Gonna clear out a few old things floating in the bookmarks with this post.
I'm fascinated by science and also by the allure of alternate history -- the idea of "what if?" Suppose that Edward Babbage's difference engine, an early mechanical computer first developed in the mid-19th century had taken off? How different would the world have been?
There's also crypto-science, the study of artifacts that seem to be completely out of time. For example, a Scottish pioneer wrote out the theory of the telegraph more than 250 years ago, almost twice as far back as the first practical telegraphs. Imagine how very different history might have been if Europe had been wired for communications? Or if America had been wired during the American Revolution?
Then there's the batteries of Iraq. These are functioning batteries, up to two thousand years old, producing between .5 and 2 volts. What they were used for is a mystery, but their functionality isn't a question. Imagine early Greek scientists taking these and advancing them. It's not likely that motors would have resulted, but is the idea of lighting too much to believe? Think of how the world might have been different if medieval Europe had night-time lighting?
Or take the clockwork mechanism found off Greece in 1901. It's an intricate collection of gears and mechanisms that scientists now think was an astronomical calculator. But it's the detail and precision of the mechanism that astounded scientists, as it rivalled the work done by clockmakers of Enlightenment Europe.
Couple the battery with the telegraph, then the clockwork with the difference engine, and suddenly our world becomes a vastly different place. The imagination boggles at the consequences, and the spirit is humbled to see how so many things come and disappear, to be found again, time after time. It makes you view the world and our history in new and awesome ways. Advance is happenstance, the luck of time and geography. What might have been suddenly is a vast and myriad place.
If you are interested in learning more, try Uchronia.net, a website for alternate history. Some books to look for are:
For Want of a Nail by Robert Sobel (America loses the Revolution)
Fatherland by Robert Harris (Germany wins WWII)
Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore (The Confederacy wins)