500 would require large-scale economic and cultural changes centuries before (human populations can only grow so fast). A point of divergence that far back means that there would have been no Columbus, and all of the details of European/Asian exploration of the world would have been different.

          • Logan Blackisle

            Damn; brainfart.

            Smallpox not wiping out the NAs means the EUs would have to contend with 20 times the number – people that, in our ‘timeline’ died of smallpox.

            The EUs, inadvertently, introduced smallpox to the NAs – What if they didn’t?

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

              Hard to do that, since smallpox was endemic in Asia/Africa/Europe starting about 3000 years ago.

  • RK

    What if the Norman French had never invaded the British Isles? #Turbulent

  • teafortess

    What if Charles Goodyear hadn’t discovered vulcanized rubber?

  • Hanna

    What if Gavrilo Princip had not wanted a sandwich on June 28th, 1914? Could two world wars have been avoided?
    #Turbulent

  • Guesty von Guestheim

    What if… the Tunguska Event hit a populated area, like the front of WWI?


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