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feanaaro
06-01-2012, 01:14 PM
A common feature of many fantasy world, both the "realistic" fantasy and the "fantasy" fantasy (http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?18554-Difference-between-a-Pure-Magical-Fantasy-World-and-Realistic-Fantasy-World) is that the time scale of "historical" events is way off as compared with our own.

For the most famous example, in Tolkien's world more than 7000 years passed between the time men appeared, already possessing some basic form of civilization (and quickly provided with more by the elves), and the end of the Lord of the Rings. In this 7000 years the technology, politics, culture, religion, and whatnot, remained virtually the same (or actually degraded to a lower level over some periods), at a level that stands roughly somewhere between our World's antiquity and middle-ages (or early modern in some settings, such as the Shire). By comparison, in real history, it got only a little more than 5000 years to go from the onset of the Egyptians people (used by Tolkien as a comparison with Gondor, although most of the people of first, second and third era seems definetely to be more advanced than ancient Egypt) to space shuttles and supercomputers. More on this here (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MedievalStasis) (do not click unless you are prepared to yield control over your life for the next 6-12 hours).

Since it is really too cool to say things like "ten thousand years ago... etc etc", I was thinking if there could be a simple way to rationalise this in low-fantasy settings, that is without immediately recurring to "it's magic".
And here is the idea I would like to have commented by you: the technological explosion in our world depended on many factors, but one that stand out is the use of fossil fuels. True, we had the scientific revolution, or at least the begin of it, before that, but technology really started to change everyone life only after the abundant reserve of energy stored in fossil fuels became to be harnessed.

So, if a world has no fossil fuel, or no fossil fuel in a significant quantity, it probably couldn't develop in the same way and would be stuck, at most, to an early-modern level, probably with a cycle of progress and regress as civilizations rise and fall.
Now, the easiest way to explain the lack of fossil fuels, it seems to me, is the lack of time for it to form, that is to say that there are not the hundreds of millions of years between the emergence of plant life and the "current" historical moment in the fantasy world. It is perhaps possible, or at least imaginable (maybe here some little magic, or any supernatural thing, could help to explain), that evolution took a different route, and animal species evolved up to human (or whatever is the dominant species in said fantasy world) in the same time-frame it took for vegetable life to evolve at the same level we have now (which, after all, has been relatively stable for a helluva lot of time, hasn't it?), without enough time to produce fossil fuels in significant quantity.

Therefore, a world with a long long historical time would be a world with a short short geological history. This would very neatly cohere with another trope typical of fantasy, that of the primevally rough landscape, "when the world was young", strange primitive beasts, etc etc. Plus, and this is truly the start of all my train of thoughts, would explain why my world appears geologically so young – which in reality is due to the fact that I have been unable to apply proper erosions patterns (that is, rivers are ok, but wind is nonexistent, so that true plains are scarce, and mountains are all very sharp) to the world I created starting with Fractal Terrains!

What do you think?

And yes, I know that I am crazy, in case you were asking yourself.

Gidde
06-01-2012, 01:17 PM
Missing fossil fuels are one way to explain it; another is intentional technological stagnation/regression (see David Weber's Safehold series). Yet another is a metal-poor planet. Most of the inventions which have advanced us by leaps and bounds were invented using or because of metals.

Edit: One more possible explanation is recent colonization/terraforming. You started the "clock" at egypt, but evidence suggests that we were around for thousands of years before that, stuck in a hunter/gatherer mode and not advancing at all.

feanaaro
06-01-2012, 01:31 PM
True, but in most fantasy settings, they are not stuck at the hunter/gatherer level, they are somewhere between antiquity and early modernity, and they stay there for many millennia, possibly beyond count (see also Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire world for another prominent example).

Colonization/terraforming does not work for me, I hate even the lightest mixing of technological space-faring with fantasy. Metals I don't want to renounce; though this raises another point for the scientists, is it likely that a younger planet would also have less metal, or less retrievable metal? Or at this time scale it likely does not make a difference?

