This question is about an information encoding method/system. The text below describes the types of information that need to be encoded and lists limitations existing in the world I am building. A little bit of story is provided only to explain the context and provide some ideas about the desired end-state. The use of the information encoding method/system meeting stated requirements is not limited to the included example or even to this particular setting.

The setting

The setting is a xianxia world — eastern high fantasy with gods, magic, and mythical creatures (you can read more here for general concepts). The technological level is 'generic Ancient China' with the addition of magic.


Write (v.) refers only to the way to code the information within a cultivation method manual (this does not have to be a natural language). The writing medium is out of the scope of this question. Please assume that this problem is solved.

Cultivation method manual is a record containing a set of techniques that those aspiring to become immortals (cultivators) practise. There are several types of methods:

  • Qi cultivation (methods of refining and storing Qi, akin to mana in western fantasy);
  • body cultivation (methods of refining, improving, and/or transforming one's body);
  • soul cultivation (methods of refining one's soul and increasing its power; souls exist);
  • mystical arts (magic arts, akin to spells in western fantasy);
  • martial arts (fighting styles and techniques);
  • alchemy (chiefly pill and elixir refining);
  • forging (creation of magical artefacts, this is not limited to traditional forging);
  • seals (creation of consumable talismans at the lower level and intangible seals at the highest levels)
  • formations (also known as arrays or array formations):
    1. tactical battle formations that combine the power of several cultivators;
    2. spell formations that produce effects similar to mystical arts but on a greater scale (e.g., big defensive formations used to protect various locations) or without explicit activation (formations added to weapons, clothing, etc.)

Cultivation methods may require their practitioners to:

  1. circulate Qi according to specific instructions (the human body has a network of meridians Qi flows through; different methods require different patterns of flow);
  2. use specific gestures, postures, or movements (crucial for martial and mystical arts, alchemy, and forging);
  3. use specific meditation techniques;
  4. use specific breathing techniques;
  5. focus on specific thoughts or emotions;
  6. use specified ingredients (a cultivation method may also include possible substitutes and describe effects of substitution);
  7. use specific patterns (necessary for formations);
  8. repeat something a specified number of times (action, set of actions, or method/technique);
  9. do something at a specified time or location;
  10. use different methods or variations of a method depending on conditions (conditions can be anything from time and location to the state of one's body and cultivation level).

The problem:

The Elders divined that in some indefinite future the world will face a calamity. The great hero will appear and will have a chance to save the world. Since the time cannot be determined the Elders want to make sure that the great hero can cultivate the best and most powerful techniques. Therefore, they decide to create several secret libraries.

Cultivation manuals do not deteriorate physically: Unless they are intentionally destroyed or divided all the contained information is still fully accessible. However, as time passes, with changes in languages, naming conventions, common practices, and so on manuals written in plain language become incomprehensible.

The Elders need to find a way to write manuals in such a way that a person who does not speak the language and has no teacher to guide them can still practise cultivation methods and techniques in a safe and productive manner. In other words, how to encode information related to a wide variety of subjects (including abstract concepts) so it can be comprehended by future generations even if they do not have (or have very limited) linguistic and/or cultural connections with the information encoders?

A perfect method of writing manuals:

  • allows writing down all requirements for the technique and ensure that these requirements are easy to comprehend (not following requirements is often deadly, the Elders do not want the great hero to die early);
  • works for all types of cultivation methods (the Elders do not want the hero to waste time on figuring out different systems of data encoding);
  • ensures that a manual can be deciphered and fully comprehended even if there is no one in the world who has mastery of the language/encoding system used to write down the information;
  • has a cross-reference system (or something similar).

A manual can include:

  • words, pictures (very realistic, close to photographs, full colour), symbols;
  • 3D hologram-like images (this feature becomes available after mastering low-level Qi-cultivation techniques; 3D presentation and magnification require readers to use their Qi to 'power' the feature);
  • prohibitions (a special type of seals or a formation) that restrict access to the contents of a manual if specific requirements are not met (e.g. cultivation level is too low); if prohibition requires the use of a specific technique to lift it this information should be accessible and comprehensible.

Prohibitions and hologram-like images are magic.

