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If an advanced being or group wanted to limit a human society's technological development, they might establish a series of cultural taboos or religious guidelines to influence the societies development.

Assume that the creators of these guidelines are not going to be around to enforce them after they are established. Some religious group may be there to enforce the rules, but they should not have any greater technological knowledge than the general population.

The society should be maintained at a near medieval agrarian level, no gunpowder no steam engines, or complex machinery. Aristotelian like philosophies of ideas or pure mathematics are okay, but experimental science that leads to new technologies should be severely limited.

How do you outlaw technological development, without being too specific in your commandments? You can't just say 'thou shalt not use steam for power', or don't make explosive powders, without giving clues to intelligent heretics to the secret of possible technologies.

There don't necessarily have to be ten commandments, but I think a small number of simple rules would be more likely to survive intact for a long period of time.

So what should the commandments be?

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    $\begingroup$ That was done by those in charge in the very early part of this book. ​ (Dissenters buried an android set to activate 750 years later, and the rest of that book and series is about the android breaking the stasis.) ​ ​ ​ ​ $\endgroup$ – user3576 Jul 10 '16 at 5:38
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    $\begingroup$ I think you have a problem here. The actual biblical Ten Commandments say "thou shalt not murder", yet most of our fundamental technological advances through time have come from human-on-human violence. You don't need a new set of Commandments; you need to find a way to make people stick to the ones you've already got. $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races with Monica Jul 10 '16 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a man's mind." - Orange Catholic Bible =) $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 10 '16 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ It probably won't work. How can you maintain a global empire without technology? Even if one isolated nation doesn't follow your religion (either because it doesn't reach them, or because they become heretics), they will have an advantage, and will out-compete your civilization. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jul 10 '16 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ @FedericoPoloni That makes no sense. There are almost no ways the bible had limited technological development, at least without being twisted or construed. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Jul 11 '16 at 4:54

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Thou shalt live as thy parents lived, and work as thy parents worked.

That would pretty much stop everything, if people stick to it. Some allowances would have to be made for people to step into needed roles here and there, though. But it'd keep society generally static, since all positions of power - not just monarchy/chiefdom - would be inherited by default (which could be an incentive for whomever first introduced the "law").

It does however requires a very stable population and climate. But that condition can also work the other way: Stability can preclude the need for societal change. You're supposing someone has to make sure it doesn't change, but around the world there are still peoples/tribes who live much like their ancestors did a thousand or more years ago, simply because they've had no urgent need to do anything else. Nobody sat down and agreed to hit pause on the whole thing.

But such cultures are few and far between now due to the encroachment of other cultures. So your society would have to avoid contact with the rest of the world, if it's to remain static. That should probably be a commandment too, somehow. Not that contact by itself would necessarily bring about the end of the society (infectious diseases notwithstanding), but if those other cultures show up to fight, it's a different matter. Superior weapons technology - which seems to be something you're alluding too with all the talk of gunpowder - sadly spreads faster than most any other technology. E.g. you'll all too easily find AK-47s in places without basic sanitation.

And since your society is in a place with plentiful resources, someone will likely show up to grab it. So provided your society isn't immediately wiped out by an external aggressor, and provided they even try defending themselves, they'll soon have to get a bit more creative than usual.

Point is: It'll be difficult to enforce a static society, unless the conditions are such that you don't need to enforce it.

But some do try. For real-world inspiration, look to the Amish. They shun modern technology (some groups more than others), though they're staying ahead of medieval times*. Or look at religious institutions with monks or similarly dedicated adherents; they often eschew technology in their own lives. For the most radical approach, there are the few muslim extremist that advocate returning (by force) to the time of the Prophet - which would in fact be the middle ages.

But with some regressive religious notions, it's not that the religious texts or their (earthly) authors necessarily meant to freeze society. Sometimes it's just that they laid out how a contemporary society should work - contemporary to themselves, that is. And the way they did it didn't (couldn't) account for hundreds or thousands of years of change. Imagine if current-day building codes became inviolable holy text: A thousand years from now, it'd force believers to build houses like ours, despite the advent of sentient nanoswarm construction and the fact that most humans live in nutrient-filled orbital tubes or something.