Gidde
06-01-2012, 01:36 PM
Not a scientist, but as I understand it, a young planet would have scarcer supply of retrievable metals, as the work of tectonics and volcanic activity brings them closer to the surface.

feanaaro
06-01-2012, 04:00 PM
That seems a fair supposition. But it would depend on the comparison between the timescale for creating fossil fuel from dead trees and the timescale for moving metal around the crust – also, both could be so different from the timescale to create erosion from wind that all my premise would collapse, but that is why I would like a geologist's opinion.

moutarde
06-01-2012, 04:20 PM
It's a long read, but 'Guns, Germs and Steel' by Jared Diamond takes a broad look at all human civilizations, and why some societies developed more advanced technologies than others. The biggest point of the book is (in the simplest possible terms), food supply determines a society's ability to develop technologically. As an example, there are many tribes in New Zealand that still live with only stone-age technology. It's not that they're stupid - any of them are just as smart as anyone you might meet on the street. It's that their environment dictates that the most effective method of food production is the hunter-gatherer method.
A second key point, is that technology, crops and livestock spread much more easily along an east-west axis than a north-south axis. This is because climate tends to remain fairly similar all the way across an east-west axis, while climate varies drastically along a north-south axis. You pretty much just can't take a crop 30 degrees north and expect it to grow the same way that it did in its original location. Also, deserts and rain forests can be formidable obstacles when it comes to travelling.

It's a fascinating read, if a little dry at times, but it would certainly give you a good idea of what a civilization that had gone 10,000 years without developing modern tech would need to look like.

feanaaro
06-01-2012, 04:50 PM
Thanks moutarde, I've read the book some time ago (it is a nice book, though I never thought of linking it with fantasy world-building, that's new). But my hunch is that in most "normal" situations the energy availability supersede the food question at a certain point (the point in which technology explodes), because the most "efficient" ways of producing large quantities of food involve a lot of energy, both in the form of machinery and chemicals.
I don't want to make all the world food-scarce to explain why they are not developing technology. Also, I am not specifically looking into how a non-developing civilization would look like, that is too complex a question, and one into which both casual events and supernatural forces would make a lot of a difference. I would just be content if I can give a semi-credible explanation of why a world cannot reach a technologically advanced state.
If it has just a minimal degree (still fantasy after all) of plausibility, I would like to pursue the fossil fuel unavailability hypothesis.

eViLe_eAgLe
06-01-2012, 05:06 PM
Another possible explanation are the heavy fueds over resources. Say your fantasy world had four major sentient races, each fighting for metal, and fuel, and the like. It would be scarce since everyone would want it, and imagine if there were green skinned humans with overly large eyes, they would probably become something similair to the blacks in the time of slavery. There are alot of things that can contribute to a stagnant development of technology, including some type of worm that would eat Fossil Fuels, thus giving the planet a large life span and stagnating development. My take, may not make sense to other people, but whatever.

Veldehar
06-01-2012, 06:51 PM
An interesting side effect of a young world could actually be the possibility of finding more metals in their "native" forms, such as gold and silver on earth. Native iron can be found on Earth but is mostly (or entirely) from asteroids. A young planet where iron and other metals have not succumbed to oxidation and other effects might actually be considerably richer in many metals at a primitive stage before smelting of ores was commonplace. Not saying it is a certain thing, but it is possible. No scientist here! And really young isn't necessary, per se, just only recently habitable in geologic terms, or from a planet where there was never a truly vibrant period of life to die off and become fossil fuels. Would a smart dinosaur been able to drill for crude?

The most plausible to my ear for holding back progress is a lack of fossil fuels, which is a piece of what holds back technology in my world. In addition all attempts to harness energy too tightly (even steam power) is extremely dangerous due to the Elemental (magical) nature of the world. Gun powder is much like packing highly volatile nitroglycerine through an obstacle course, LOL.

jbgibson
06-01-2012, 10:39 PM
Another trope <he pointed us at tvtropes.org! gasp! infamy!> is the worn-out world. Instead of new and scantily-resourced, one could have an old landscape that had hosted many prior civilizations, each of which had done its level best to loot the soil, exhaust the mines, and use up the mana. This is a parallel trope to the "long-gone elder race" bit.