A manual cannot include:

  • audio, video;
  • soul fragments to guide cultivation and explain details.


  1. There is no magic art, pill, or artefact that can work as a universal translator. One needs to learn the language to be able to understand it. Cultivators can learn languages faster since their memory function improves with the cultivation level. But they are unable of comprehending dead languages just by looking at a couple of writings.

  2. Is it possible to include language learning manuals? Yes, it is. However, if you choose this approach you need to specify how language fluency is achieved. Fluency is necessary since many cultivation methods require an understanding of underlying philosophical concepts.

  3. Your answer can be as specific as you want. Details of the setting are included to provide examples of practical utilisation of the desired encoding method/system. If you are not familiar with the xianxia genre or Daoism, feel free to use your own examples. (This is not to invite speculation, but to give people an opportunity to illustrate their solutions using terminology and conventions that they are familiar with.)

  4. If you are not familiar with xianxia, a soul fragment is a fragment of soul that a high-level cultivator can leave behind. These fragments are somewhat similar to advanced AI with holographic bodies: They can talk, think, answer questions, etc. Specific abilities depend on the cultivator's level, skills, and goals. Soul fragments require Qi to exist and tend to dissipate at the most critical moment (very unreliable things).

  5. If you need additional information, details, or clarifications, please, ask in the comments.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This looks like an in world problem to be solved by characters in world (the elders who have foreseen this calamity) not a question about building your world. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jun 27 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ What does "8. repeat something a specified number of times" mean exactly? Is "something" an action / series of actions or speaking particular words/sounds? $\endgroup$ Jun 28 at 1:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If you want the answer to be some magical whatchamadoo, no one will fault you for that. If it needs to be something more realistic, then your answer will be much less speculative... it will simple be an ancient language and writing system that future generations will have to learn to read, as we have done so in the real world many times. It may require a "Rosetta stone" scenario (the inscription alongside translations in known languages, not the overpriced language learning software). $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Jun 28 at 13:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ if it can include (almost realistic) pictures, then they can create a mute video by making 30 frame (picture) per second (they can make 2 minute video tutorial with 2x60x30=360 pictures). To make sure future potential readers recognize them as video, they can create watermill-like tool to 'play' the video. $\endgroup$
    – Kristian
    Jun 28 at 15:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I've actually made (amateur) attempts at something like this. I've been trying to typeset some older martial arts works, written in an unfamiliar language. Specifically the Agni Purana, a Hindu book that touches on these. martialarts.stackexchange.com/questions/9460 Though it is obvious in hindsight, tell me how to bend your knees like "rows of water birds" if you can. Evenn now, I get the impression that westerners perceive the angle of a flock of geese to be 90deg, but that cannot be even a mediocre posture for archery. So... $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Jun 28 at 19:34

Dead Languages:

The problem with living languages is that they change. As they are living, they discuss the daily things people deal with on a regular basis. But for your spiritual practices, they are discussing forever-matters of faith and spirit and gods.

Latin offers a good example of how to have a language that doesn't change. It's dead. Only matters of great permanence are recorded in Latin, and only people who concern themselves with such things bother to learn it. The fact that all the texts in the language are already written means that the structures of the language don't change.

You must assume your masters believe that whoever the great hero is, they are someone who seeks to study these great and permanent things. They will likely assume the hero is an educated person, and what would any self-respecting educated person be studying but matters of great faith?

So have a world where all matters of spirit are recorded in a dead language that is mostly only written, and spoken only by monks and priests. Religious rituals are spoken in the language (much like the old Catholic church) and people who want to know about matters of faith study the language to read the old texts.

Everyone who wants to know the language can learn it. It doesn't go anywhere, and there are enough people who learn it around that your hero has a reasonable chance to pick it up if they want to. If you like, you could even have mastery of the language be the limiting factor for access to new knowledge (so a monk's knowledge will get them in a library, but they'd need to read instructions on the language to read advanced books).

You could, for example, have a particular religious text that is fairly common be the guidebook for the language and the concepts needed to understand the secret texts. You would need to master the early texts to understand the more advanced ones, like ANY learned skill.