Speaking of space, you can watch Star Trek: Insurrection, which features a society very much like what you're talking about. Spoiler:

They're actually very advanced, but actively choose "the simple life".

It's not a great movie, though.


*) As pointed out by Michael Hampton in the comments, this is a too-simplistic a description. The Amish do not summarily reject modern technology, they simply prioritize it differently and are much more cautious and deliberate in adopting it.

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    $\begingroup$ While this would slow technological progress down, it wouldn't stop it. Inevitably there would be some non-adherents making progress, and their discoveries would filter into the population of the adherents, at which point it would become acceptable for the next generation. The Amish retain their position because they have an established baseline technological level that they avoid advancing beyond. This suggestion is more like ultra-Orthodox Jewish mentality - they tend to lag behind a few years as new technology is assimilated into the accepted lifestyle, but don't really maintain stasis. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Jul 10 '16 at 8:52
  • $\begingroup$ @IndigoFenix It'd depend on how dogmatic the society is. You say the commandment is "a suggestion", but that's your interpretation. Maybe this society sees it as absolutely inviolable law. If it does, it'll work. If not, well, then it won't work, but that goes for any law, religious or otherwise. The Amish might adopt modern farming tomorrow, or ultra-Orthodox Jews might call full stop on all technological progress; that's up to them. And besides, I spend much of my answer talking specifically about how the society would have to avoid other cultures (i.e. non-adherents) to stay "pure". $\endgroup$ – Flambino Jul 10 '16 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ By "suggestion" I meant the answer itself. Even if people adhered to the law absolutely, it leaves too many open ends - since it doesn't define any absolute boundaries, it permits technology to evolve slowly with each generation, provided it does so gradually enough that each generation can consider itself within acceptable parameters of 'living as your parents lived'. I could see this as being one of the 'Ten Commandments', perhaps even the first (the principle that encompasses the whole), but it needs to be augmented with well-defined boundaries to halt technological progress. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Jul 10 '16 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ It's a bit too simplistic to say that the Amish "shun modern technology". They are well aware of modern technology. It would be better to say that they very carefully consider it before adopting or rejecting it. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hampton Jul 10 '16 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ Except...what if your parents lived and worked as scientists and inventors who diligently pressed each new invention into service for themselves? One could rapidly develop and adopt new technologies in that case. It could even lead to exponential technological growth if/when they reach the point of being able to invent robots capable of doing science and inventing things. I think you need at least one extra commandment, which rules out scientist/inventor/visionary/similar disruptive options as valid career paths. $\endgroup$ – aroth Jul 11 '16 at 3:57
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I don't even need ten.

  1. Though shalt not mix metals.

First of all, there's a historical president for this kind of commandment (Deuteronomy 22:11).

More importantly, it becomes very difficult to make things like steam engines when you don't have alloys to work with. Admittedly, this will be lower-tech than you might want (iron armor/weapons only). While this might seem like it's giving away too much (heretics start mixing metals), this is the kind of thing people would otherwise do all the time on their own, so limiting it in any organized way would severely hamper development. It's also something that's very difficult to hide, since the result of mixed metals is typically readily apparent. Also, mixing two types of metals you can melt is easy; making a proper alloy that's useful is not. In particular, some alloys require very high temperatures to make properly, which can only be made with certain tools that are made with, you guessed it, other alloys.

If you want something a little more abstract:

  1. Thou shalt not form organized educational institutions.

Really, it all goes back to that famous quote, "If we have seen farther, it is only because we have stood on the shoulders of giants." If no one learns about those giants, it's hard to ever see any farther. In this kind of world, most people probably wouldn't even learn to read, let alone get the foundation in metallurgy, chemistry, math, and physics required to make something like a non-exploding boiler. And those that learn master-to-apprentice style still probably won't know how to write, so nothing will go beyond their own tiny bubble, and eventually those in the know will die.

