Friday, 23 March 2012

Deep thought Friday

Another DtF via Mr Clarke, with a warm-up here.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.         Arthur C. Clarke

Is "advanced" the right term? If we perceive time as linear, are we mistaking the nature of change, seeing it as progress? Seeing what was or could have been as failed? Is our thinking on science a teleology, or teleological argument, with science the deity? Would 'sufficiently unfamiliar' be more accurate? Could elsewhen than our future hold unfamiliar technology and our age be 'backward'?


Trey said...

Good point. I suppose one could define advanced as "doing the same thing better." I think it's reasonable to consider a newer cellphone (for example) generally more advanced that an older one. However, a lot of technological "advances" (i.e. more recent, temporally advanced) are really just differences not improvements.

garrisonjames said...

If you look at the use of the word 'advanced' in terms of what moved forward into actual use/production/distribution, then it works fine. All the other stuff did not 'advance,' but it might be superior in any number of ways. For example VHS beat Betamax more because of marketing/market-share than real quality. The economics play a significant part in this, and if you look to how the so-called third World is digging through the cast-off and neglected/obsolete technologies of the West, they are finding some excellent things in there that are finally getting 'advanced' because those things suit the needs and desires of entirely different markets. What one society discards, for whatever reasons, might prove to be a real godsend or useful thing to another. So when considering this sort of thing, it's a good idea to avoid the false expectation of universal adoption--markets are rarely homogenous, except in Imperial SciFi and repressive post-apoc theocracies.

Every planet within an interstellar empire would be a collection of interactive sub-markets, but that level of complexity and detail can drive a GM/designer mad...though it can be a variable part of the background, if you keep it in mind. It offers some opportunities that more monolithic approaches gloss past.

Tallgeese said...

In my Diaspora campaign, there is a Balkanized world with numerous states, only five of which are space flight capable. My players were a bit incredulous about this, even though they came from a world which only had interstellar travel thanks to the gift of a starship from an alien race.

In Marxist theiory, it took decades to shake stages theory, which assumed linear stages of development from feudalism to capitalism to socialism to communism. Of course, technology should get better with each stage. In the capitalist world, Eugene Rostow espoused parallel ideas (with capitalism as the highest stage for everyone). It is ironic that Trotsky articulated the theory of "uneven and combined development" back in the 20s, but Marxism as a whole couldn't approach the issue for nearly four decades after his death. Finally, Wallerstein and Prigogine got together and developed a form of Marxist politicsl economy informed by complexity theory

Tallgeese said...

Sorry about the pedantry and the typos.

Porky said...

@ Trey - That's a reasonable definition, and gets at a key issue more clearly: if advances are just the same thing better, we could be talking forking branches; if they're growing in turn from a larger trunk, that would still leave us with a lot more trees in the forest. I agree on the second point too - maybe we can extend the metaphor by saying those branches are looping back or spiralling, not creating new opportunities for leaves to find the sun.

@ garrisonjames - Another very reasonable definition, one that strips the term of a lot of the power we might unthinkingly ascribe to it or accept. Sound advice too, and a reminder of the difficulty of any one thing or any one perspective encompassing all of the possibilities. That said, one outstanding feature of your settings - and Trey's World too - is the extent to which you do, the breadth and depth of the comprehension. It's likely how so many of your stories, materials and even individual passages and terms suggest so much.

@ Tallgeese - That's not pedantry, just a great comment, riffing off the earlier points, complementing them and even underpinning them to some extent, but moving the whole on and opening new doors of exploration. Another pleasure to read. I can credit the incredulity of the players too. We take so much for granted and superficial or even pathological approaches seem to be breaking out all over - it feels ever harder in the strengthening waves of information and misinformation, maybe disinformation, to keep a firm grip on core tools.

Thanks for the comments - it's always a privilege to read a discussion of this quality, and more so to host it here.