So, I have two human civilizations on different planets. They both start from the stone age. (How the humans got there is not particularly relevant.) It is worth noting that most of the biosphere on these planets is similar to that seen on earth; they have the same domesticatable animals, most of the same predators, e.t.c.

Planet A has developed a level of technical sophistication similar to that seen in 1700's Europe. Rifles are the primary weapons, They have steam engines (and possibly very early locomotives? I'm still unsure on this), And large, sophisticated sailing ships like galleons and caravels. The civilization on planet A has moderately advanced metallurgy, and is able to consistently produce high quality steel; said steel remains fairly expensive, though. All of this said, their medical knowledge is very poor. Plagues abound, Miasma theory of disease is the leading understanding, and a fever often spells death.

Contrast this with Planet B. Planet B is still using swords and crossbows, and any sort of metal is quite valuable. However, they fully understand germ theory, know the difference between bacteria and viruses, and have developed vaccines, alongside a robust understanding of human anatomy. Part of the reason for this is that a small portion of Planet B's population are magic users, who may be able to sense the aura of bacteria or some similar nonsense. Healing mages must also have a good sense of human anatomy to heal injuries, as a poorly applied magic healing can cause cancer due to magically induced cell division. (As a result, Planet B also has at least a basic understanding of cancer treatment.) They have also developed microscopes, and by extension, relatively advanced glasswork and optics.

Both planets have developed agricultural tech, but in different ways; Planet B uses magic to bolster crop yields and allow fallow fields to recover more quickly, while Planet A has developed an industry to collect guano for use as fertilizer.

MY question is: how plausible are these two civilizations (putting aside the plausibility of magic)? Does the technological advancement of Planet A necessitate a higher understanding of medicine? Does the advanced medical knowledge of planet B automatically give cause for a greater level of technological development? Are there any obvious consequences of the technological and magical development that I haven't thought of?

what conditions would cause Planet A's understanding of medical science to stagnate, even as technological advancement continues as normal? Would Planet B's advanced medical science necessarily result in a rapid expansion of technological development?

Edit: It is important to note, of course, that not all of each planet has access to the same technical or magical knowledge. I am referring to the most advanced civilization on each respective planet.

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    $\begingroup$ How advanced are you intending the microscopes to be? We had 300x Microscopes in the 1670's on earth. Miasma Theory of Disease didn't fall out of fashion till the 1850's in some areas on earth. Depending on how high quality your steel is, it might not require that much technological development. In a world where metal is expensive, swords may not be used as a weapon due to not being cost effective and armor could be different as well. $\endgroup$ Mar 1, 2021 at 5:51
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    $\begingroup$ You should probably add the magic tag. $\endgroup$
    – NomadMaker
    Mar 1, 2021 at 10:33

5 Answers 5


Does the technological advancement of Planet A necessitate a higher understanding of medicine?

Not necessarily. Even today we have people denying germ theory, or the efficacy of vaccination, or even the existence of viruses. Some of these people are quite influential.

Semmelweis was born only a little over 200 years ago in our world, and his work was ridiculed during his life... a gentleman's hands carrying disease? Preposterous! And that's more than a hundred years after bacteria were discovered, following the development of the earliest microscopes!

A technology level of the 1700s seems entirely compatible with your suggested medical understanding... after all, it isn't that far away from real-world medical understanding in that era!

Does the advanced medical knowledge of planet B automatically give cause for a greater level of technological development?

Almost certainly.

Discovering bacteria (and by extension, small eukaryotic organisms too... protist-type things) needs basic microscopy. There are vague references to ancient Assyrian and Chinese lenses being used to "visualise the unseen", which seems plausible enough for your needs. Lenses can be ground from natural crystals, or maybe containers of water could be used, etc.

Discovering viruses on the other hand, is much harder. You need to be well aware of bacteria, and have the means to neatly filter them out of a fluid, for example, and even then you need to think fairly hard about the problem to distinguish viruses from toxins. That's a level of advanced manufacturing and understanding of science that is very hard to square with only having crossbows, for example. Remember that even in the absense of metal, one can make rockets!