This one is particularly insidious when you realize that most organized educational institutions (in Western history, anyway) grew out of the church. (Why should everyone be literate? Because then they can read the Bible.) What would happen if the church stamped out schools instead?

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    $\begingroup$ If you're just at the level of heating up some rocks to make some shiny bendy stuff, defining what's just one metal might be a bit tricky. Bronze being one of the first alloys that may have been accidental. Maybe "accidental" is OK though, limited results ensue. $\endgroup$ – Nick T Jul 10 '16 at 3:26
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    $\begingroup$ @NickT then let's go for something even more drastic: thou shalt not heat rocks. If they become shiny, you have sinned and you must repent by discarding the results into a flowing water ASAP, lest you will get killed by the clergy. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Jul 10 '16 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ Would the don't mix metals, just give people the idea to do it? People naturally want to see what will happen when they are told not to do something. $\endgroup$ – Eric Johnson Jul 10 '16 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @EricJohnson That isn't so much a criticism of Azuron's answer as it is a potential flaw in the question. Any commandment is open to violation by the curious; there's nothing special about mixing metals in this regard. Also, even if a few devious souls did go about flouting divine authority, as long as it was still taboo behavior and they couldn't bring their work back to the village, no real technological progress would occur. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Jul 11 '16 at 0:00
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    $\begingroup$ Telling them not to mix metals is all well and good until the neighbouring tribe invent bronze or steel and wipe them out. Though come to think of it, that probably applies to any answer to this question. $\endgroup$ – Simba Jul 11 '16 at 8:26
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One only needs to look to the Prometheus Myth that stole (or retook) fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to men which enabled progress of civilization. Limiting the use of heat and fire only for cooking and warmth would effectively prevent humans to melt metals, build any sort of heat engines, produce explosions and so on. It would be pre-medieval civilization, similar to native American prior to guest arrivals, but from the enforcement standpoint easier to maintain in a religious context. Fire does occur naturally with lightnings and other conditions causing forest fires, ignitions from lava etc. which could easily be (and was) attributed to deities (or their quarrels).

In our commandment-rich history the ones that prohibit certain behaviour were the ones most easily broken. Perhaps a commandment based on compassion towards the creators would have more success in being durable and enforceable?

Assuming that people love their gods (or at least have affection or show gratitude for them) they would generally feel bad about acting in a way that hurts them. I am drawing a parallel to the success of the Christianity because of the relationship to and apparent sympathy and guilt for the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

If using heat and making fire is hurting the gods those actions would be minimized to survival purposes only i.e. food and warmth, effectivelly limiting technological progress. Many other areas and sciences such as herbalism, all sorts of handwork and artwork, music, philosophy, maths, logic, education and others would still prosper without limitations. People that do not feel the need for well-being of the gods (and probably other people too) i.e. socio- and psychopaths would likely be ousted by the majority (even without condemnation from the clergy), keeping things in check a bit longer.

So my suggestion for a single commandment would be something like this:

Thou shall use heat and fire for food and warmth only for it is the blood and the life of the Gods.

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1. Written records are extremely holy, reserved for the holy texts alone
Learning to read is restricted to scholars of the holy texts, and is seen as blasphemy if used for other uses. This will heavily gimp any attempts to conduct experiments or gather research. Libraries are straight out. Oral recitation/memorization is the only way to pass information along.

Note that this will hamper pretty much all forms of research, not just mechanical technology. Think legal, civic, philosophical, pretty much every area of possible human knowledge will be limited to that which can be learned and remembered in a human lifespan. Apprenticeships will become the pinnacle of human education, and mastering skills beyond a single craft-related area is going to be quite uncommon.

Comments pointed out that it also has the neat effect of restricting accounting/trade to basically what you can count in your head and remember, which means that capitalism (and thus corporations that might invest in research) also never happens.