  • $\begingroup$ This is not a bad idea, but it requires the language to be still in use (even if only in writing). Will this still work if there is no one left who understands this language? Also, is the assumption about the hero's background and life goals absolutely necessary? Will this approach work if the hero comes from a humble background and has no education? $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jun 27 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin I'm going on the admittedly European model for Latin, and there a devout but poor person could still hope to become a monk/nun, and there was a reasonable degree of merit/skill advancement involved once you were in a monastery. I don't have as good of a feel for the cultural opportunities of a commoner in Eastern cultures. Short of the kind of martial arts manuals where they consist entirely of diagrams/illustrations/pictographs, I'm not sure what the better alternative is. Hoping to see some clever ideas. No system lasts forever, and nothing is truly universal. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jun 28 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ A commoner would be equivalent to a peasant in Medieval Europe (reality is a bit more complicated, but for the purposes of this question this works). I agree that nothing is truly universal and your idea is close to my original thoughts. I am looking for alternatives because dead languages would force me to introduce some OP magic helper and it is a trope that I would like to avoid. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jun 28 at 4:05


You don't define what "soul fragments" refers to, but what I take it to mean is that no magic may be used to educate the reader. That being the case, what you're asking for is impossible.

Written language is nothing more than icons that have a shared meaning. Without knowing that meaning, people (using real-life humans as an example) depend on leveraging some kind of common reference. The most common example is the Rosetta Stone discovered in 1799 linking the previously indecipherable Egyptian hieroglyphics with ancient Greek, a reasonably well known dead language.

Could humanity have eventually deciphered those hieroglyphics without the Rosetta Stone? I'm sure a never-ending argument could be started with that question, but my understanding is that the answer is "probably not."

For proof I give you the Voynich Manuscript. Dating to the 1400s, the Voynich Manuscript remains indecipherable. It's been so frustrating and so resistant to decryption techniques that some think it to be a Renaissance hoax.1

But therein lies the problem that leads me to conclude what you're asking is fundamentally impossible. Decryption techniques must necessarily make assumptions about the encrypted information. Most commonly, the original language, meaning you can make assumptions about the frequency of words and the frequency of letters, or the intent of the text. But you're conveying magic...

...which means you're conveying technical jargon with little to no anticipatory usage frequencies. Worse, even with pictures, the information you're conveying even in its simplest form may (and probably does) defy interpretation — and that's assuming that the body of work doesn't require enormous background to fundamentally use.

Let's use electronics as an example

Let's assume that we translate a high school textbook for electronics into a language we guarantee will be dead and incomprehensible to another people. We'll assume those people have no knowledge of electronics before they see the book (I'm assuming your Great Hero will have no knowledge of your magic before a book is read). Could such a book be written in a way to ensure that such a people can learn what the book has to offer?

The answer is a resounding "no." Maybe... maybe... they could figure out the mathematical equations (maybe, if their number system is close enough to our decimal system), but schematics and pictures of electronic components, crystal radios, and soldering irons would be 99.9% incomprehensible. And the iconography would be nothing more than pretty pictures. They'd treat that electronics text in the same way we treat the Voynich Manuscript: as a mystery that's probably a hoax.

There are only three ways to do this:

  1. Include a complete language primer from the ground up. "A is for Cat." (See picture of small, fuzzy animal next to word.)

  2. Include a Rosetta Stone to a known dead language. This isn't as valuable as a primer because it won't be as complete, but it's enough of a jumpstart that the rest would eventually come. (To be honest, this is really the same thing as #1, it's just not as complete.)

  3. Use magic.

1It's worth noting that the Voynich Manuscript is not the only indecipherable something-or-other in the world. There are others. Not included on the list found via that link is one of my favorites, the Rapa Nui Rongorongo script. "Although some calendrical and what might prove to be genealogical information has been identified, none of these glyphs can actually be read." The Rongorongo script might actually be a better proof that what you're asking is impossible than the Voynich Manuscript.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jul 1 at 2:27

99% = language lessons, 1% = magic / martial arts

A few assumptions:

  1. The Elders know that the person receiving the information in the future is human - this is implied by the OP referring to meridians in the human body.
  2. The Elders can create some fantastically impressive colour illustration that will impress someone enough to put in the vast amounts of time required to learn the language - motivating someone to read the manual is outside the scope of this answer.
  3. The Elders have plenty of time and writing media available to produce the vast amounts of written and illustrated material required.

