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The Regression of Tech

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 5 months ago

This page is at Set in Stone status. Ratings Guide

Pseudo-Reality at Large

Anybody who’s read through the whole of this beast or been following its progress over time probably has caught on that, at least for this setting, we're somewhat dedicated to the idea of pseudo-realism as far as possible. What is meant by this is that we want the setting, people, gods, and magic of the world to all come from an explained place that may not be strictly based on knowledge of what we know as fact, but at least carries a plausibility with it. As a base, what we’d like is for normal players to enjoy gaming in the world and simply treat it as a fantastical place that provides interesting adventures. However, for those who are more interested and curious, we’d love for there to be multiple layers of understanding, so that invested DM/GMs can create complex interwoven stories that play off of background info and reveal points to the players in character of which they may have been unaware.

 

Now, in the general struggle to grapple with this, one of the main problems has actually been the underlying idea that people as a whole society would regress after they emerged from their hibernating states, and would lose access to much of the technology they created. This is actually a fairly common theme in science fiction, with writers like Asimov using it constantly to explain the rise and fall of galactic empires. However, in most of the cases its been used, there is rarely seen an explanation for why it happens, simply that it does; that it’s the natural order of things. So, in an effort to make this more clear to the group and maybe players, lets go through the reasoning as to why it might happen within the sphere.

 

The Factors of Progress

First off, we should probably talk about education in some society of the future. If we look back historically, we can see that over time, with the acquisition of new knowledge, there is generally a multi-step process which occurs to disseminate it to the masses. As the first step, someone will have a great new idea for potential research, but know very little about what its potential impact might be. However, they will probably inform some of their close peers about the concept, and if it possesses significant traction, then the group will expand and begin pursuing exploration of the topic. As their knowledge base grows, they will proceed to disseminate their gathered information to the technical populace in the forms of limited circulation papers, presentations, and general communication. This communication will expand the workbase for the subject and in time create a series of water marks for progress in the field. Once enough significant progress has been made that a field is viewed as somewhat steady state, members will begin to publish summary books and mass media literature, which attempt to break down the overly technical concepts and create a codified knowledge base so that the information can be passed to the populace at large. Finally, if they are successful, then their work will become part of the common curriculum and new generations of up and coming students will be able, or possibly required, to learn about the subject.

 

In general, we can say that this process is relentless and that over time we can likely say that the average level of education among the populace is going to rise. Historically, we can look at the educations of the common man in Mesopotamia, Greece, China, medieval Europe, the industrial nations, and our own modern people and see that there has been an average climb. Compared with an average person from say the medieval era, even our most backwoods person is generally more educated about the state of the universe. However, although there is an average rise, that rise has not been steady, has at times actually been negative, and depends on a number of outside factors for its rate.

 

Probably the single most important of these factors is the availability of free time to people as a society. If every member is occupied with finding food or keeping shelters up, then nobody will be pondering on how to make life better. This process is also cascading, and as further advances come along they free up greater portions of the populace to work on progress.

 

After at least some free time percentage has been found, the next greatest factor is simple numbers of minds in the society; the more people that a society can support at a given percentage, the more minds that will be free to be focused on technology. In general, this is tied into the rate of basic necessities production, and there is some optimal setting for any society that will create the most progress while still keeping citizens alive. Kind of harkens back to days of playing Civ., for those who have, as their mechanism mirrors it pretty well.

 

These two concepts are the most important for a basic society, but as they become more complex there are further factors which may come into play. Opinions and societal views on research will assuredly play some role, and can have both drastically positive and negative effects on the rate of progress made. Imagine trying to get to the moon without the political backing and focus of the Kennedy years, look at what the repression and climate of the dark ages did to science, or even examine our own struggles these days with ethical issues in science.

 

Finally, one of the last major items which will appear as a factor for advancement rate is the creation of devices to aid the scientific process. Anything which helps people to overcome the limitations of the human body and mind fits into this category and there are a wide array of examples throughout history; abacuses, laboratories, and even maps. Arguably the most profound of these though has been the advent of the computer, a machine that performs one of the tasks our mind simply isn’t very good at; massive number crunching. In recent decades we have seen research output literally explode with modeling, presentation, design, and even researcher connectivity being advanced almost daily. And nearly everyone knows how to use them now too (in industrialized nations), even kinds as young as 10 using them in their classrooms as an improved way to convey information.

 

However, this actually segues into the next point, in that this is nowhere near the end of advances, particularly in the classroom. One of the great problems we’re coming upon is the simple fact that there are limitations to the rate at which the human brain can learn and become proficient with new information. Much like a pyramid, and mirroring our own progress through the ages, the various layers of knowledge need to be built up over time within the human mind so that the next topic can be linked. If these pieces aren’t in place or fully understood, then students will struggle with more advanced concepts until they’ve mastered the basics. Unfortunately, these pieces also all take some finite amount of time, and even with the best normal teaching techniques there is probably going to be a point at which we simply can’t pack anymore information into a brain in a given education cycle without imposing inhumane conditions. This limits the maximum technological understanding that our researchers can have as they move out into their field, and if unaccounted for could result in a slowing due to lack of trained professionals or an extension of the educational period.