2. To question the natural order is blasphemy
Asking questions about the world around you is a sure sign of heresy, and punishable by death. Essentially, forbid attempts to experiment with or alter things in general. This could be enforced by a general culture that frowns on any sort of curiosity, and quickly punishes people who change or question established norms. Fear of the unknown, the opposite of scientific curiosity that leads to discovery, would come to dominate people's thinking and curtail technological advances.

3. Strive always to match the labors of thy father/mother
Rather than forbidding people from seeking new experiences, promote the continual pursuit of some ancestral standard of excellence (in a twisted sort of Greco-Roman ideal). Perhaps this is the path to salvation, to continually strive towards the simple and fulfilling life that was practiced for generations before you.

The idea here is to have commandments which do not explicitly forbid the things that they are trying to prevent (i.e. scientific experimentation) but instead to shape a general culture that is unwilling to try new things or to step too far away from the familiar comforts of the lifestyle of their parents.

If something is specifically forbidden, it is basically an invitation for heretics to engage in that behavior, which could almost have the opposite of the desired effect (i.e. mixing metals, forming educational institutions might give them those ideas immediately). Whereas, if the behaviors forbidden don't really seem that enticing (who wants to have to sit in class and learn to write? You don't want to be a priest do you?) or the behaviors are discouraged in an indirect manner, this system will have much greater overall longevity.

Look to the world of Dune for some inspiration on how despite a ban on mechanical computation devices, or AI of any kind, spacefaring society still managed to make certain developments and work around imposed religious limitations.

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    $\begingroup$ Writing - good one. $\endgroup$ – Tony Ennis Jul 10 '16 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ The ban on writing also takes out accountancy, which means people will have to rely on memory (or knots tied in bits of string) to keep tally on how many sacks of corn they've tithed to the king as tax, etc. Accumulation of wealth will stay stuck in the 'piles of stuff' rather than the 'debts owed' system. Bet that has an effect on major projects like building works, funding exploration and funding research. Neat! $\endgroup$ – DrBob Jul 10 '16 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ @DrBob Knots tied in bits of string is a form of writing. Sorry! $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Jul 11 '16 at 5:57
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Try to discourage precision engineering.

  • Define canonical hours which are highly subjective. "You shall hold the first-hour prayer when the sun is one of your handspans over the horizon." Building a clock is sacrilege.
  • There is a religious holiday where the official yardstick is re-made using the foot of the local bishop. Using the old one after that is sacrilege.

Try to discourage the accumulation of capital.

  • If somebody has lived in a house a year and a day, he owns it. Same for tilling fields. You cannot own property and rent it out.
  • Anybody who benefits from the proceeds of a commercial enterprise is individually liable for all debts of the enterprise, at the discretion of the creditor. No limited liability corporation, no shares, no silent partners.

Try to discourage piecework, within reasonable limits.