With that out of the way, arrange the volumes so they will naturally be read in the following order:

  • Book 1 teaches numbers first. Use one dot next to the symbol for "1", 2 dots next to the symbol for "2" and so on. Think of a child's guide to counting, but without the cuteness required in the illustrations. Progress to mathematical operations, illustrating addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, equality and anything else that will be required. (Ensure all pages in each volume are numbered sequentially and that each volume is numbered too, just to drive the numeric system home.)
  • Book 2 (possibly in several volumes) defines easily illustrated nouns - cat, table, chair, adult, child, baby. There will be a lot of these, don't skimp on them. Possibly devote one entire volume of nouns to different parts of the human body and naming the anatomy of any other species of interest (dragons, demons). However, with this and all subsequent volumes, any words that are not required for the remaining volumes can be omitted.
  • Book 3 defines verbs that can be illustrated - run, walk, dig, punch, kick. Note that while video is not technically allowed, given the possibility that 1st century China had the zoetrope it is may be feasible to provide a diagram of how to build a zoetrope and provide illustrations that are intended to be copied and viewed in this manner.
  • Book 4 would be a heavily illustrated series of volumes starting with simple sentences incorporating adjectives, adverbs and whatever other language elements are required, including syntax. Later volumes would progress to more complicated sentences.

That's the easy part out of the way. A sufficiently intelligent and motivated person can get a handle on the easily illustrated parts of the language using the above, everything from "the fat cat sat on the mat" to "534 tigers cut the demon's spleen into 11 equal pieces and placed them on a dish that they passed counter-clockwise to the head of the table".

The complicated part that books 1-4 can't cover is all the fuzzy, feeling, thinking, cultural and emotional part of the language. How did the cat feel about its obesity? Why was it sitting on the mat? What were the thoughts of tiger number 128 about having such a minor part in dissecting one demon spleen? These questions and their answers cannot be effectively and unambiguously illustrated, they rely on context. So the largest part of the "manual of magic" would need to be narratives written by the equivalent of an anal-retentive worldbuilder who is really proud of their creation and describes it in excessive detail. Terms for subjective concepts such as "pain", "loss", "justice", "calm" and "joy" are learnt by including them in context with more objectively describable events, allowing the (extremely persistent and intelligent) future reader both learn the meaning of the terms and the cultural context in which they existed. There is no point in dry narratives reciting facts, these need to be hero's journeys, romances and other emotive works.

Importantly, all of the words used in the actual martial arts and magic instruction manuals must be used repeatedly in the narrative works, so that if they are misinterpreted in one passage there are more opportunities to realise the true meaning.

Finally, after years of learning the language and reading the equivalent of Journey to the West, The Hobbit and the Twilight saga, the future reader can progress to the cool magic and mayhem stuff.

The most significant difficulties that I can see with the project are:

  1. The Elders need to fully understand how impermanent their language, culture and technology are. How many people today know what the role of a gong farmer was in the relatively recent past? What was the name of the profession that wove the wicker framework for a hay cart? Assumptions of what "everyone knows" are a significant hazard when creating the books.
  2. Time is likely to be a really hard concept to describe unless both the Elders and the eventual readers of the manual have relatively modern, accurate clocks. Defining a "day" is relatively easy, but how can the Elders say that an exercise requires you to inhale at a constant rate for 7 seconds and then exhale for 11 seconds? Or state that the correct meditative state has been achieved once your heart rate is 40 beats per minute? Given that distances can be defined by providing a reference length, a possible solution could be to provide instructions to construct a pendulum to particular specifications which would then have a known period that could be used as a reference time unit.
  3. Defining phonemes would be extremely difficult, maybe impossible. However, the OP has stated that none of the exercises require verbal recitation, so this is not a critical limitation.
  4. The person who first learns the language is going to be a wealthy scholar - they must be able to support themselves for the years it will take them to learn the language during which they are performing no other useful work. This may not be the ideal student to learn the subsequent martial arts and magic at the end of the course, although the stretching exercises will be really beneficial after years hunched over deciphering the material.

