Brooke Shaffer

Author, Gamer, and Cat-Collector Extraordinaire

World Building: Science and Technology

Welcome back to the series on World Building. Today we’re going to talk about the Science and Technology of your people.

When you hear “science and technology,” it’s tempting to think of computers, space ships, and other elements of the modern day. But science is simply studying and learning about the world around you, and technology is anything that assists, augments, or replaces a basic human function to satisfy a need.

So what does this mean for a fictional people? Well, let’s break this down into two parts.

First, science. How do your people view the world around them? Are they curious about it? Do they have a desire to learn? Do they ask questions? Do they want to understand the water cycle? Do they make basic observations and act or adjust their actions accordingly? Do they understand basic weather prediction?

If your people have a question that they don’t have an answer to, how do they go about solving the problem? Do they have some kind of scientific method to consult? What is the expectation of this method? What about if someone fails to adhere to it? Are there certain standards that must be met when testing a hypothesis or answering a question? How can someone challenge a result they do not believe to be true? What if a discovery cannot be easily replicated?

What kinds of questions are most pertinent to your people? Is it really necessary for them to understand the life cycle of a crustacean? How would knowing benefit them? How does not knowing hurt them? Could it be the other way around, that ignorance is bliss? Would it be more prudent to study the worms in the soil in the crop fields?

Who asks the questions? Who is expected to answer them? Are people expected to go it alone, or could there be groups of people all studying the same thing and asking or trying to answer the same questions? Are people encouraged to study things, or are they expected to keep it as merely a hobby? How do your people treat those who wish only to study?

What resources are available to people who wish to study? Is there a monetary element? What kind of equipment might be needed? What kind of time would be needed? What if resources are not available? What if resources run out before an experiment is complete or a question is answered?

What happens if different people have very different ideas about how to answer a question or resolve a hypothesis? What happens if these disagreements become more than mere disagreements? What if resources only allow for one group to complete their quest?

What happens if a discovery leads to physical harm, for example, splitting the atom? How do the people react? Why would some people want to support this discovery? Why would others want to bury it? What if such an experiment is initially accepted and then later condemned? How is it done away with, if at all?

What happens if a discovery leads to something magnificent, a solution to a long-time, long-dreaded problem? What would be the implications? How would things change for the people? How would things change for the person or group who made this discovery? How would others who were also working on the problem feel about it?

What happens if one discovery challenges or refutes an earlier discovery? How were the discoveries made? What conditions may have changed to make something that was once true, now false? What faults could have been present? What biases could have been present? What are the implications if one is demonstrably true and the other demonstrably false? Is there a way for both discoveries to be true? What if they both turn out to be false? What are the personal and societal implications?

What happens if a discovery challenges a long-held religious belief? What is the nature of the belief, and the nature of the discovery? How severe is the challenge? Is there any way this can be reconciled?

What happens if someone goes into a question or experiment with extreme prejudice and a skewed agenda? What is his leading credibility? Could an experiment still be considered unbiased in spite of the one conducting it? How would his findings be taken? What if the people at large are unaware of his biases or agenda?

What happens if someone objects to an experiment? What ethics are observed? When must these ethics be followed? When might they be ignored? How does your society weigh the costs and benefits?

Now let’s discuss technology. Technology is anything that assists, augments, or replaces a basic human function to satisfy a need. And even then, it’s not limited to humans. Crows have technology, as they have been observed to make tools to help them find food.

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Consider your people. What are their needs, and how have they met those needs? They probably need to eat, so how is this done? Gathering fruits, nuts, and other vegetation? What if this food is not easily accessible? If they hunt, how do they do it? Do they wield crude clubs because they are unable to kill an animal otherwise? Do they have spears or bows and arrows because they are not fast enough to get within clubbing distance of an animal?

What about building and construction? How do they move materials? Do they carry one log at a time? Do they use pack animals? How do they cut materials to size? Do they have the ability to cut stone? Do they mine metals? Do they refine metals, turn iron into steel? How is this accomplished? How were these advancements discovered?

What is the transportation situation? Do your people walk everywhere? Do they use animals? How did they discover animal husbandry? Are they responsible in their care and breeding of animals? What kinds of packs, harnesses, or wagons do they use? Do they have automated vehicles, whether by internal combustion engine, battery, or some other means? How were such methods discovered? How do local or imported resources affect the efficiency and sustainability of these methods? Or have your people discovered the secrets of teleportation? How does it work? How safe is it? What kinds of things could go wrong, and what measures are in place to prevent such things?

How do your people defend themselves? Do they rely on clubs and swords? Bows and arrows? Internal combustion projectiles? Something else? How and why were these advancements made? How are they defended against?

What is the medicine situation of your people? Do they use ancient herbal wisdom? Do they have the ability to look inside people without needing to open them up? What surgical techniques are in use? What is the survival rate of various maladies, and how do your people try to improve those odds?

How do your people’s technologies and inventions interact and overlap? How did the discovery of one invention inspire or improve another one? When and how does the snowball effect take place?

What are some of the most important discoveries or inventions for your people? Why? Were they helpful or harmful? What changes happened in the lives of individuals and society at large? What was the attitude at the time of these shifts? How are those shifts viewed ten years later? Fifty? A hundred? Longer?

What discoveries were made by accident? How are these discoveries received? How are they refined?

What kinds of inventions do your people dream of, even if there are several steps between their present state and their dreams? What has to happen for these inventions to be made real? Are they even feasible?

What happens if an invention is made and someone tries to hide it, or hoard it for themselves? What if someone steals someone else’s invention or idea? Are there any rights or protections available?

What kinds of technology have your people assimilated from other people? Is there a difference between someone discovering something for themselves, and having something handed to them? How does it affect society at large? How do the original inventors feel about it? Are they happy to help, or could they seek to exploit a growing, monopolized demand?

What would happen if a long-used invention is suddenly taken away? What happens if a powerful EMP goes off in the atmosphere of a highly-advanced planet? Are your people able to defend against such a thing? Are they able to adapt? How do they plan to recover?

So I think that covers science and technology pretty well, at least to get you thinking. The next installment will cover what is often perceived to be the exact opposite of science and technology, that is, magic.

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