So maybe the first dozen times folks got up to the world-spanning societal level, it DID just take them a couple of thousand years. Then maybe your world has a tendency to kill off the bulk of the people and stomp them back to the stone age. Plague? Orbital wobble? Variable sun? Warfare? Another 2 to twenty thousand years of savagery (and bad weather? ice? spreading jungles? typhoons? voracious stainless-steel-eating radioactive microbes?) between civ-fall and new civ-rise could suffice to erase most traces. A civilization properly disposed (properly scattered) might for example on average spread iron from mine-able deposits to diffuse streaks of rust. If for example cities were mostly built along large rivers, an eon of flooding could scatter many civ traces (refined metals?) out to sea. If the erasing mechanism was ice ages, definitely glaciers could grind faded remains to bits.

Greason Wolfe
06-01-2012, 10:50 PM
Some time back, when I was a more active participant in the forum (a thing that will occur again soon, I hope) I started a discussion along this vein. One of the things that kept coming up with the "need" for technological advancement. Simply put, if there is no need for a steam engine to drive a non-existent locomotive or ship, civilization likely wouldn't produce it. There was a great example made of a culture using canoes on the second or third page of the discussion. Thought it might be relevant here, or, at least, good reading.

http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?10714-Deterrents-to-Technological-Advancements

GW

feanaaro
06-01-2012, 11:50 PM
That is a useful topic Greason Wolfe. But amongst all these "solutions", I prefer those based on some "hard" physical fact, and amongst those, the lack of fossil fuels seems better than the alternative proposed – because those like the lack of metals or whatnot, would be too limiting, I want complex civilizations, just not able to reach an highly technological stage; but without metal, or without enough surplus food/work to produce some basic cultural and technical progresses, you would be stuck in the stone age, which is not advanced enough for my setting.
I would just like to know if my idea –*younger planet, no fossil fuel – is at least remotely plausible in "scientific" terms.

Veldehar
06-02-2012, 12:59 PM
I think its simple enough to surmise that there are habitable planets out there without fossil fuels, while still having oils (from whale fat, for instance) whether they are old or young. No scientist could reasonably dismiss that as a possibility. All those planets, we have no real idea what the heck is out there for certain. The biggest question is whether you think it is plausible that this is what would hold back your world the way you want it held back. Then go forward. Steam power would eventually exist, and what might have been discovered if we didn't have fossil fuels? When would an engine burning ethanol-type fuels come along? ect etc.

feanaaro
06-02-2012, 01:17 PM
Veldehar, I am open to inputs in that respect too. But for now I stand by my hunch that lack of fossil fuels would be the simplest and surest way to limit technological progress.
Concerning your specific points:
•I am not sure about that, but I think that the true breakthrough with steam power came after widespread use of coal, and coal is a fossil fuel. I don't think that you could get mass-scale steam technology by burning wood. But correct me if I am wrong.
• similarly, other possible combustibles, like animal or vegetable oil, can be good enough, but they are labour and/or soil intensive to retrieve (this is indeed true for wood too), therefore it is unlikely that they could be used to ignite a technological revolution like that we experienced after putting fossil fuels to use.
•ethanol-type seems even more unlikely, because it should require some relatively advanced chemistry knowledge, which I think is unlikely to come by before a technological revolution (remember that every scientists still has to eat and consume various other things to eat, so if the economy produce only that much surplus, then you cannot have that many scientists to think of alternative ways of producing energy when you lack fossil fuels). Moreover, ethanol from plants require a lot of farmland to be produced, so in the absence of advanced farming technologies (which would require other abundant sources of energy, in one form or another) it could not be sustained for massive, society-changing, use.

moutarde
06-02-2012, 01:38 PM
Coal is a fossil fuel, but it can also be produced by burning wood in a specific manner. If you want to keep access to metals, I assume you would want to have forges to be able to work that metal, for which I believe you would almost certainly need coal.

feanaaro
06-02-2012, 02:07 PM
Sure, but if you have to burn wood to made coal, then you cannot use coal on the scale required to have a whole steam-powered economy. I am fine with coal for smelting metals and the like, just as I am fine with oil lamps or similar things. I might even be fine with clocks and other fine machineries. The important point is that it must be impossible to arrive at the widespread use of energy-intensive technology which would ruin the flavour of fantasy for my world.

Veldehar
06-02-2012, 02:53 PM
The better point is that you can do what you want and it is plausible. I was going off on tangents, LOL. An alternate evolution of technology would be interesting.

