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So this is very loosely inspired by a theory I have about Star Wars as a setting, but it is not something they really discuss overtly even in the Extended Universe. One of the interesting things about the setting is the fact that there really doesn't seem to be much in the way of technological progress. The only reason this could be the case for this long is if they have essentially discovered all of science. Everything from genetic engineering of behavioral traits to a theory of physics that incorporates something as unusual as hyperspace has already been done. Any technology we don't see must be a consequence of something else, like the metaphysics of The Force preventing the development of Trek style transporters and transhumanism or extreme insecurities leading to a lack of networked computers.

What is interesting here is that any scientist would be either an engineer, who is applying principles that are already well understood, or an archaeologist, digging into things from the past lost to time.

Engineering(and similar fields like medicine) is all about applying science that is already fairly well understood, with the focus on different types of tradeoffs. In the Star Wars example, one starfighter isn’t more advanced than another, it is simply a case of trading speed for survivability for cost. The Empire wants cheap and agile fighters while the Rebel Alliance wants durable ones that are useful against capital ships.

Because the setting is so old an, past technology can still be competitive with that of the present. When this is combined with the age of the setting, it means that the only field of science that really has anything new to say is archaeology, because history has so often been lost to time in this context. What is nice about this angle is that history is generally more easily understood than a real scientific field, which makes it easier to come up with alternative theories that are something other than pure technobabble. It is much easier to think about causal connections in history and how those can be altered by new discoveries than it is to think about entirely fictional physics and metaphysics.

AI/droids is also a factor here, in which they handle much of the technical work as well. We don’t really see human doctors all that much, with medical droids doing the overwhelming majority of the work. The same is likely at least partially true for engineers and archaeologists. There is probably a droid that does most of the calculations or digging.

Does this seem plausible enough as part of the basis for a new setting? How long would you need this level of development for this to be plausible?

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    $\begingroup$ You are a bit wrong: there is a technological and scientific progess in SW: from orbital fortresses to StarKiller (and this is only one example - ther are more). And they have one poorly explored field of nature: The Force. What is magic for one people is a science chalenge to others! (Think of DarkTroopers) $\endgroup$ – ksbes Nov 28 '19 at 10:27
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think there's such a thing as "discovering all science". You'd need to have mapped the entire universe and catalogued all the planets, stars, and everything that's inside. And since the universe is, in theory, infinite... That's not possible. $\endgroup$ – Roberto Nov 28 '19 at 10:32
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    $\begingroup$ Notably, they haven't made any sort of superhuman AI or molecular nanotechnology. No personal deflector shields. No lasers. No point defenses that actually provide point defense. Genetically engineered soldiers capable of shooting straight. The list goes on... $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Nov 28 '19 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ It's because Star Wars is actually a fantasy setting cleverly disguised as science fiction, and technology is fantasy is never allowed to progress far enough to change the status quo, except in the cases of extreme evil and/or extreme good. It's also worth noting that the most powerful weapons in Star Wars are the ancient Rakatta weapons. cough ancient advanced civilization is a fantasy trope cough $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Nov 29 '19 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ Another thing about science is that it seems to become increasingly harder to advance our knowledge the farther we get. Even if there is no absolute limit to what can be learned, we necessarily pick all the low-hanging fruit first. Major discovers that substantially alter daily life happen will happen less frequently the longer we're at it. Also, society might stop investing in research while anti-science culture is dominant. We're getting a little taste of that now. $\endgroup$ – Tom Jan 29 at 4:46
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This is not only possible, but it is even postulated by serious science as a reason that we haven't met other advanced civilisations yet.

The debate all comes down to a concept called the technology ceiling; just how complex is the universe and how much is there to know about it? Ultimately, if the universe is complex and has a high technology ceiling, allowing for all kinds of technologies we haven't even thought of yet then we would expect other civilisations to have found at least some of this tech by now and be visiting us by FTL, wormhole, etc.

On the other hand, if we already know a significant percentage of what there is to know about how the universe works, and there really IS no such thing as FTL, time travel, wormholes, etc. then there's nothing to learn that would bring advanced civilisations to our doorstep because we're already as close to the most advanced society that would be possible in such a universe.

We really don't know which is true yet because so far, we're still advancing our knowledge. There are some big ticket items about how the universe works that we still don't understand and that persistently elude us though, and it may be that they elude us because the answers aren't really there.

All that said - in physics there is a concept called a Grand Unified Theory. The idea is that all of the 5 fundamental forces we see in nature might one day be integrated into a single set of equations that define how they are all interrelated. If we crack that theory and we are still learning after that, then there is a good case for a high ceiling, otherwise it could spell the point at which our learning journey starts to radically slow down.

What is so important about the GUT? Well the 5 fundamental forces are now really only 4 thanks to the Maxwell Equations in 1861, which unified Electrical Force and Magnetic Force. That theory paved the way for the massive wave of advances we have seen through the entire 20th and into the early 21st centuries as engineers and technicians learned how to practically apply the theory of this unification to deliver radio, kettles, lights, computers, and much more.

Pretty much all our current technology is based on the unification of just two of these forces - what would we be capable of if we unified them all?

The answer could be that we advance on the Kardeshev Scale and have incredible power in our hands.