Do note though that knowledge of bacteria and viruses is a) not needed for germ theory and b) not needed for hygiene, sterilisation, etc. Hell, even vaccination... there's evidence that innoculation against smallpox was practised in China even as far back as the 15th century, long before the causative agent would have been identified.

Similarly, some treatments for cancer could exist even without understanding the nature of cancer. Obviously, magical handwavery could explain some of this, but it isn't obviously necessary.

As for why medical understanding improved in one society and not another... who can say? Much can come about just by luck. Look at the interesting discoveries that Leonardo da Vinci made that were lost until now, such as the discovery of atherosclerosis. Imagine some ancient emperor, unimpressed by the work of mystics on an elixir for life, turned their attention towards the causes of death and illness with the intent to prolong their own life? The Greeks evidently had some ideas about germs, and it isn't beyond the realms of possibility that those sort of investigations were actively encouraged and flourished.


I have a simple yet powerful answer for you: Religion.

When your civilisations... develop? Are introduced? To each of the planets, it seems fairly reasonable that they would develop some form of proto-religion based on whatever superstitions were popular among them. That would then develop into a fully fledged religion with deities, creation myths and doctrines.

If your Planet B contains some magic users, it would be reasonable for these magic users to become integrated in their religion, as beings blessed by the gods or something similar. You haven't described their powers in much detail but if they can strengthen structures such as houses and ward villages against predators, a great deal of traditions and rites would emerge around these practices. As we can see from our societies, it takes a lot for people to go against a religion that they have known since birth, and I expect it would take even more to go against a religion that has living, breathing "demigods" walking around performing miracles on a daily basis.

One flaw that your magic users could have would be in dealing with life: perhaps the first healings spells to emerge can relieve symptoms, but not cure the underlying infection, and healing a wound requires a precise measurement of how much to heal it, otherwise the wounded just dies of cancer a year later. These pitfalls would cause the priest-doctors to investigate further how diseases function, and discover cells and microbes and a great deal about how all this stuff works. They wouldn't be able to reach our modern understanding of medicine, but they could certainly go far beyond what was the norm in the middle ages. Whether they research this through arcane or mundane methods is up to you, I could see a mix of both being plausible.

On the other hand, the technology level on Planet A seems fairly concurrent with what we saw happen on earth. A religion forms around whatever superstitions the locals believe in, but there's no demigods to reinforce it so it develops as the ones we know. People who don't have access to magic would need to research solid construction materials to build houses that can withstand storms, and weapons to ward off wild predators. Eventually, people would realise that maybe these priests don't really know everything about our world, and so it fades into the background. A few key discoveries of steam engines, gunpowder and carbon steel would lead this society to the tech level you describe, and it's entirely plausible that miasma theory would still be the most prevalent, especially if respiratory infections are common. Perhaps the few dregs of religion that still remain mainly deal with life and death, seeing as they are some of the more difficult mysteries to solve, so medicine stagnates at the prayer level for a long time.


All disease and no war makes B a dull world:

There are a number of directions you can take this, but I would say that there are two ways that fit best. Either the magic or technology they do have inhibits the need to advance in other ways, or they have conditions on their world that mitigate the need for such technologies/magics.

On A, for example, there may be a food that treats many ailments, and it's routinely eaten, so people are healthier without trying. There may be fewer infectious viruses and bacteria to start, so the need to understand them is lessened. Or perhaps the spread of diseases by conquerors wipes out local populations, and the elites know this well enough to avoid inconvenient truths about stopping the plagues that wipe out rivals. Conflict & conquest, the evil drivers of technology, continue to push for the development of resources, weapons, and the expansion of industry. Believe it or not, people fight over guano as a natural resource, and the winners eat better. If there is magic on A, it was suppressed early on, and the teachings of mages (like germ theory, etc.) are viewed as offensive or blasphemous.

