I'm working on modeling how a civilization can progress from some known state making conscious choices about the fields in which to apply its resources. Is there some good / theoretically sound / well-known nomenclature for various branches of science & technology as well as other areas of life to somehow classify all possible choices?

We know how in many computer games you can decide to "research pottery" after which you gain a pre-defined list of improvements and access to further (also known in advance) techs in the research tree. Not so IRL where you don't know what you'd get eventually (and even less so, what you'd get first) if you start spending 80% of your GDP on agricultural research centers. And it may even occur that while you are spending enormous researchers on agriculture a break-through comes in some other field, like nuclear physics. Simply because some genius was enthusiastic enough about that field to work their despite the lack of support. And I'm not even starting on commercialization and inter-relationships between government vs private funded research.

Still, it should be possible for a civilization or some group within to decide "Let's focus our efforts on XXX", and spend it's resources on that in various forms (grants, time, social pressure, access to rare capabilities/equipment/research, competitions, etc) to increase the probabilities of the progress in the chosen area.

Ideally, I'm looking for a universal classification system that includes not only the things, which are traditionally included in science & tech (physics, chemistry, biology, health sciences, ... ; transportation, energy, ...), but also other aspects of life. They may decide "Let's focus on improving education methods", "reducing crime", "optimizing our financial system", "improving ethics/morale", "working on nurturing stoutness and courage in each individual".

But I realize that such universal system is unlikely to exist. So, I'd appreciate pointers to the systems that cover some large facets of our life.

A separate question is how to measure rough order of the magnitude for the progress in a given area. For natural sciences and technologies one good approach is thinking in the terms of various measurement units. Did they reach the stage when they understand the processes and can operate at nano/pico/femto (or otherwise, at light-years or galaxy-size scale) in various disciplines. Or, the same thing for energy units - the famous Kardashev scale. But what about other areas, like social sciences and aspects of life. To some extent linear/energy scale approach is applicable there (ability to operate at nano-level may affect our educational process or crime prevention). But I feel like I measure everything through "physics", missing out on other important factors.

  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like you are a fan of the civilization series. Are you looking for a system that accounts from today and going into the future, or are you looking for something since the dawn of time? $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Nov 14, 2014 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ I'd say I'm a moderate fan of Civ series :) I'm mostly looking for a system that goes from the current level into the future, though I expect it should also be applicable to the last 2000+ years of the past development as well, if we talk about mankind. But it shouldn't necessarily describe the cavemen period. $\endgroup$
    – moonfly
    Nov 14, 2014 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ This is a difficult one as it's really hard to reconcile a simplistic game system with real life, particularly when guessing at future technological development...attempts like this made in 1950 ended up with the (now stupidly funny) retro-futurism of the Jetsons where I should be taking a jetpack to work by the year 2000. Ever see the Masters Of Orion series? In particular, the second one had a decently thought out futuristic tech line that you may find a bit interesting, though still far fetched. Is posting an answer as there is no answer acceptable? $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Nov 14, 2014 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, @Twelfth. Yep, I remember MOO, will look again. I'm still looking forward to what the community might suggest re: a good system. May be somebody knows something. We'll see. $\endgroup$
    – moonfly
    Nov 14, 2014 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ Remember there are some 'game changer' technologies out there...3-d printing and the eventual development of replication for example (information to replicate becomes more valuable than the material you are replicating is). This becomes the basis on decentralized manufacturing (it's done on-demand at the location it's needed) and will impact almost all area's of society (assuming it's the least bit feasible) $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Nov 17, 2014 at 17:22

3 Answers 3


In short - yes, there are.

For the development of individual and sociocultural consciousness, there are several good resources.

  • Jean Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development is an established theory of individual development from birth to early adolescence.
  • Jean Gebser's seminal work The Ever-Present Origin is a resource I find myself coming back to again and again. His model of the development of collective consciousness is one of the most insightful works on societal evolution.
  • Don Beck and Chris Cowan presented an alternate take on this idea with Spiral Dynamics.
  • Ken Wilber's synthesis of Piaget's stages (individual) with Gebser's structures of consciousness (collective) can be seen in his Four Quadrants model of development. Wilber's works are a great inspiration in my worldbuilding; I highly recommend Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, wherein he delves more deeply into the evolution of matter to life to mind.

For the development of industry and technology, the standard model (Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Industrial Revolution, Information Age) is very useful. The Kardashev Scale defines a civilization's technological level in terms of energy use, and is more applicable to future earth or science fiction scenarios.


Think of it like a government would think of it.

For instance, a government might budget money at a high level towards these categories of things:

  • Energy (solar, nuclear, fusion, etc)
  • Agriculture (food production methods)
  • Economics (economic theories and models)
  • Industry (new production methods, industrial models, development of new industries)
  • Military (research on new weapons and defensive technology)
  • Medicine (new medical technologies, cybernetics, genetics, biology)
  • Sciences (astronomy, physics, etc)

Over the course of history, new categories might emerge and old ones disappear. FTL tech might be its own area of investment once it is invented, for example. Sciences might spit off and merge as they become more prominent. (Once interstellar space flight emerges, astronomy will be very important.)

There is no metric for measuring these at present, and I don't think there needs to be. As a government, you invest in broad areas of technological development and your only way to gauge your progress is by looking at other nations. On top of that, other nations might get more effectiveness out of their research spending than you, making money spent a poor metric.

Perhaps over time, emergent technologies might crop up and be special targets for funding.

As another reference, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri uses these simple categories:

  • Build
  • Discover
  • Explore
  • Conquer

Some scifi authors have used units of solar-output as energy measurements. (eg "The Last Question")

You might look into RPG gaming resources. There's tech levels in GURPS and in TORG, amongst others, which measure 'advancement'.

But some of your things don't have benchmarks, as such, that can be readily looked it. Education is one. You can measure literacy (mostly. kinda.), but innumeracy and scientific training is a lot harder to quantify. Skepticism, creativity, ability to measure accurately, information transfer (what's been discovered, what's inter-related, etc) - are so much harder to judge - much less quantify. And it interacts with other things, socio-economic levels and social status indicators, etc.

We can't even measure crime in the US. We can't even keep track of how many people some of our agencies kill. If you don't have numbers, you can't even begin to get a grip on if you're improving or not.

Financial stuff? Uhh, 2008 anyone? We can't even agree if it's a recession or a depression. Or why we have stagflation, inflation, or deflation.

Ethics? Don't make me laugh. We haven't even come up with good definitions, much less how to 'work' on it. Much less figure out if some system is good / better than others.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .