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Far, far away from the Earth, there is a planet. A planet full of life. Where an intelligent species reign above all. But they haven't mastered the spirit of the thunder, and they will never.

This question is a spin-off from this question. There I talk about a hypothetical planet inside a nebula. But now I don't care if it is inside a nebula or not. The question here is:

Could it be possible for this world to have something like a frequent and constant electromagnetic-pulse preventing them from developing electronic devices and forcing them to be in an eternal middle ages state?

Where would the EMP come from? from inside the planet? from a nebula (if it is inside or near to one)? from the system's star? a pulsar?

Of course one of the requisites is that the planet must be able to sustain life.

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    $\begingroup$ There is no such thing as a continuous pulse. A pulse, by definition, is a pulse, that is, an abrupt variation of the value of a quantity. I think you probably want frequent pulses. Moreover, you seem to be confusing electronics and electrotechnics on one hand, and the Middle Ages with the Early Modern period on the other. Steam trains, pneumatic mail systems, compressed air power distribution, rotative offset printing machines, hot metal typesetting machines and phonographs do not need electronics to work, and historically they didn't use any electric power. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 9 '19 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, my bad english betrayed me.I should say something like: "continuously pulsing". I gonna edit it. $\endgroup$ – Miguel NoTeimporta Oct 9 '19 at 8:54
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    $\begingroup$ How do you prevent vacuum tube/valve technology from working? Radio, television, and computers can all work, less conveniently and efficiently, without any solid state electronics. Also, as the inhabitants developed solid state electronics they would take the need for shielding for granted, and EMP harden all their devices. $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Oct 9 '19 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ You reset the timeline far to much. Without electricy you would have around XVIII century industralization. Maybe even XIX one with the exception of fast wire communication. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Oct 9 '19 at 9:57
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    $\begingroup$ With vacuum tubes, but no solid state electronics, that shifts to mid 20th century. $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Oct 9 '19 at 10:00
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I do not believe that any form of EMP would prevent electrical technology, as the EMP would induce currents in metals which might attract attention and at some point metal screens would be discovered. But there is one possible way that does not use EMP.

If all of the common metals accessible by smelting such as iron, copper, zinc, lead, nickel etc were absent from the crustal rocks of the planet or only present in small quantities that were widely diffuse with no concentrated ores, it would be very difficult to establish any electrical technology. And if such technology were to develop by use of rare metals it might be nothing more than a laboratory curiosity and far too expensive to employ in practice.

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    $\begingroup$ Heavier elements are produced by exploding starts. Your planet might be in a younger galaxy. $\endgroup$ – pants Oct 9 '19 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ Great for preventing electrical technology, not so good for allowing medieval technology. For example, no iron plowshares would limit the efficiency of agriculture. No iron horseshoes limits where and how much horses can be used. Sickles would be wood with bits of flint embedded in the cutting edge. Much less efficient agriculture would prevent the specialization that was needed for medieval cultural achievements. $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Oct 9 '19 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ life would be more difficult, but there are alternatives such as obsidian which can be used to create very sharp blades and was extensively used by the Maya and others. Also the question refers to the middle ages 5th-15th centuries when iron was not used in plows. $\endgroup$ – Slarty Oct 9 '19 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Slarty I think you may be thinking about the iron moldboard, which was indeed relatively late. I'm talking about the plowshare, the blade that cuts the soil. According to Encyclopedia Britannica "By Roman times, light, wheelless plows with iron shares (blades) were drawn by oxen". $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Oct 10 '19 at 7:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Patricia Shanahan, yes you are correct my mistake. So life would be much harder, but still quite possible $\endgroup$ – Slarty Oct 10 '19 at 7:47
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This depends a lot on why electric or electronic devices don't work or can't be developed. The fundamental principles of electricity tie deeply into the other foundations of physics (it's tempting to try and say "there is no electromagnetism so you can't make generators", for instance, but if you get rid of magnetism then you also get rid of light, which definitely precludes life! Equally saying "metals don't conduct electricity" involves tossing out the majority of condensed matter physics, which would jeopardize things like planets cohering into proper balls rather than piles of gravel, also not ideal), so you probably don't want to mess with the basic mechanics too much.

The obvious way to achieve the effect you describe (a regular powerful EMP pulse that would knock out any electronic devices) is to place your planet near a spinning neutron star, which kicks out massive pulses of radiation with periods ranging from milliseconds to a couple of minutes. Unfortunately, the radiation mostly takes the form of hard X-rays, which would have... detrimental... effects on life attempting to form. The unfortunate truth is that animals are as susceptible to the negative impacts of radiation as electronic devices are.

What you really need is an artificial neutron star whose spectral output can be tuned, or whose output passes through a medium (like the planetary atmosphere) which strongly absorbs X-rays and other dangerously-high-energy photons. X-rays are absorbed much more strongly by the electrons around larger atoms, so you want an atmosphere that, for some reason, contains large amounts of (gaseous!) heavy metals. Fortunately, these don't need to be pure metals, they can be compounds, but gaseous compounds of heavy metals are not easy to come by [suggestions gratefully received!]. Fortunately, the heavy noble gasses like krypton, xenon, and radon, and also iodine and astatine, might be helpful. Note that an atmosphere like this is only a temporary solution (lasting a few thousand or million years) as it will be blasted off into space by the radiation pulses, so there won't be time for life to evolve from scratch in this environment, it will have to have been transported there, or evolved before the neutron star started up.

If you are able to make such a planet, you'll have pretty hellish conditions. Lightning everywhere, all the time. Any substantial piece of pure metal would be throwing sparks continuously. Metal jewelry is out, even silver/gold. Never mind medieval tech, the dominant lifeform won't have even dared to advance to the bronze age. We're talking obsidian spears and flint axes, and not a lot of advanced agriculture. Unfortunately not quite what you're looking for.

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  • $\begingroup$ Another problem with your atmospheric screen is that the heavy parts of your atmosphere, being... heavy... will tend to settle to the bottom. Thus you'll tend to get pockets of gas hanging around doing nothing except being asphyxiation hazards. Maybe if it were continually replenished in the upper atmosphere (presumably by some form of abusive precursor) it could work. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Oct 10 '19 at 7:25
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Sure, sort of. It's hypothesised Nikola Tesla's "wireless free energy" idea may have inadvertently done something like this, where it would power super-simple electronics like light bulbs, but complex electronics like circuitry that need delicate operations would just be fried; If the idea had spread around the world in the manner the internet did, without knowing that such circuitry is absolutely possible and it's just electronic interference frying it, it's likely humanity would have never developed 'Turing Machine' style computers, as they would have assumed it's no more feasible for them as anti-gravity is for us.

I don't know much about the fine points of solar magnetism, but i think it would be feasible for a star to be consistently, (or going through thousands-of-years-long episodes wherein) it's outputting so much energy into the magnetosphere of a world that complex electronics are just too much of a faff to create even if you knew for a fact they could be created, by creating EM-Shielding for them, much in the same way the Chinese never really developed complex chemistry when Europeans did, not because they were intellectually incapable, but because the quality of clay in their region was so good they just made absolutely everything out of this super good clay, so they never invented glass which is an extremely neutral container perfect for conducting experimentation.

Such a planet could essentially make it so difficult to innovate with anything more than the most rudimentary types of electronics that they are suspended in an, at best, industrial-revolution-era society.

As a slight tangent I've often thought this is the unconscious/background reasoning behind many 'high fantasy'/'high magic' settings not having advanced tech and medicine; because they can cast a healing spell or drink a healing potion, nobody even bothers to develop, say, a theory of bacteria, or create a Turing Machine, because all of their magical solutions are just about 'good enough' to not demand innovation in some other direction...

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    $\begingroup$ Along similar lines, there's a lot of evidence to suggest that the presence of slavery suppresses technological development because there's little motivation to develop labour-saving technologies when that labour can be handed off to someone who doesn't need to be paid. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Daly Oct 10 '19 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew Daly - Exactly, if there weren't utility to decency and morality, then in a Darwinian universe, they wouldn't exist. $\endgroup$ – Logan Oct 11 '19 at 9:23
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Just put everything underwater

No dry land, no metal, no electricity. Fits the stated criteria to a T. Unfortunately, I'd suppose the asker was imagining something more ... Earth-like, except no electricity. Ah well. In that case...