Greason Wolfe
06-02-2012, 09:56 PM
That is a useful topic Greason Wolfe. But amongst all these "solutions", I prefer those based on some "hard" physical fact, and amongst those, the lack of fossil fuels seems better than the alternative proposed – because those like the lack of metals or whatnot, would be too limiting, I want complex civilizations, just not able to reach an highly technological stage; but without metal, or without enough surplus food/work to produce some basic cultural and technical progresses, you would be stuck in the stone age, which is not advanced enough for my setting.
I would just like to know if my idea –*younger planet, no fossil fuel – is at least remotely plausible in "scientific" terms.

Fair enough.

Not being a scientist/geologist, I don't have any "hard fact" answers for you, but I suppose you could go with a younger world theory. Perhaps skipping a two or three eras/ages that happened on our own world. If, for instance, you started "human" development during the age of dinosaurs, the fossil fuels would be more limited as the dinosaurs appeared roughly 140 million years after the Carboniferous period (when most of the fossil fuels began to develop as I understand it) which, I suspect, wouldn't be much time in terms of fuel development. I could be way off base, though, but what you're aiming for doesn't seem completely impossible, just a bit tricky. A couple links that might help working out timelines for certain developmental events (as they relate to our world) are;

http://www.energyquest.ca.gov/story/chapter08.html

and

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_evolutionary_history_of_life

Hope that helps some.

GW

thekonkoe
06-03-2012, 12:58 AM
I read through the thread and think I might be qualified to provide some of the hard physical facts people are looking for here. I've taken several classes on planetary formation and the geological history of life toward my degree. Someone might want to check my facts, but I'll stick with the scientific consensus and sure facts I remember off the top of my head to avoid mistakes.

The easiest way to eliminate areas of intense biological activity in the past. Eliminating anything like the Carboniferous Period would help limit coal deposition greatly. Basically some level of fossil fuel creation is inevitable in a world that works anything like ours that has had life for times on the order of many millennia, but not much longer. If the time is short enough though much of this fossil fuel will still be lower in quality forms like lignite. Many peoples have burnt peat, an lignite is similar, but not much better. It might be poor enough to not incentivize mining for it. Most useful of all though would be a lack of plate tectonics. If you can give your fantasy world a timeless landscape then this becomes easier. Oil is usually the result of marine sediments so if those remain under the sea they will not be easily accessible.

Heat is another major driver of the metamorphosis reactions, if this could be beat you wouldn't make fossil fuels. Unfortunately terrestrial planets have their temperature dominated by their star, and increased heat as you go deeper is inevitable assuming any ordinary internal structure. The young earth fix might also suffer slightly from the fact that primordial heat would make Earth's interior warmer. If we want to keep humans that are physiologically unchanged I can however offer some fixes.

1) A twist on young world would be to simply accept life being created recently.

2)Skip periods like the carboniferous where plant carbon creation outstrips animal carbon reprocessing.

3) Low levels of tectonic activity, possibly with an outright "cold" core like Mars.

4) Young universe. Carbon has not been produced in the same quantities by stars yet (this would also curtail metal production much more severely). With a lower carbon budget, life processes carbon efficiently and less is deposited.

So yes its possible just not likely. Evolutionary development means that avoiding periods in 2 requires some luck. Planets like those in 3 present some problems for life, but might be surmountable. Case 4 has a host of problems but I thought I'd give it anyway.

Having gone through the science, I thought I would go into some non-scientific explanations reiterating some of the stuff above.
The industrial revolution was preceded by population growth and rises in standards of living, the hypothesis that it occurred to fill a demand is not only plausible, but has a deal of economic and demographic evidence for it. The very existence of magic might disincentivize such developments. Also for some examples of how some worlds are compatible with this explanation:

JRR Tolkien. Middle Earth has extremely lo population density based on what can be gathered anecdotally. Whats more with the fall of Numenor, the flooding of Beleriland (sp?) and the ongong exodus of elves, its population may be contraction. This may be bad for innovation.