B, on the other hand, inherited more magicians and more diseases. The need for magic to assess illness meant mages could teach their observations/theories. People's lives literally depended on listening to the mages. The primary drivers of survival were fighting diseases. People who were non-compliant threatened others, and a wizard-based government imposed discipline to deal with it (think COVID, for example). Only the wizards have no incentive to build mines (Do you want commoners to have weapons with which to rebel?) and the wizards already are chummy with each other, so why have wars? Despite the ever-present threat of diseases, B society is peaceful, productive, and has not driving force to actually make much technological progress. Mages are the main resource, since they prevent disease, help the crops grow, and generally make the need for industry redundant.

So A is a fractured, competitive society competing for resources globally but not needing to worry too much about diseases that have never been a problem. B is unified, complaisant, somewhat autocratic/bureaucratic, yet vigilant against the threat of new plagues (even if they actually eliminated all the real threats long ago).

If these two societies came into contact, it would be somewhat like the meeting of the Europeans and the Chinese. Only in this scenario, society A will spread diseases B will be prepared for, whereas B will be careful and less likely to accidentally spread disease despite their society traditionally having more diseases to fight. A will be more likely to try and dominate/exploit, and B will be slow to adopt changes while benefiting the most once they actually DO decide to change.


Probably an awfull joke about C U R E N T E V E N T

Well, the A civilisation i don't have too much to say on the medical part. you can have a piss poor understanding of medecine and still be a functioning civilisation.Sure it might suck that grandpa dyed at 50, you lost 4 of your 6 brother before they where ten and that you wife didn't make it trough her last encounter with a rusty nail, but life goes on.

beside, if you stay on 1700 tech, they didn't have any idea of the germ theorie. it was only really considered & demonstrated around our 1850. and even then it took much longer before it was widly accepted and even longer before we could actually fight it with medecine, it's only around the start of the 20th century that it started to come all together.

You could say that until then the medical knowledge was nigh non existent, surgery being the only field that ever somewhat improved, as cutting bits and sewing other can work well even without knowledge of anything germ related

Steamy hot take

What i have issue with them is linked o their knowledge of the steam engine. it mean everything and nothing at the same time. if we are pedantic, the first steam engine is BC, some were seen as novelty item in the 1600 in china, but the more modern iteration used were only realy picking up steam in the late 1700 but they didn't become popular immediatly, as to make use of them on any scale required some real transfromation of the workplace and new highly precise manufacturing methods, and the factory system which used since the begining of the century water mills to power entire building with mechanical energie.

If you want steam engine (or god forbid locomotive) you need to have an already quite well mechanised society with all of what that entail, but you do you.

Magic isn't magic

Now let's go onto B. them being medically well versed well before technologie could pick up the pace is fine. but if they are still in a medieval society you need to remenber that everything is artisanal and not manufactured. so it is verry unlikely that miscroscope could be created at a decent enough pace. tool maker were highly tought after and required tremondous level of skill, and optic where a particularly difficult field. it took around the 1600 to sight the first bacteria if i remenber well.

So i think you would be better off forgetting the optical tidbit, but highly encouraging learning anatomy trough dissection and using spells on sampl to identifi problems


You answered your own question, one world has widespread magic the other does not.

Your description of World A is a decent description of the real life Europe in the early 1800's. Germ theory was not accepted until the 1850's. I would recommend reading up on John Snow and the broad street pump.

We don't have great knowledge about how magic will effect technological development, That is up to how you design your magic system. But if magic is common enough it could easily retard technological development depending on how you use it. If magic can cure disease without having to understand the disease it will likely retard medical advancement as well. If Healing magic requires medical knowledge or is based on how you think the body works it could easily stimulate medical advancement by providing a quick way to test medical ideas.

Be careful to keep your magic consistent.

So your magic system could easily advance medical knowledge, but you have to ask yourself is magical healing requires (or is greatly aided by) detailed biological knowledge why doesn't any other magic behave the same way. To put it another way, does someone who understand thermodynamics or the chemistry of combustions make better fire magic? If so then they would as increase scientific advancement across the board. If it doesn't then you need a to consider why they behave so differently.


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