Just put everything underwater

You can have plenty of water in the environment. As long as the prevalent phase is gaseous, it counts as a terrestrial planet. I'm not talking about here and there as a result of biological processes and a nearby river. I'm not talking about "as much as you can dissolve will do". I mean "enough water that it's forming clumps in the air and barely fighting against gravity". Welcome to Garm Kohara, an entirely ordinary geographical region on an entirely ordinary terrestrial type planet orbiting an entirely ordinary yellow dwarf.

Ambient temperature tops at 50 degrees Celsius, the air is soaking wet, ocean tribes tell stories about a big glowing orb in the sky. Your survival relies on a sheltered pool of water that is the centerpiece of your humble abode. It's still a little cold since the morning.

One day, you hear a thunderous roar coming from the sky. An hour later, a group of visitors arrives at your village. Tall and slender, yet humanlike. They seem to be struggling with the heat. Most curiously, one of them appears to speak your language. "Greetings, citizens of Nahin Kahaan. We've come from Yuddh Devata and we'd like to make a trade deal". "I've never heard of Yuddh Devata; where is it?" you reply. He pulls out a glass amulet from one of his pockets, taps it several times, and smashes his amulet against the stone floor. You notice a small green and black crystal previously hidden inside the amulet. He tells something to his companions. Each pulls out their amulet, looks at it shortly and puts it back. One of the companions begins to gather the shards. The speaker turns back at you.

"I apologize for my impulsive behavior. I wished to show you a map with the position of Yuddh Devata, but that appears impossible. Our tools were not built for this hot and humid place. Do you have anything we could use to draw with?"
You try several pencils, but none of them work.
"I don't, unfortunately, but now I'm curious about a different thing if you don't mind. What was the "tool" that you've just destroyed?" Your eyes settle on a transparent bag with several shards in it. "I gather it's capable of showing you images. How does it do that?"
"Indeed that is what it does. That green rectangle that you have probably noticed, that is the tool's brain. A form of energy courses through it along thin strands of metal cut into intricate shapes inside of it."
"Thin strands of metal. My cooking pot has to be replaced every few months, and there's nothing intricate about it. How long is it since you have departed from Yuddh Devata?"
The speaker turns to his companions. After a talking a while, they become visibly nervous.
"Please accept my deepest apology, but it we have just realized that we won't be able to begin our journey back home for a few months and we have grown weary of our little ship. Do you think your neighbors would mind our stay for a while?"

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The intelligent species reigns above all life on the planet. But what about off of it?

May I present to you an age old Sci-fi trope:

The caretaker satellites

Essentially you have a satellite constellation (or a species of more advanced watchers) in orbit. These satellites are self sustaining, damn near sentient, can replenish whatever supplies they need and are armed with truly awe inspiring EMP cannons. If they detect anything approaching electrical technology: pouf. That technology briefly glows incandescent before burning out, and everyone nearby gets an almighty headache.

Variants on this include the more direct ”just drop a rock on it from orbit” tactic and the more subtle ”read people’s minds then mess with anyone who’s getting inventive” method. The former can have unintended consequences if the people below realise how to manipulate it, and the latter is (if I remember rightly) used in the Songs of a Distant Earth quartet.

Either way: probably not what you’re looking for, but a constellation of age old tech-suppressing satellites would do the trick for you.

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No you can't. You see, your "intelligent species" are bio-electronic devices. Any influence interfering with normally functioning electronics, would also prevent nerves to work (E.M.P. (ElectroMagnetic Pulses) are not safe for humans!).

If we are talking about a society that is unable to develop computers (or most electonics tech in general), but that have some XIX century style electicity - absence of rare metals required. There can be semiconductors without those metals, but it is very hard to discover them without knowing that semiconductors, or elements/compounds that can be tuned to act like semiconductors exist on this world

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  • $\begingroup$ Mushrooms and most colony organisms are not bio-electronic devices, but it is doubtfull they can form an intellegent life. $\endgroup$ – ksbes Oct 10 '19 at 13:25

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