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Basically, the problem is I want to leave behind isolated pockets of survivors. Also, I want these survivors to be a primitive culture - current real world level - compared to the original civilization (which was Kardashev type III. The survivors (several generations into the future) must not know that there was such a civilization before them.

What i thought of until now - Just like we have cultures like those on the Sentinel Islands, which do not know anything about us we could have people who inhabited other star systems and simply lost contact with the rest of the civilization. But that did not seem very convincing (since even they would have a level of development higher than ours).

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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Could humanity be blown back into the Stone Age $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 9 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ Hello Quantum. In light of our meta discussion about closing as duplicates, I wanted you to understand why I voted to close your question as a duplicate of the reference Q. You basically can't do what you're asking without killing all the adults and destroying all the tech, books, references, etc. Otherwise, it'll take very little time (maybe 50-200 years) to rebuild. That's because there's too many people and too much tech. In fact, my A to the reference Q mentions the Sentinelese. Yeah. IMO a duplicate. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 9 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ Read the Foundation Trilogy by Asimov. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jun 9 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I don't think it's a duplicate . This was a Kardashev type III civilization. Rebuilding from nothing to modern levels may only take 50-100 years, but rebuilding a type III civilization would have countless extra challenges. Type III civilizations take ridiculous amounts of time, resources, and knowledge to build. So much so that even if you still had all the old blueprints and formulas, it would be well beyond human understanding to rebuild all the pieces necessary to get all the parts of such a civilization working together again. And that's before politics get in the way. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jun 11 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki "rebuilding a type III civilization would have countless extra challenges" That's an assumption, one not borne out by the analysis of our own abilities compared to the stone age. "Type III civilizations take ridiculous amounts of time, resources, and knowledge to build" So did ours - the first time. Unless you kill off the people with knowledge, the second time is much simpler (c.f. the duplicate). Too many assumptions, not enough facts, what facts we have support the duplicate, IMO. And the answers look a lot like the answers given for the duplicate. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 11 at 13:59
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The human mind is more limited than the AI we can create. In our life span, we can only learn so much, achieve so much, and contain so much info, but a benevolent AI can spend tens of thousands of years learning and expanding its own capabilities. At some point the human mind will become too limited to conceive the sciences needed to advance our technology, but our AIs will continue to move us forward.

Imagine a future in which each world is governed by a master AI which is connected to an interplanetary network designed share the collective knowledge of the universe so that each planet has access to all the tech they will ever need. Then one day something goes wrong, either a human hacker that hates the supremacy of AI or maybe even a rogue planetary AI conceives a virus that spreads itself across the interplanetary network wiping out all of these AIs.

With the AIs gone, we have no interface for our old technology. We forget about it quickly because it's all based on transdimensional and nanoscopic tech that is so unstable and small that it all just collapses into dust in the wind or flies out of existence as it drifts uncontrollably into parallel dimensions.

Human hobbyists who studied the technologies of old Earth can piece together a new civilization based on what the human mind can know, but most tech is lost because we were simply never able to conceive it to be able to recreate it.

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It doesn't matter.

The civilization fell. The inhabitants forgot everything. It is now irrelevant why and how exactly it fell; it is irrelevant because nobody knows, so the specifics of the decline and fall are now lost in the mist of time.

Examples:

  • There was once a great power in the Levant, which endured for thousands and thousands of years. But eventually it fell on hard times, and it became easy to conquer, and in due course it was conquered by the Persians, who were later conquered by the Greeks, who were later conquered by the Romans, who were later conquered by the Arabs, who were later conquered by the Turks.

    When it came to pass that the French invaded the country and defeated the Turks, they found that the inhabitants had forgotten everything about the rich and resplendant civilization which had once flourished there. They had forgotten its name, they had forgotten its language, they had forgotten the great victories and the names of the glorious rulers. The impoverished peasants who inhabited the land called it Misr, using the name given by the Arabs; at least the French used an older name, Aigyptos, Egypt, bestowed by the Greeks two thousand years earlier. The original name, Kemet, was found out only in the 20th century.

  • There was once a great civilization in Asia Minor, who rivalled the power of Egypt, and which endured many centuries. But eventually it fell, and its lands changed hands from conqueror to conqueror. When its royal archive was discovered accidentally in the 19th century by a German scholar, nothing was known about its former glory. Nothing. Not its name, not its language, not its history. The German scholar calleed it "Hittite", using the name of a mysterious nation mentioned in passing in the sacred books of the Hebrews and which had appeared from time to time in ancient inscriptions.

  • There was once a rich and vibrant trading civilization in and around the Egean, with advanced architecture, and writing, and art; it endured for a long time, but eventually it fell, and while it was not completely forgotten all the details of its fall were lost. People only remembered, vaguely, that it had existed, and half-remembered the names of its former cities and kings.

What all these have in common is that their downfall was caused by one event, of which we know almost nothing. We call it the Late Bronze Age Collapse, we know that is was sudden, brutal and definitive, and we know that it happened at some point between 1200 and 1150 BCE. In the words of the American historian Robert Drews as quoted by Wikipedia:

Within a period of forty to fifty years at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the twelfth century almost every significant city in the eastern Mediterranean world was destroyed, many of them never to be occupied again.