But, and most relevant to your question, the answer could also be 'not much'. Perhaps all the real utility in uniting the forces has already been gained from Electro-Magnetism.

So from a reality-check perspective, it is certainly possible. It is even believed by serious scientists to be the most likely possibility in terms of what science has to offer in our universe. I suspect however that we will know within the next couple of centuries whether or not it is indeed the case as the unification of weak nuclear force with electro-magnetism is already being worked on at a steady clip by research scientists across the world.

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    $\begingroup$ Good answer! As a small correction, I think the usual consensus is that electromagnetism and the weak force have been successfully unified since the 1960s. Additionally, a GUT unifies the electroweak interaction with the strong force-- a theory that unifies all 4 of the fundamental interactions is known as a theory of everything (assuming we don't discover some new interaction). $\endgroup$ – el duderino Nov 28 '19 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ Shoot, came here to say exactly that. Well said man! $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Nov 29 '19 at 7:41
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The more you know, the more you realise you don't

There is little evidence up till now that increasing rates of scientific discovery has decreased the apparent amount of knowledge yet to be discovered. In fact, the reverse is true. Over the last few centuries (or even the last few millennia) scientific answers have yielded many more questions than answers, and the rate of this disparity has actually increased recently.

Discoveries in electromagnetism has yielded theories of relativity. But this results in more questions and puzzles. Discoveries in the quantum world has many theories, yet the standard model doesn't seem satisfactorily complete, and every new theory yields yet more discoveries to find. Even astronomy has given us puzzling discoveries like dark energy and dark matter. It seems the more we know, the more we don't know.

Even in the world of Star Wars - it is unreasonable to conclude that all of physics or all scientific discoveries have been discovered. What about:

  • how hyperdrives destroy causality - what effects on time does this have?
  • if you could travel in an instant incredible distances, what about leaping to nearby galaxies, or even finding the edge of the universe?
  • if you could travel faster than light at all, is it possible to know about how the universe began?
  • artificial gravity abounds in Star Wars, what implications does this have for general relativity? What of space-time curvature?
  • what possible cause is there to have creatures that look remarkably similar to humans? Even Jabba the Hutt has 2 eyes, a nose and a mouth that looks Earth-like. What reason could there be where this evolutionary pathway had arisen on alien planets?
  • there are likely many more thousands of questions to ask. Feel free to think of your own!

The only, and unfortunately bleak, real reason where Star Wars technology and science appears old is because the culture and society within the galaxy is stagnating. People are no longer asking questions.

However, I do not think that this is possible, as all people, in all societies, need to have this malaise, and the likelihood of this is so very small.

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    $\begingroup$ - Oh I can think of a few more: What if the Millennium Falcon hyperdrives out of a black hole? Does this mean there is no 'event horizon'? How does the giant space worm evolve? How come it lives in an asteroid? What kind of life creates the Force? How is it possible to move objects using the Force? As Yoda says 'Size matters not', can you move a planet with the Force? What are the limitations of the Force, or are there none? How can the Force communicate across star systems, faster than light. Oh my - so many questions... $\endgroup$ – flox Nov 28 '19 at 16:01
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No, I don't think what you describe is people who have discovered all of science

It honestly sounds like they are lazy and unmotivated, since they haven't reached far enough.

Now, one could argue that "all of science" is an impossible goal. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't - I'm not going to make either way here. However, I want to describe my vision of people who are on their way to discovering all of it.

They have mastered the manipulation of materials. They can rearrange atoms to make anything they want. They have mastered knowing their own mind, which I suppose will roughly translate to "psychology". They have build machines or other beings to also do thinking for them. Computers both electronic and biological. These could work on a scale we've never imagined - perhaps a Dyson sphere powers one of these. They've also mastered biology and can create new beings or reshape existing ones. In short, they can understand, manipulate and exploit most aspects of the universe they inhabit. Let's assume time travel is not possible, otherwise things will start to get messy.

These beings have learned enough about their universe. They still need to know and discover more. So, they start making new universes. They have the knowledge, they have the means, they can lay down only some of the scientific laws they know, to observe how that will change everything. These universes could be like pocket dimensions, or some parallel one, or maybe even a very advanced simulation running on an unimaginable computer. Whatever the case, the advanced beings make and observe them. They can seed it with life, they can change how they work, they can destroy and recreate these universes at will. All in pursuit of attaining more knowledge, to understand more of science. They still haven't reached that final bit.

So, while in pursuit of all of science, these beings are already gods. The gods of universes of their own creation. They can also significantly influence their own universe.

What happens beyond that? They should become something even greater. They should, as they would be attaining even more understanding of everything, and through understanding the ability to control and manipulate it.

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Theoretically doable, as one day civilisation should reach brutal physical limits, not necessary achieving everything but achieving level where research projects no longer have any practical applications

Caveats:

  • A transhuman with a brain size below 1.5 kg, would not be a match for an AI running on a server farm. Even if AI is unable to enter technological singularity, it is still able to outperform humans.

  • Archaeology? Forgotten technologies?? Did people in your setting forget how to make back ups??? ;)

  • If one can not outcompete their rivals technologically, he should try to do it through better organisation. That's the only edge remaining (except of course brute numerical force). Possibly the most effective solution would be some bland authoritarian technocracy.

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