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Thread: A question for the geologists/scientists amongst you

  1. #21
      s0meguy is offline
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    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.
    Last edited by s0meguy; 06-03-2012 at 11:39 AM.

  2. #22
      feanaaro is offline
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    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.

  3. #23
    Guild Artisan Jacktannery's Avatar
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    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.

  4. #24
    Guild Master Gracious Donor Midgardsormr's Avatar
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    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?
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  5. #25
      feanaaro is offline
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    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.

  6. #26
    Guild Artisan Jacktannery's Avatar
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    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.

  7. #27
      feanaaro is offline
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    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.

  8. #28
      feanaaro is offline
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    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.

  9. #29
      rdanhenry is offline
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    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.

  10. #30
      feanaaro is offline
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    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)

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