GRR Martin. The Firstmen circa 10,000 years before the series have what sounds like stone age technology in many respects. The Andals while more advanced did not have technology as advanced as Westros does now. Valyria was an advanced civilization using some combination of magic and technology. Dragons aside the Targaryens did seem to bring other innovations with them. This latest event is only 300 years past, not wholly incompatible with the rate of development in RL. (Not having long lived races makes this easier).

feanaaro
06-03-2012, 08:38 AM
Thanks, that is very helpful.
I was suspecting that some creation of fossil fuels would be inevitable over any semi-realistic evolutionary timeframe. However, if that can be plausibly minimized as you describe, that could be good enough for me. After all is not the mere existence of coal or oil that is important, but also their relative abundance and ease of access.

s0meguy
06-03-2012, 11:32 AM
I think it has a lot to do with a civilization's mentality. There are many other civilizations before Europeans but still today many are in a primitive state, and they are only being brought up with technology from countries that are more advanced. It took thousands of years for humans to invent relatively simple inventions that would have revolutionized the world a long time ago if they were invented. Like paved roads and the press. both very important to spread ideas... this is how humanity advanced, essentially by spreading ideas throughout Europe and other parts of the world so that other people could build on them and invent practical applications. I think it is very important that people need to have the incentives to invent these revolutionizing things too. It took an empire to make the first huge paved roads, then people started using them for trade and travel and it facilitated exchange of ideas. Those things wouldn't have been enough for a large coordinated effort to take place to build the infrastructure. It made armies travel faster. The press was invented to spread the Bible. Books (and reading ability) were rare and costly before that.

I toyed with the idea to have an alien civilization keep down a planet's population on purpose with some technology that'd disable electronics or stop certain chemical interactions from happening or something... from the belief that sentient life is best kept in a primitive state. Or just to experiment and observe.

feanaaro
06-03-2012, 12:03 PM
While I by no means commit to the view that progress is a fixed and inevitable destiny, I still think that likely there are material factors at work where you do not see technological progress for a long time. Those tribes that still todays live at stone-age level, are generally in very isolated environment, either with little resource available or other particular conditions that do not leave much surplus to pursue new ideas etc. Even when the dominating factor in the relative stagnation seems cultural/political, it is often linked to some underlying natural factor. See for example ancient Egypt, and its need for a highly centralized (for the time), authoritarian, theocratic, innovation-stifling government, to organize agriculture around the seasonal floods of the Nile.

Jacktannery
06-03-2012, 12:30 PM
Transport technology (roads and cars and planes) is linked to empire-building and globalisation. The industrial revolution in the eighteenth century was also very much a result (and cause of) increasing globalisation. These are very important impetus' for technological advance, but not the only conceivable ones. A computer, for example, could be conceived and built by a culture who had never invented a car or accessed fossil fuels.


For the most famous example, in Tolkien's world more than 7000 years passed between the time men appeared, already possessing some basic form of civilization (and quickly provided with more by the elves), and the end of the Lord of the Rings. By comparison, in real history...

Seven thousand years ago there were farmers and proto-cities in Iraq and Syria (Halaf-Ubaid Culture c. 5400 BC), with the first definite empires from the Uruk (six thousand years ago). These peoples would have had histories dating back much earlier themselves. The ancient romans (two thousand years ago) would have recognised much from the ancient Uruk empire in terms of technologies and art and so on. In Iraq and Syria, as just one example, the eight and a half-thousand year period from 7000BC to 1500 AD saw extensive changes and revolutions but from a very cursury look it might appear that 'the technology, politics, culture, religion, and whatnot, remained virtually the same (or actually degraded to a lower level over some periods), at a level that stands roughly somewhere between our World's antiquity and middle-ages (or early modern in some settings, such as the Shire)'.

Thus for the vast majority of humanity there is no significant difference in 'scale' between our real world and your fantasy example. However, the relatively short five hundred year period from 1550-2000AD in our own history really is different. It is possible to see this as a result of fossil fuels (though fossil fuels have been used on a smaller scale in the distant past), or as a blip (though it is a massive blip).


You started the "clock" at egypt, but evidence suggests that we were around for thousands of years before that, stuck in a hunter/gatherer mode and not advancing at all.'

