Let's consider a multi-polar world where exchanges between the differerent poles are nearly in-existant (the other sides are considered decadant, too far away and previous interactions often escalated in military tensions, ...).

Close examples in our world would include China/Europe in the XVIth century, Russia/USA in the XXth century though the links where never closed as much as in this imaginary world.

As a result each side is at best ignorant and at worst ridiculing the little known from the other civilisation-poles.

Assuming that :

  1. the split happened after the scientific revolution on that world (Newton,...)
  2. science development was very similar to ours with government grants 'guiding' research ( which has the side effect that at first if one pole makes claim of some sort, other poles will consider this as propaganda and stop or reduce research in those topics)

Keeping in mind a few examples of serendipity at work in the field of science:

  • 1928 Flemming discovered penicilia
  • 1917 phage therapy was considered the most likely cure for bacterial infections and still actively researched in Russia.

Similarly electronics could have happened in one pole while another one would be more on the steam punk side of things...

So how long would it take for a fully trained scientist to not be able to understand the science from another pole (assuming that he/she has family roots in a small area of the world where they speak a vernacular language which remained understandable across borders?

Let's make it more specific: How long before it takes more than 10 years scientific study of the other poles science to reach the level where being able to understand a PhD thesis ? If any which parameters could make this process faster or slower?

  • $\begingroup$ other poles will consider this as propaganda and stop or reduce research in those topics not sure this holds up... E.g. in the space race the US and USSR were heavily competing and researching the the exact same directions, with each success of one side being a strong motivator for the other side to push even harder. $\endgroup$
    – fgysin
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 10:31
  • $\begingroup$ agreed in our recent modern history, but we could also consider situations similar to what lead to China's withdrawal from world exploration in the early fifteenth century (though then the causes where endogenous not exogenous) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 11:04

1 Answer 1


Sorry, but never.

First thing to stress out: scientists specialize. Most scientists only understand a field they are trained in. Just like normal people, even for a scientist, 99% of scientific papers sound like gibberish. So the idea that you take a scientist in one field and have him understand other field doesn't make sense even with unified scientific knowledge.

So, what would happen of both sides tried to understand same phenomena? Well, again, this doesn't work. Science is about patterns. And if both sides see same patterns, they will describe them as same. They might use different names and different notations, but the patterns will still be same. And scientist trained in the field will quickly recognize those patterns and build a simple translation dictionary.

There might be slight differences in details and maybe one side might have more knowledge than other, but basics are generally the same.

  • $\begingroup$ sure but back to my example: if biologist on one pole fought bacterias with antibiotics and on the other side with virii while after only a few decades this is still pretty common base developping in each other field will leave after a while a totally different understanding of bacteria behaviour but also bacteriaa will adapt differently. Same with maths some countries favor discrete maths others continuous maths. With appropriate training you know how to switch between the two but if having to re-discover those rules it could /would take a while... $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ @oberron Your examples only make sense if there is something stopping people from experiment with alternatives. At which point, it stops being real science. $\endgroup$
    – Euphoric
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 10:12
  • $\begingroup$ Correct: I'm considering that in a world of limited resources government grants are keeping the research focused in specific areas which are considered worthy of public money and those are different in the different poles of that world. Think of plate tectonics,postulated in the XVIth but was only researched 300y later. how many more fields have not been explored yet in our world. So if instead of one scientific community we had 3 how long before they became not-intelligible? Some fields may overlap but even the fields of study may be different (biology vs organic chemistry... $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ How about science which is "guided" (i.e. repressed) by different faiths or religions? Such a religion could, if powerful enough, essentially prohibit progress in one dimension, while allowing research in other fields to progress. See Christianity vs. Astronomy/Medicine (or for an even more autocratic example, the Golden Compass trilogy/movie from P. Pullman.). $\endgroup$
    – fgysin
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ @fgysin That is not sustainable. Sooner or later, someone will come around and do experiment and find out facts are different from current belief. And that someone will try to push the correct facts (eg. Darwin with evolution or Cecilia Payne with composition of stars). And if those facts are correct, people will adopt them. Belief or not. $\endgroup$
    – Euphoric
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 14:18

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