 

To meet this problem, it can be wagered that given a few years, one of the next big areas of advance is probably going to arrive as technological aids for memory and learning. A la the Matrix, at some future point humans may be able to simply lay themselves down and absorb a core dump of the raw knowledge they need. The only thing necessary after that point would then be for humans to practice it in some way so that they could form the proper links in terms of use and application. In time, even these factors might become automated, and the only limiting factors would be how fast the memory process can operate, and how big the brain's external hard drive is. There could very conceivably be kids coming out of adolescence who know “everything” and are ready to help make progress.

 

Why They Regress

Now, finally we can get to the impact that this will have on our society of the Sphere. It is proposed that in the society of the future which created the Sphere, all of these factors have advanced considerably with time. In terms of raw needs, only a tiny fraction of the populace is necessary anymore to feed and provide shelter for the working masses, possibly even none. With regards to populace, the number of working minds in a civilization which spans even a single galaxy is almost too vast to comprehend, and if we were to consider intergalactic travel as well, then the numbers are almost mind boggling (Googlolplexes of people probably doesn’t even cut it). Societal pressures to research and progress will hopefully be fairly benign and willing to promote change, but that’s one of the few factors that’s fairly difficult to predict. The last factor though, technology, will have vastly improved, and many of the advances being made at the time of the collapse probably wouldn’t even be possible without the presence of ultra powerful computers, numerous enhancements for the human mind, and even further strides that can't be conceived of. Given enough acclimation time, such advances might even be so ubiquitous that society barely knows how to cope without them, and all of the codified practices for education, research, and science are tied to them. So, what would then happen to society and progress if they were all suddenly removed?

 

The evacuation of an entire galaxy or the universe at large has been proposed as a fairly drastic last measure which was used by the Creators. People were rounded up, taken to a gigantic sphere at some calculated best point in the cosmos, and then put into hibernation while the universe proceeded to tear itself apart. Now, during this migration, a lot of objects and knowledge would probably have to be left behind for the common people to optimize the largest number of beings that could reasonably be saved. Naturally, the creators of the Sphere would put as many of these systems in place within the Sphere itself as possible, but they would limit positions on the actual crafts severely. This means that when everybody woke up, they would have whatever they had on them, plus whatever tech was available in their neck of the woods until they found some. For a properly functioning Sphere, this wouldn’t be that much of a bother, as people specialized in one type of science or another would wake up, be directed by the Sphere and the populace at large to where they were useful, and would work towards the betterment of life and solving their predicament. For a war torn, disorganized, failure prone Sphere though, with a significant power vacuum after the “Gods” changed form, the situation is a bit more complicated.

 

First off, in terms of the raw population, the sheer number of people in the known universe has drastically fallen, and even if they could communicate freely and work towards progress, there would be less critical mass than before. Next off, the hibernation systems have had numerous issues and have been releasing people in waves, spurts, and fits ever since they started. Not only does this create a lack of gross population to further compound the loss, but it also creates a dangerous lack of specialty personnel, as many of the systems necessary for maintaining the prior lifestyle of the people have no-one capably trained to run them, or at least provide direction. As these systems moved into disuse, it would become more difficult to maintain the lower level systems like computers or machine learning enhancements. Without either of these technologies, the maximum output would once again fall, and depending on the severity of conditions, there would be a cascade effect until some stable equilibrium with the surroundings was reached.

 

These situations would also lead to problems with the next two criteria, social motivation for progress and percentage of the workforce that can be “idle”. With everyone awakening to a world which doesn’t seem to work how it should, and with there being less to go around than there was before, there would be a strong social pressure to “look after oneself” and make sure that at least they survived, since they couldn’t count on the services they're used to being available. There might very well be strong “back to the land” movements and with the power vacuum of the Sphere architects transcending to digital existence, there would be little in the way of respected voices to oppose it unless a strong individual/group stepped forward. As a parallel, imagine waking up tomorrow and finding that the power grid has been permanently taken off-line. The hysteria and chaos would be phenomenal. This doesn’t even take into account layers where true disaster struck, such as Ki’Sha-la, or the frozen / inferno layers. Within these layers, the focus would assuredly be on survival first and foremost, with thoughts of anything else falling a distant second.

 

Finally, once all this was taken care of, and some new equilibrium had been reached where everyone could survive, it very well might be too late to reclaim the technology of their past. For technologies like memory enhancement, given a generation or two without access to the technology, there would be no-one available who could perform the procedures and that in itself would then limit the maximum capacity of learning for future generations until drastic leaps had been remade. In devastated layers, future generations might find themselves sitting amidst piles of highly useful technology which could revolutionize their lives, yet of which even the most educated only know the powers of by description or story, and more importantly, not a single person knows how to make.

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