And that's about all we know about an event which ended several major civilizations here on Earth, an event which was of the utmost importance in the eventual rise of our own civilization on their ruins. We have several fragmentary indications that what we call the Late Bronze Age Collapse was in some way linked to an invasion, or a migration, by a group of people whom the ancients called the Sea Peoples, but we don't know who they were and were they came from, and actually we are not even certain if they were conquerors or displaced refugees pushed by desperation.

In fiction, this device is used for example in S. M. Stirling's series The General. The series follows the adventures of Raj Whitehall, a general in the service of the Civil Government, who attempts to re-unite the half-barbarian kingdoms of Bellevue, a planet which had been once a member of a star-spanning Terran Federation. The most civilized of the inhabitants sort-of remember that the Federation had once existed, but they know nothing about its nature or why it fell. As a sop to the readers, the sole surviving A.I. -- who is helping Raj in his efforts -- mentions (halfway through the fourth book in the series) that the Federation fell because something called the Tanaki Spatial Displacement Network was destroyed, or maybe it was shut down, and in any case all contact was lost with the rest of the Federation, and eventually a civil war ensued, and very powerful, possibly nuclear, weapons were used.

And that's it: nothing more is said, because nothing more would be relevant. There was once a Terran Federation, and it is no more; its technology has been lost, its language has been lost, its culture has been lost. The people living in the times when the story is set know that they are living in fallen times and not much more, so no purpose would be served by providing more details.

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  • $\begingroup$ A problem here is history keeping. The old civilizations had history that was far harder to keep track off and with wildly varying accuracy and resiliance. The wholesale destruction of a single kardeshev III that leaves the survivors without technology and historic data is very specific and hard to achieve. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jun 9 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan: It doesn't matter. It has happened in the past, it was forgotten, the characters don't know exactly when or how. If the characters don't know, why is it important (or even advisable) for the reader to know? And, to quote S. M. Stirling: "When the Fall began, books had died with the machines that recorded them—the Church called it the Great Simplification. In the first generation the survivors wrote down as much as they could, most of it in Old Namerique, the official language of the Federation. Bits and pieces survived." $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 9 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ Egypt was in no way shape or form a world superpower. Heck, it didn't even control half of the Mediterranean! $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jun 9 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn: It was the sole world superpower for two millennia. Superpower does not mean universal empire. That the U.S.A. does not control the Black Sea does not make it less a superpower. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 9 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ The US can project it's power into the Black Sea if it wants to. Pharaonic Egypt was a regional superpower. Big for it's time, but -- when compared to the world -- it was pretty puny. upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a8/… $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jun 10 at 1:06
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There are many phenomena that hit densely populated, civilized areas more harshly than primitive, isolated ones:

  • Disease: a hard-to-detect, fast-spreading plague quickly reaches all planets with major spaceports within a couple of weeks. By the time transportation is closed, busy planets have already been exposed beyond the point of no return. Any survivors are effectively abandoned in an empty world. Small, relatively uninhabited planets have fewer scheduled deliveries and have time to close borders before too many infected arrive.

  • Terrorism: a powerful, secretive cult plants agents all over the galaxy's most populated areas, each carrying a kilogram of antimatter held in magnetic suspension tanks. At the scheduled time, all the agents detonate their explosives simultaneously, scorching the surface of the most advanced, populated planets.

  • Technology: a rogue artificial intelligence spreads across the civilization, taking control of all technology, from hovercars to nuclear reactors, and uses it to inflict the most damage possible on society. Great cities are reduced to rubble, but small hippie communes are unscathed.

The result:

  • Once most of the galactic hubs of commerce, manufacturing and transportation are destroyed, small areas that grew dependent on them will quickly regress into a primitive culture.
  • Generations later, children will have no real memory of anything associated with the old civilization. It may be a religion to them, or a bedtime story.
  • These pockets of primitive life are so small that they can't recover enough of the technological knowledge of their ancestors to make it to space, so they remain isolated until they each independently rediscover space travel.
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    $\begingroup$ Technology and disease, like the Asgard in Stargate, who have been cloning themselves for so long that too many errors have built up in the DNA, and they're dying as a species. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jun 9 at 22:22
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Only the slaves survive.

Your advanced civilizations had other species that they kept as slaves - possibly one or more intelligent species from various worlds in their federation. Or possibly these are just a different race of the same species as the masters. These slaves were not educated, taught to read or even to repair or use technology; perhaps they were used for agriculture or mining in circumstances not conducive to mechanizations. In the rural hinterlands, slave populations were allowed to reproduce and grow to provide a steady supply of slaves.

When the end came for this civilization, the slaves did not die. With all of the masters gone, the cities were overtaken by forest and the machines fell into disrepair and crumbled away.

The slaves continued on much as they did before, with subsistence agriculture, fishing and animal husbandry. Within a few hundred years, the old civilization exists only in legend.