  • A craftsman must perform all steps in the manufacture of goods, from predefined basics upwards. The smith may buy charcoal and iron ore, but not iron or steel. A carpenter may buy seasoned wood, but not pre-cut planks.
  • Each time when somebody buys and sells goods, a tithe goes to the church or the king. When a craftsman sells directly to a consumer, the tithe is paid once. When there is a merchant involved, it has to be paid twice.
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    $\begingroup$ "When a craftsman sells directly to a consumer, the tithe is paid once. When there is a merchant involved, it has to be paid twice." I don't know, that does sound an awful lot like modern-day taxes, which are usually (intended to be) levied on gains or profits at each step of the chain of sale. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jul 10 '16 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling - depends; the way that was worded makes it a sales tax, not an income tax, and at least some US sales taxes are only levied at the final point of sale. In Washington state at least, purchases can be made tax free, if the tax will be passed on to another entity. This may or may not involve the same physical good - builders can buy materials and then just charge for a finished home, although I don't know how material sales taxes might be carried over. Now, profits are usually taxed at each level, but that's different. $\endgroup$ – Clockwork-Muse Jul 10 '16 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling, there is a difference between a sales tax and a value added tax. A VAT taxes the difference between buying and resale price. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jul 10 '16 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling The key is value added taxes. If you buy €8 worth of material to make a €10 widget, you're only taxed on the €2. So each dollar of the final price is effectively only taxed once. (Places without VAT tend to tax only the final sale - sales between manufacturers are tax free.) I think o.m. suggests you tax the full price at each step. If a €50 machine is made of components bought for €45, which are made of €30 parts, from €20 of raw material, in total tax is paid on €50+45+30+20, rather than on €5+15+10+20 or just on the final €50: incentive to keep things "in house". $\endgroup$ – R.M. Jul 10 '16 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ I would say individual liability is enforced by the church, rather than at the discretion of the creditor. Leaving it at the discretion of the creditor opens up the possibility of a economic model where limited liability is a negotiated fact between corporation and lender. $\endgroup$ – Taemyr Jul 11 '16 at 11:04
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Permit only the labor of man or beast; labor by any other means is the work of the devil. This would outlaw windmills, water wheels, as well as any other contrivance not powered by human or animal muscle.

Fire shall be used for warmth, cooking (food), kiln, and forge; fire for any other purpose is the work of the devil. This would allow the making of plows, horseshoes, pottery, etc., but effectively forbids chemistry - you can't do any useful chemistry, not even glassmaking without violating this rule.

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    $\begingroup$ Heretics would argue that heating chemicals is cooking. $\endgroup$ – user31389 Jul 12 '16 at 10:13
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    $\begingroup$ @user31389 We understand cooking as a chemical process. To a medieval agrarian, cooking is something which only applies to food. Only after learning lots and lots about chemistry will it dawn on someone that cooking is just a chemical process, and this prohibition should keep anyone from getting that far. $\endgroup$ – Anthony X Jul 12 '16 at 23:04
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Ten, ok, here we go:

  1. What ever religious commandment, which defines god(s), because these are commandments from them, right?.
  2. Life is holy, thou shall not frivolously change, harm or kill anything which grows, and shall always give prayer before doing so in need. (basic anti-violence clause also moderating modification of environment)
  3. Respect those preaching the god's word, and destroy what they tell is unholy to the god(s). (establish firm authority for destroying innovation)
  4. Respect thy elders, and do only as they have done, try not to be better nor worse, or your house and village shall be cursed and must be destroyed. (strongly forbid innovation)
  5. Thou shall trust thy memory and not make any markings of what thou say, hear or see, for they are unholy. (forbid writing and drawing, while not strictly forbidding money or bookkeeping with unmarked tokens)
  6. Thou shall not look at unholy marking, but shall destroy them swiftly. (order any writing or drawing to be destroyed)
  7. Thou shall not combine that which has grown with that which is of stony origin, they are to be forever separate. (forbid tools and machines using wood and metal together)
  8. Thou shall not take or use any tool, part or item not crafted by you, your parents, siblings, spouses or children. (prevent trade on tools, and theft too)
  9. A fire must be under the sky, without roof or cover or enclosure, so its smoke can reach the sky without impediment. (forbid efficient burning, steam engines are right out)
  10. Thou shall do nothing except satisfy simple bodily needs and urges of yourself, your family and your animals, when sun is not on the sky. (forbid working long days, just to slow life down)

Some interesting thoughts about the above, things which could cause schism and conflict (which is generally good in fiction), with no clear answer in the commandments:

  • Stalactities and stalagmites are an interesting case, they are of stone but they grow. Are they unholy and must be smashed? Or is it allowed to make for example spear and arrow heads out of them (because they grow, even though they are of stony origin as well), so caves would become a sought-after natural resource? Also coral is similar case.
  • Would written abstract mathematics be ok? After all, it's not something you can see or hear (as long as you don't speak about it).
  • Trust your memory, but what if two people remember differently? Especially relevant, if there is lending and debts. I guess they could use unmarked physical tokens to signify the amount of the debt, or perhaps a stick held by the lender, and then when payments are made, pieces of the stick are chopped off.
  • If life is holy, but you have a heretic, and a priest/cleric tells you to destroy the heretic, should you obey? Probably yes, that's how it has worked throughout the history...
  • Is the commandment about fire too severe, will it lead to deforestation, or leaving parts of the world with severe winter uninhabitable? I guess it could be interpreted, that a direct chimney over an open fire in a tent or a hut is ok, because then the fire can see the sky, and the smoke hopefully goes straight there. Also burning embers don't really make much smoke, so you could work with that... start the fire outside, then pick up the embers and bring them inside for cooking and heat.
  • Ban on combining wood with stone or metal could have interesting consequences. Rich people would have wholly stony and metallic houses, so they could have windows. Certain things would exist but would have cheap wooden/woven version, and expensive entirely metallic version, for example spears, chariots/carriages, ropes/cables, hammers, armor, fences, buildings... This would need pretty careful thinking and planning from the writer, but would also be an opportunity to make the world feel unique.
  • "When sun is not on the sky", would it mean night or also overcast clouds? Eclipses would be interesting too. And what are "simple bodily needs", would for example entertainment be allowed, would there be a vibrant cultural life, because you weren't allowed to do work at night?
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The Labors of the Creator's Creatures are Holy. Labors performed by an Artifact are an abomination.

Simple machines driven by some lifeform are accepted so levers, carts, plows, bellows, winches are all fine. Waterwheels, windmills, mechanical clocks, and steam engines are taboo. Contemplating the how such devices might function probably passes this test (and could even be encouraged by other commandments) and maybe they can exist as controversial novelties as long as they are never put to practical use.

Depending on how you choose to phrase the commandment you might leave room for some interesting experiments in domestication and selective breeding to find lifeforms which can satisfy the needs of a society while remaining in compliance with these rules.

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    $\begingroup$ This runs the risk of human laziness destroying your enterprise. Once the machines are made, they will be used by lazy people, who will then be inclined to justify their laziness by defying your commandments, creating a religious schism. In the event of a war, the schismatics will likely win due to their superior technology. $\endgroup$ – March Ho Jul 10 '16 at 14:00
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Thou shall only consume fruit of one's own labour.

If you have to find or farm your food you have little or no time to make advancements one of the reasons we have the advancements we do now is because 10 men's work can feed 10,000. and any advancements that are made would have to be small because there would be little or no trading depending on your interpretation of the rule (eg are you consuming your clothes?)

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There are a lot of ways to achieve the desired effect, but the one real-world tested means is the enforcement of a heavy-handed socialism / communism:

  1. No item may be possessed in a quantity greater than the quantity of that item possessed or available to every other person. Indivisible items or items of scarce quantity shall be destroyed or off-limits.

Edited: Thanks for the welcome. Here's my explanation for how this rule achieves the desired effect of halting technological advances.

First, from the perspective of real-world trial: East Germany. The number of actual technological innovations that came out of that country can probably counted on one hand and even it didn't enforce it's form of communism to the degree of the rule.

Second, any advancement requires the initial creation of a unique good, a one-of-a-kind and that is inherently prohibited. Even if you could magically invent a creation and distribute it to everyone, the manufacturing tools needed have to ALSO be evenly distributed.

Finally, one can think of the rule as the antithesis of the approach underpinning the industrial revolution -- the specialization of jobs. You really can't specialize in a job or task if you can't have specialized tools or equipment.