Evidence suggests that we have been about since c. 50,000 years ago and since then we have been doing all sorts of different things, because we are very adaptable. The vast majority of things that we did left no trace today, for various reasons, but some of the more recent things we did have left some traces that clever archaeologists can spot. A quick look through the little that is known will show that there is no evidence for a systematic 'advance' from an early technological position to an 'advanced' one, through time. Rather, cultures rise and fall, inventions are made, cities are built, then are forgotten for a thousand years and then it all starts again. 'Paved roads' have been 'invented' many times, only to be forgotten for millennia before being re-'invented'. Our history has not been linear it just feels that way to us because we are looking backwards in only one direction. Our minds invent a pattern but there is no pattern.


Those tribes that still todays live at stone-age level, are generally in very isolated environment, either with little resource available or other particular conditions that do not leave much surplus to pursue new ideas etc.

This is also problematic. In the 19th century and early 20th century people believed this, but archaeological research shows that it is incorrect. Most 'isolated, stone-age' tribes today have long and complex histories and memories of a 'more advanced' past. For example, it was once thought that those in the Amazon region had always been stuck at a 'stone-age' level due to environmental constraints, but recent archaeological work has demonstrated that their forebears lived in great cities, had large farms, built pyramids, had Empires, advanced crafts, and so on; all of which is recounted in their oral histories. These peoples are not 'stuck' in the 'stone age'. They have simply adapted to changing circumstance probably the massive changes that took place after the Spanish and British discovery of the Americas led to this change.

Midgardsormr
06-03-2012, 12:34 PM
I agree. The difficulty with using cultural means to stifle invention is that you usually wind up with societies that don't line up with what you want, anyway. If the goal is a medieval-style civilization with a millenia-long history, then you don't have a lot of wiggle room to play around with culture and economics. Of course, you're not limited strictly to the medieval period, either, as many fantasy civilizations fit quite well into the late classical era, also.

At exactly what stage do you want to arrest progress? Simply killing the printing press might do what you need all by itself, although many fantasy societies have a ridiculously high rate of literacy in comparison to medieval Europe. You could also modify Boyle's Law: decoupling the relationship between the volume of a gas and its pressure disables most engines. That, by the way, is one of the story points of Stirling's Dies the Fire novels, which might be worth a read in this context.

Oh, and it suddenly occurs to me to suggest looking at Japan, which had an extended period of technological stasis. Part of that was due to their isolation, of course, but what prevented them from independently entering an industrial revolution of their own for so long?

feanaaro
06-03-2012, 01:17 PM
It seems that all of Jacktannery points are valid. However, most of them refers to societies that were anyway less advanced than our typical fantasy society, which is usually between late-antiquity and early-modern. After you reach that point –*which includes writing, recorded history, philosophy, mathematics, metal etc. – it seems less likely that the technological progress would stop unless there are limiting factors.
These can be of many kinds, but the one that applies more generally AND at the same time does not stifle societal development more than necessary, seem still to be lack, or extreme scarcity, of fossil fuels.

Midgarsormr: since I am thinking of an entire world, there will be widely different societies with different levels of cultural and technological development. The "main" theatre for the moment, should have an "antique" feeling to it, that is to say culturally refined societies, but still without widespread use of technology (not even most late medieval technology), with large swaths of not inhabited land and various kind of barbarians at the "borders". The area I am mapping now, at the mouth of a great river, should have sort of a greek-roman city-state flavour. Upstream on the same river the people are ethnically and linguistically similar, but they have a more traditional and authoritarian way of life, here you could think more like ancient mesopotamia, still mostly based on cities as centres of government, commerce and culture, but more hierarchical and with larger areas of land submitted to said cities.
It's a world where many people (well, at least the few with means and culture) definitely have a somewhat large horizon, they know that different cultures exist, and they know that the world does not end at their village/city, and occasionally may also go there (there is relatively long distance sea travel), but still there is a lot of terra incognita were things might or might not be "just like here".
Also, I wouldn't mind some relatively advanced technologies, I mentioned clocks, but perhaps even printing press in some places could be useful, but it is important that there would not be enough energy available for a widespread use of these technology in a way that would fundamentally change societies.
The same is indeed true for magic, which is present but not so widespread or powerful to dramatically change things; but this is obviously easier to justify, since magic is invented to begin with I can make it whatever I like and would still be equally (il)logical. Oh, and apart from this limited magic, I don't want to fiddle with physics' laws.