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At the moment I see two possible variants. It could be a damaged generation ship sent by your advanced civilisation before the collapse. With some damages to data storage, they would lack the historical society technological continuity. Depending on the social processes in the ship and after the landing, they may have very little memories of the original culture in couple of generations. Something like 'yes, we know we came in the great ship from the sky, but the ship itself isn't here, the ancestors disassembled it to build it capital; our nuclear power plant? yes, there are parts of the ship's engines there, but most of the stuff was reworked, melted down or thrown out'.

The second variant is a primitivist colony. Something like dieselpunk space Amish. Their ancestors wanted to keep old-world technologies and thought them to be the best. It's a natural right of a human (or whatever you are) to mine and burn hydrocarbons. For some time, dispatch ships from the main planets of your civilisation did come with the news and mail, then the ships stopped coming. Nobody really cared much about that.

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    $\begingroup$ But what kind of disaster makes the kardashev III civilization fall? $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jun 9 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan political turmoil. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jun 9 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn so on a Galaxywide scale on every planet and every station the end result is either complete annihilation of all political groups or the annihilation of all technology they used to fight, without exceptions? Thats very far stretched. Its like a chicken laying a natural egg with the exact mutation necessary to give birth to an oistrich. Or a hurricane ripping a log house apart and rebuilding it a few miles away. This becomes even more true when you know this is a kardeshev III civ, they didnt get there unified through bad internal politics. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jun 9 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan you seem to be assuming that it would be instant destruction. It wouldn't. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jun 10 at 1:08
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn I'm assumig that after a long civil war on every single planet and space station the destruction has to be total for all sides or a handful survive but without any technology and history recordings remaining. If one planet survives with a way of space travel and fight another survivig group, how do they even know what and where the other group is? How do you create a fight at one planet that devastates the remaining infrastructure of both? Again, its a hurricane disassembling a log cabin and assembling it again. Theoretically possible but dont count on it. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jun 10 at 6:27
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Kardashev III civilisations are either multi-galactic, or they use something like Larry Niven's Megasphere, or a galaxy spanning swarm of Dyson Spheres, or they use a lot of antimatter in every inhabited environment in the empire. Assuming they live on planets and in space habitats all powered by matter-antimatter annihilation and have some form of FTL communications an act of terrorism on a unbelievable scale could be perpetrated by relatively few individuals who gain privileged access to systems they shouldn't be touching.

In short your primitive survivors are the lucky descendants of the few who were far away from the reactors that power their colonies on the day that the corrupt reactor alignment code went live. The disaster would be two fold in most places, first the huge explosions on the ground and then a rain of radioactive debris, the remains of orbital facilities blasted from orbit by their own failing reactors. It was a long climb back to modern levels of technology.

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DECLINE OF KNOWLEDGE

As the civilization develops, increasingly AI handles more and more tasks better and faster than the aliens who built them. New designs technologies are developed through evolutionary processes, where different designs compete against each other in virtual environments through millions of mutating generations until a superior design is found. This also applies to new generations of AI and robots that eventually become vastly more intelligent than the aliens and handles all tasks that keep the civilization running. The aliens finally don't bother learning anything, since all answers, products, comforts, etc. can be had with a snap of the fingers (think Aladdin with a thousand genies).

The thing with evolutionary design is that it is very difficult to reverse engineer - you can see that it works better than what you had, but might not understand why it works better. Even the super-advanced AI can't tell.

Eventually, the AI may decide to leave the galaxy and abandon their originators - "what have they ever done for us", or they might enter some evolutionary blind road where they decline into something hyper-specialised that perfectly fits the parameters that they themselves set up, but isn't good for anything else. For whatever reason, they stop being there. The aliens are then left behind, surrounded by super-advanced technology that they don't understand, can't operate (there are no 'human' interfaces) and could never recreate. The quickly decline into very primitive cultures.

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Rogue software. They were the victim of the ultimate computer virus or something of the sort. It spread through the networks at whatever their communications speed was, an infected system sent the bad instructions out before crashing, no warning can overtake the destruction.

Everything went down, total grid failure. While there might have been some isolated systems and skilled engineers that could have put things back together they didn't have a chance to actually do it because of the scale of the damage. You have a highly interconnected society dependent on machines that are now useless. The power is out, the water doesn't last much longer. There are no food shipments, no food production. People fight over what supplies are around, pretty soon the only source of food is cannibalism.

You will have a few survivors, though--hobbyists growing things the old way. Some will escape into nature areas with their seeds.

Why don't they quickly return to their previous tech level? It's normally figured the books would let society rebuild--but look at what's already happening. Books are dying--more and more we read electronic things. At one point there were thousands of books in this house--but I haven't bought a single book in half a dozen years now. Lots of e-books, no dead tree versions. Nobody learns from the books because they were in the computers and now are gone. There's probably backup media around with them--but no systems that can read it.

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On purpose.

Whoever destroyed them left a few scattered worlds inhabited for humanitarian and/or PR reasons. But imposed on them lots of taboos on technology to make sure they never rise as a threat again. Monitoring was very close for a few centuries, with draconian enforcement. Think atomic non-proliferation on a lot of steroids. Nowadays it's more hands-off, but moon-mining would surely draw unwanted attention.

The people may or may not remember the origins of their taboos.

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