If everyone has to have a item, no one will have one unless it is a very, very basic good.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding! Could you explain how exactly this would help prevent technological development? Seems to me this would in fact be an incentive to develop an industry. $\endgroup$ – PatJ Jul 11 '16 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ @patj Thanks! Hope my edit helps explain my thinking. I really don't mean to pick on East Germany and it's somewhat hyperbole re: their number of innovations. (I've spent some time there and they actually did have some remarkably innovative solutions in response to the regime under which they lived. Just wouldn't call them technological for the most part.) $\endgroup$ – Ben Fletcher Jul 11 '16 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ If everyone must have a good, then where do goods come from? Say everyone gets two pairs of shoes. Where did my first pair come from, if not from a shoemaker who must either have only one pair in order to be able to craft another? And how can he have shoe-making tools? And how can the toolmaker have... and so forth. How can the nation be rich enough to grant to everyone shoemaking tools? $\endgroup$ – Dewi Morgan Jul 11 '16 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ The rule may be too effective. $\endgroup$ – Ben Fletcher Jul 11 '16 at 21:32
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You would be hard pressed to stop the advancement of technology. The more people are educated, the more they progress. As Azuaron stated in his answer, "Thou shalt not form organized educational institutions." However, that doesn't go far enough. People can be self taught. You would have to ban reading and writing. Without the ability to catalogue and transfer complex knowledge, the ability to advance far will be limited.

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In order to keep things at a medieval technology level, you would need to find a way to halt progress in the sciences that was occurring around that time. Chemistry in particular deserves focus, especially since it includes a lot of points where a failed experiment could kill you. If it was forbidden to pry into such knowledge, these accidents could be viewed as just and fair divine retribution, further enhancing people's fear of seeking further.

That which has been made, you shall not break: You shall not create a fire to separate a substance into its elements.

That which has been set free, you shall not contain: You shall not create a vessel to hold a liquid apart from food and drink.

The knowledge of the elements are not for the eyes of man; one who reads of them shall be shunned, and one who records them shall be burned with their books. You shall destroy their writing on sight, it is profane.

Of course there would be heretics that would defy these laws, but they would be viewed as dangerous magicians prying into forbidden knowledge. It took a long time before alchemy actually bore significant, practical fruits, and this was with support and funding from religious institutions - if each book was burned on sight instead, it is unlikely that it would ever reach the point where the knowledge could be made useful enough that mainstream people would start using it.

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Some simple commandments should leave almost no room for education or evolvement of society:

A human may only be formed and educated in his first 10 years.

After that he has to find all knowledge on his own, no written word, nor song nor any other form of old knowledge should dull him. He has to find all the secrets of mother earth himself.

The highest goal in life is to work exactly like your ancestors, to produce exactly the same goods in exactly the same way.

If every generation has to learn everything anew and only strives to be exactly as their ancestors, there should be almost no room for science.

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Thou shalt not melt metal

(no casting. This prevents any sophisticated machines)

Thou shalt not heat metal unless it can be held with a hand

(blacksmithing is ok. Gotta have arrows and plows)

Thou shalt not create one manner of matter from another

(no chemistry)

And as a previous poster said, "no writing."

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  • $\begingroup$ How would they dry their clothes? $\endgroup$ – colmde Jul 11 '16 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ Seriously? Hang it on a line, right? $\endgroup$ – Tony Ennis Jul 11 '16 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ but that would create one manner of matter from another! (Evapourating the water) $\endgroup$ – colmde Jul 11 '16 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ Water to water vapor. That's not a chemical reaction. Right? $\endgroup$ – Tony Ennis Jul 11 '16 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ Oops, it seems I misinterpreted that commandment - I thought it meant converting from one state of matter to another... Lucky I wasn't the Pope! $\endgroup$ – colmde Jul 11 '16 at 11:57
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Each mother may only have two children in her life.

Resource limitations are one of the major things that drive technological advancements. Limiting the population is actually a tricky problem to solve even in an advanced society, much more so in an agrarian society without birth control. Avoiding horrific things like various forms of sanctioned murder might be tough, but I don't see any better way to prevent individual members of society from desperately trying to solve their own immediate needs problems with invention than making sure the limited population that is there has plenty.