Other answers have suggested that based on historic experience this is practically impossible. I respectfully disagree - archaeologists have never found a multi-volume work that is designed to teach them a dead language. It would probably take a team of Elders a decade or so to create the language manual (plus however much time is required for the whiz-bang manual), but a sufficiently motivated and intelligent person could gain written proficiency within a year or so.

  • $\begingroup$ Zoetrope is an excellent idea. This is absolutely possible. I wonder if a sand clock can be used to measure time? Xianxia also uses joss stick burning to measure time intervals (some variations can be also used to aid in cultivation). Perhaps including recipes for them can also help with time measurements. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jun 28 at 19:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Otkin sand clocks are extremely unreliable because sand ins not uniform. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 30 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ @John If we can specify the sand type (or a library has the sand to be used) how unreliable the sand clock will be? Can it still be used to measure minutes? Sun clocks can be used for hours during the day, so it is less relevant. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jun 30 at 20:18
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Otkin specifying the sand does not help, a fist full of sand is not uniform, and becomes even less uniform as it is used, sand clocks are effected strongly by minor variances which is why they are basically useless for precision timing of anything more precise than 1 minutes giver take 3 minutes. and this becomes even more true if the sand clock has to be constructed no supplied. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 30 at 20:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ water clock have fairly good consistency assuming you have precision measurements for the hole and dimensions. Which tricky to do, but that is true for conveying any measurements without a reference. But this will be a problem for pendulums as well. pendulums are more accurate but also harder to make. honestly if you are trying to convey time just use a location and length of day on a equinox as a starting point. it will be the same for millions of years and you can fraction that out and the reading can use whatever timekeeping device is available. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jul 1 at 0:03

What you seek cannot be done within traditional "generic Ancient China" memes. It is almost universally accepted that you cannot learn martial arts from a manual. One learns these things from a teacher, and the manuals can help you build upon these teachings.

So to do what you want, we have to stretch. A lot. Probably the most important aspect will be caligraphy. Many find that something far more potent can be described with caligraphy than with symbols. Consider qi, 氣. That symbol provides very little insight. One may notice the symbol for rice, 米 , and make inferrences from there. But it really doesn't say much.

Here's the same symbol in the hands of a caligrapher: Chi

Something more fundamental is transmitted with that image. Something that might stand a chance of conveying the teachings you seek. We see similar with the Enso, which is simply a circle made with a single stroke: Enso

Now these have meaning to me, because I have trained myself to find meaning in them. I have (some of) the cultural training needed to find something in them. Your hero may not.

To resolve this, I would recommend transitioning all the way across to West. Consider neural networks. Neural networks are known as a generic function approximation. No matter now gnarly the function is, they can approximate it.

Your hero will have to rely on their own inspiration, but a class in these cultivations would form a nice framework. The immortals have a great deal of time on their hands, do they not? Develop a neural network which approximates the training of ten thousand young masters, and write that into the manual.

Failing to have such technology at one's disposal, we can at the very least step back and use the language of mathematics. Personally, I have found the language of Category Theory useful for studying the Eastern thought because so much attention is paid to the relations between things, not just the things themselves. Importantly, the language of mathematics introduces the idea of self-consistency. Most incorrect interpretations of the manuals would not be self-consistent. Teaching the hero that the true meaning of the manual is self-consistent would be a useful check.

  • $\begingroup$ The study of calligraphy is an interesting idea and consistent with the setting. Could you elaborate more on neural networks? $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jun 30 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin An elaboration might take a few dissertations =) The general pattern for neural networks is that you have some unknown f(x) -- where x is some arbitrary dimensional block of data, which produces some desirable result, such as teaching how to use qi given observing the student as a teacher might. We don't really know what f(x) is, but nerual networks can approximate it with some g(x) that's "pretty close to f(x)" They can do it for basically any f(x), no matter how gnarly. We have ways of training them by taking example inputs and outputs. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jun 30 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ So you might feed it f(a) f(b) and f(c) for three specific values, and it does its best to create a good estimate of f(x) for any x. We typically apply them in situations where we cannot seem to find a procedure to do X, but we know X can be done, and we have examples of its being done. We don't know how to teach the use of qi in general, but we have countless examples of past masters teaching it to past students. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jun 30 at 22:12

Use Pictures

Seriously, just use pictures for everything. Lots of medieval manuals about martial arts are filled with pictures. Plenty of ancient Chinese manuals are just a bunch of pictures. You can just draw every step. Assuming things like circulating Qi actually exists, you can draw how to do that.

If you must teach a language, then...

Teach a Constructed Language

Since your elders are willing to work, they must be willing to construct a language. Thus, I'm going to simply assume they've constructed a language that has a definite structure. For example, the way to make something a past tense is always add a "ed" at the end of the word.


Numbers are easy. Just draw one dot. Then label it as 1. Then continue on.

Drawable Nouns, Verbs, prepositions, and adjective

Draw a picture of an apple. Label it apple. Draw a guy running. Label it running. Draw the color purple. Label it purple. Draw something in another thing, label it "in".

Past Tense, Plurals, etc

Draw one apple. Label it apple. Draw 2, label it "2 apples". Draw 3, label it "3 apples". Do it multiple times, and they will understand when something is plural.

Past and future is slightly harder. You'd have to draw a story. For example. First, a guy has an apple. Then he picks an apple. Then he has 2 apples. You can show the progression with arrows. Then, you label each step. For the first step, you'd say "John has one apple. In the future, he will pick an apple. Then he will have 2 apples."

Sentence Structures

Write out a few sentences. Label the noun, verb, object, subject, and all those grammatical things. Now, you have the terms for grammatical things, and you can teach grammar.

Set Theory

Should be easy. Teach the terms like subset, superset, union, intersection, and complements.

Slightly more abstract words

Most abstract words are actually descriptions of a set of things, and exclude a set of things. With the previously taught set theory, and a list of drawable words, we can now describe a bunch of abstract terms. A lot of other terms are unions or intersections of other terms as well.

Rosetta Stone

In real life, the Rosetta Stone greatly aided the understanding of one language or another. You can create your own Rosetta Stone. Instead of having 2 different languages, it will instead have 1 language, and a bunch of drawings.

A Significantly More Informational Complex Way

After teaching numbers, teach the atoms with something akin to the periodic table. Next, teach the SI units of measurements. The meter can simply be drawn on the page. The second can be defined according to the oscillation of cesium-133. The kilogram can be defined by the mass of the book.

Now, for every item, you can simply describe the composition of its atoms. For every action, you can simply have a whole bunch of drawings about compositions of atoms, and the label the relative time of the drawings.

This is slightly less efficient that the previous method, but has slightly higher accuracy.


Fellow Daoist @KerrAvon2055 has suggested that time is difficult to describe. Considering how much Xianxias love their "the time it takes for an incense to burn", this poor Daoist suggests including an actual incense, and record down how long it is supposed to burn.

My fellow scientists might balk at how inaccurate that might be. An alternative is simply to define a meter by drawing it. And then defining 1 second to be the amount of time it takes for light to travel 299 792 458 m.

Fellow Daoist has also worried over the problems of recording phonemes. However, an accurate drawing of the sound waves, with proper labels of time and amplitude will solve that problem.

Fellow Scientists might balk at the idea of the ancients understanding the idea of acoustics. However, this poor Daoist would like to present the fact that this is a Xianxia world where people somehow cannot make ring-grandpas, or simply record information in the Great Dao, or simply leave a piece of spirit behind to give information. It's unscientific!

  • $\begingroup$ This little author humbly thanks Senior for sharing wisdom. Senior surely has a profound understanding of the Great Dao. I hope it would not be too presumptuous of me to ask for the Senior's suggestions on restriction usage. This author thinks that restrictions could be used to test progress and guide cultivation (especially for forging and pill refinement). Maybe Senior can suggest some other uses as well. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jul 1 at 20:29

Make future generations solve the language issue.

Bury lots of lesser caches with Rosetta stone style translations into multiple languages, simple "A is for apple, B is for Bat" style pictograms and include useful language activated artifacts along with them.