Jacktannery
06-03-2012, 01:27 PM
It seems that all of Jacktannery points are valid. However, most of them refers to societies that were anyway less advanced than our typical fantasy society, which is usually between late-antiquity and early-modern. After you reach that point –*which includes writing, recorded history, philosophy, mathematics, metal etc. – it seems less likely that the technological progress would stop unless there are limiting factors.

Fair enough, however what I was trying to say was that in almost every situation where a society has 'writing, recorded history, philosophy, mathematics, metal etc.', it has adapted to a 'limiting factor' (there seems to be an awful lot of these in history) and lost these things. The only exception is our own society, forcibly. Thousands of human societies used all those things and lost them again over the last seven thousand years. It's nice to think that we never will, that we have now passed a 'tipping point' - that we'll be different this time: 'Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'. Hopefully so; perhaps not.

feanaaro
06-03-2012, 02:06 PM
I see what you say, and I largely agree. Civilizations can and do devolve into simpler states of culture and technology (however, there are also counterexamples, Chinese society has been relatively static for a long long time, and yet it did not lost writing or recorded history), but that does not bother me now, I just want to be sure that in these evolving and devolving cycles they cannot go past a certain stage.

feanaaro
06-03-2012, 07:52 PM
Funny coincidence:


It is also possible that intelligence is common, but industrial civilization is not. For example, the rise of industrialism on Earth was driven by the presence of convenient energy sources such as fossil fuels.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox

I swear, it's not me that wikied that.

rdanhenry
06-03-2012, 09:06 PM
Lack of fossil fuels won't stop technological advancement, it'll just force it down a different path. Which could be a very interesting path, but it won't be static.

I also don't think emulating one of the most validly criticized aspects of Middle-Earth is a great idea. What do you imagine 10,000 years will give you, compared to 1,000 years? A thousand years is plenty of time for empires to rise and fall, dynasties to degenerate from greatness to inbred idiocy, religions to evolve, fragment, and transform, and all the other exciting things that fill up history.

feanaaro
06-03-2012, 10:17 PM
Lack of surplus energy will stop technological advancement, absolutely. However inventive humans (or any intelligent race) may be, machines won't run solely on the power of ideas. Additionally, the very lack of surplus energy (which will cascade on the production of everything, including food) will limit the time/people that can be devoted to invent new things.

As for the time scale, for me the feeling of an immemorial past and an infinite future is integral to the mood of a fantasy world (of the kind I want). It was, in fact, one of the many great aspects in the beauty of Tolkien's world (which btw, beyond humans, included elves and deities whose story rooted in an even longer past, still somehow remembered in "current" times)

atpollard
06-04-2012, 12:47 PM
Was the black death a tipping point towards modern society?
Without an initial labor shortage, there is no incentive to mechanize and automate (and muscle-power can only go so far up the technological tree).

Magical healing could prevent the pandemics that triggered the earliest industrial revolutions. (and without a railroad, there is no large scale coal mining or iron production ... and, therefore, no industrial age to free farmers and craftsmen up for more advanced technologies.)

feanaaro
06-04-2012, 03:37 PM
Would you be prepared to say that without the black plague technological advancement would have been impossible? I mean, that labour shortage favoured advancement is entirely plausible even if perhaps not so certain. But than in absence of said shortage technological progress would be impossible, or even just very unlikely, seems an entirely different and more contentious proposition.

In my specific case, magic is not so powerful or widespread as to avoid the effects of plagues and the like, therefore it would not work anyway.

ognatx
06-07-2012, 08:43 PM
A civilization that remembers its past, yet not its inventions(or even the details of the inventions), and that suffers from frequent, catastrophic ice ages would probably suffice here. The ice ages would have to be long enough to keep the people mostly holed up in certain pockets, so that there is still a continuation of language, however the memories of previous civilizations are passed down and eventually told as mythology. The ice age would lift with new soil deposits covering the old civilizations' works, and those remnants mostly destroyed and eroded. Somewhat like Atlantis, but with a much broader sweep and a good explanation for magical beliefs or whatever you want to do.