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    $\begingroup$ The replacement rate is greater than 2. It's 2.5 to 3.3 in developing countries, and even in the UK it's ~2.075. You need to account for girls who are born but die before they reach the two children mark. Birth rates less than the replacement rate means the population continually shrinks. (Some sort of transferable system might work, though. Say, if dead children don't count and "unused" births can be transfered to relatives.) $\endgroup$ – R.M. Jul 10 '16 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @R.M. Do you think if we pinpointed the precise replacement rate and made the commandment just that, that the commanded people would strictly keep to it? $\endgroup$ – kojiro Jul 10 '16 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ The replacement rate is not a fixed number. It depends on how frequently people die. Have a plague or drought come through? The replacement rate just shot up. A fixed number isn't going to do it. Some other mechanism is needed to keep the population stable. (e.g. an inheritance system for unused spots, or something like a fixed number of "life stones" in the local temple.) $\endgroup$ – R.M. Jul 10 '16 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ @R.M. Any suggestions how to encapsulate such a concept in a "commandment" that isn't excessively wordy or brittle to other constraints? $\endgroup$ – kojiro Jul 10 '16 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ I like the credit-trading idea proposed by @R.M. - particularly because it allows narratively interesting social options like selling your tokens to the rich... and/or murdering your children for their tokens (you can sell your wife's two tokens, or you can kill any sons and have two daughters and sell THEIR tokens, for twice as much money!) There comes the problem that over time, evolution, selective breeding and social factors may weight gender distribution one way or the other, causing population size change. $\endgroup$ – Dewi Morgan Jul 11 '16 at 21:06
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Seems there needs to be a bit of feedback in this, otherwise progress may slip in incrementally, so...

  1. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, and all their works shall be destroyed.

  2. Whomsoever appears to be clever than you is a witch.

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  1. Thou shall not ask inconvenient questions. Those who do will be marked and killed should they persist.
  2. Thou shall not take/keep more than what thou needst immediately No savings= no time to think/plan.
  3. On holy days shall thou make merry with thy neighbours and kin. Let none be left alone.
  4. None may work on holy days
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This is more a comment than an answer, but it's too long for a comment.

Even if you could come up with a set of rules that meet your requirements, how would it work? It's one thing to write a set of rules on paper, quite another to enforce them. Especially to enforce them on the entire world.

ESPECIALLY in a case like this, where anyone who breaks the rules has an inherent advantage over those who don't. If, say, one group breaks the rules and invents gunpowder, and then the group who are obeying the rules and are armed with only wooden spears come to stop them ... they might have a hard time stopping them.

You'd have to have a government -- or something that is called by another name but in practice is a government -- that has the police or military power to crack down on anyone who breaks the rules, and that has spies everywhere to know when someone is breaking the rules. And this government would have to never deviate from the rules itself. It would have to be impossible for a group of dissidents to build a secret laboratory somewhere -- anywhere. It would have to be impossible for a group to move to some isolated place and create a new society. And this government would have to be able to do all this, worldwide, while using only the most primitive technology. I wouldn't say it's impossible, but wow, very hard.

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I know you want to stop the advancement of technology all-together, but its just impossible. Eventually Something is going to happen in order for this particular religion to stray away for this restriction. But here it goes

1) drink the juice everyday

enforce some kind of drug on the general population so it retards people of thinking of way to better improve there lives.

2) pray to the leaders or give praise.

not everyone has to be stupefied. the extremest should of this cause should seen as gods...

3) do you work and rest

just get the general population to do what they have to do and that is it!

4) alert the gods of something out of the ordinary

discovery leads to advancement. keeping everyone's minds to new things will stop any advancement in technology.

You can't really put an restriction on a particular technology because that technology would become obsolete. for Example, shall note write on paper. If aliens gave this civilization a computer... then technically they are breaking the commandments because they would be typing instead of writing.

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Just have a commandment that enshrines envy. Turn your society into a crab pot, such that anyone who climbs one inch above the others is immediately dragged down by the rest.

"On the first day of the first month, thou mayest kill he who is richest among you."

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