This will ensure future generations make a dedicated effort to learn this dead language so they can use the cool toys. It will also let them experiment with the basic concepts of cultivation so they can keep fresh the more simple lessons of how to do things. If you have a peasant who spent a lifetime mastering alchemy, then they'll have learned by failure and experimentation the nuances of how to teach the more intuitive lessons of alchemy, and how to interpret the artifacts.

Invent a language which is designed for basic communication.

A lot of concepts aren't needed for this. From your list, you need to communicate several things.

  1. Know body locations. This can be done by naming each body parts and meridian.

  2. Know postures and movements. This can be taught with diagrams, and labels, including holograms of internal movements.

  3. Thinking of specific things, or nothing. This can be shown with a diagram of a human and a thought bubble saying what they are thinking, and then showing them doing it.

  4. Finding particular ingredients. This can be done with carefully labelled diagrams.

  5. Finding particular locations. This can be done with labelled maps of areas.

  6. Drawing patterns. This can be done by showing the pattern for people to repeat.

  7. Doing things at particular times. This can be done with diagrams of the sun, and shadows and such.

So, they can use a simplified version of their normal language to teach each of these lessons. Hundreds of thousands of lesser caches could be planted in places to get people used to translating these things and interpreting the unusual aspects.

Slowly dole out the goodies.

That should ensure a low, but basic level of literacy and QI usage among some, which the hero can use to gain the basics quickly, and then use the more advanced techniques from the hidden special vaults.

Caches should be designed to disgorge useful artifacts and techniques slowly to any but the hero. The goal is to get them literate, not make them masters. Ideally, it should take thousands of years for them to get all the stuff, unless they are a hero.


Step 1: These skills can, in fact, be taught solely via written language.

First, your wizards have to perfect the written form of their teachings, but in a way their contemporaries can understand and put to practice without any help other than the teachings. Consider this the proof of concept. If students require assistance, then the teachings are incomplete. Think of this as the apocryphal Einstein quote: "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself."

Chances are that this step will require some iterations to get it right; most good instruction sets don't have to include all of the necessary building blocks. Expect this to take some time in revisions.

This could involve pictures and words. But if the goal is truly long-term storage, then the simpler the media requirements, the better. Holograms and 3D models are harder to build and maintain than words (which can be engraved on stone or metal tablets) which are harder than pictures (ink fades over time...). One can definitely not assume or rely on anything electronic. And I'm guessing you don't want to rely on magic as the teaching tool or the preserving method.

Step 2: Translate, translate, translate.

Once step 1 has produced a solid, working, manuscript, bring in linguists and translate it into as many living and dead languages as possible. There is no way to know which languages may survive in the medium-term, but having more copies in more languages gives you better odds that at least one of them will be translatable in the future. Think of the Rosetta Stone and similar modern-day projects.

Once translated, again, go back and test the translations. Be sure they work. All of them.

Step 3: Strong materials

Engrave your manuscripts on a variety of materials. Nickel plates, ceramics, and stone are good contenders, as they are stable and will last quite a long time without deterioration.

These engravings should include language primers for at least some of the languages used: basics that can help one self-learn the language in written form if not spoken.

Step 4: Distribute multiple sets in stable areas

Bury sets in dry caves, in salt mines; basically in areas that have an expectation of little or no geographic activity. Place them in as many places as resources will allow. Perhaps try to mark some of their locations by changing the faces of the landscape around them (building pyramids on top or around them, drawing massive symbols in the desert that point to their location, defacing a mountain to mark their location, etc.

But don't mark all of them. Because sometimes looters find these markers first.

If possible, place some -- but not all -- in places that are likely to be found only by civilizations that have reached some minimum technology/power threshold. Until flight, the Nazca Lines weren't obvious. Without powerful x-ray equipment, locating hidden spaces in or under stone monuments would be difficult. These copies will be protected from looting.

Do not place them all on any one continent. Geographic events like volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. could potentially destroy any one region, so redundancy is key here. Plus, if there are dozens of copies in dozens of places, you reduce the likelihood that a single nation will find them all and become too powerful in relation to everyone else.

The above links point to real-world examples of how this has been done in the past and how it's being done today.

  • $\begingroup$ This has some interesting ideas, however, your answer does not specify how to encode the necessary concepts. Please also do not worry about record storing and materials. It is a completely solved problem. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jun 30 at 18:09

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