What would be the general understanding of "science" for a Tolkien-style* nation where steam power has yet to be invented, and the discovery of electricity has not been made yet?

I am particularly interested in things which are intangible, such as Newtonian physics and Energy.

*Tolkien style implying a similar style of fantasy. Elves, dwarves, horse transport, and swords.


closed as unclear what you're asking by Mołot, L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica, sphennings, Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica, Aric Aug 4 '17 at 13:36

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    $\begingroup$ Ignoring the fact that LotR is supposed to play in something like 10k BC, his world is heavily inspired by mostly iron age Germanic/Celtic tribes (~ 100 BC). If we look into details, one could make an argument for a longer time period, but in general I'd argue there is absolutely no concept of science and such things as we have it today. While people were generally aware of many things such as heat and certainly not stupid, they certainly did not have the tools to specify a quantity such as "Energy" $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 4 '17 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ Actually -- finally a question here that can legitimately use the [science] tag. It's probably one of the more misunderstood tags on the site, but IMO it fits this question just fine as this really is asking about science and the perception thereof within a world. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 4 '17 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ Historically, the first forms on "energy" which were understood were elastic potential energy (energy stored in a deformed elastic body), gravitational potential energy (energy of a mass due to its position), heat, and kinetic energy. There was no quantitative understanding of those until the 17th century, well into Early Modern times. The first quantitative relationship discovered was that between kinetic and gravitational potential energy, together called "mechanical" energy. Then came the relationship between heat and mechanical energy, in the 19th century. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 4 '17 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP fair enough. Equally I have no interest in taking more time to re-think my world to incorporate things which won't fit "because it's accurate", but then again they don't hurt. You've put a lot of effort into pointing out my mistakes and I appreciate it. $\endgroup$ – Aric Aug 4 '17 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ Aric: I think "science" can be astonishingly advanced, including theoretical physics, but also chemistry, genetics, microscopy, statistics, mathematics, engineering, etc. Electricity is primarily a power source for moving or heating something, both of which can be accomplished by other means. One might not discover electrical dissociation of hydrogen and oxygen from water; but one can discover both hydrogen and oxygen separately without electricity, and learn that their combination as H2O is indistinguishable from water. And so on; the "level" is based on the brainpower of story characters. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Aug 4 '17 at 13:34

A Tolkienesque nation wouldn't have science as we know it. What they knew was closer to what we would call natural history. Some astronomy, a bit of hydrology, a vague understanding of seismic activity like earthquakes and earth tremors, while medicine was mainly humours and disease causing vapors, and a non-systematic knowledge of animals, plants, herbs, and agricultural crops.

They had no explanation for gravity except matter belonged to different realms: the terrestrial and celestial. Terrestrial matter fell down because it wanted to sink to the lowest level. celestial matter stayed up above in the form of Sun, the Moon, stars and the planets. The planets were either wandering stars or the peepholes through which the gods and goddesses observed the mundane plane of existence or our world (this is in the beliefs of the Ancient Greeks).

They lacked any concept of energy as we know it. This is post-Renaissance understanding of nature. However, if they possess windmills and water wheels or wheels turned by animals like horses there could be an exceptionally vague notion of the work needed to grind grain into flour. This would be an intuitive understanding of the work involved.

On the other hand, if magic exists in this Tolkienesque country and it is worked by, say, wizards and/or witches, then they might have a 'notion' of the 'energy' involved to accomplish a feats of magic. The language used to describe the phenomenon will be radically different from even our earliest ideas about energy, but there could be an apparent correspondence.

As for sixteen forms of energy, mentioned in the question, they wouldn't understand any of them. Those concepts require a systematic study of nature and the development of mathematical reason. Both of which were mainly lacking in a Tolkienesque world. The civilizations to the East had done a better job of developing early forms of science, but these were often mixed up with supernatural beliefs.

  • $\begingroup$ I may not be the biggest fan of Tolkein, but I'm pretty sure there are no Greeks in Middle Earth! There is no reason to believe that such a society wouldn't have developed some sort of organized examination of the universe. It really seems like the only prerequisite for science (of any sort) is having enough free time to assume (1) the universe works by laws and (2) they can discover them, and then set off to find them. I'm sure if a world can manage adventures without people outright starving to death, they can manage science of some sort. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Aug 4 '17 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ OP "redefined" Tolkienesque in a way it would include both Japan middle ages and "classical" age; both of them had a firm grip on science as we define it. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Aug 4 '17 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ @ZioByte Not anywhere I can find looking over the question, the comments & even the edits to the question. So where is this redefinition? The last sentence of my answer refers to the Middle East, China and would include Japan, albeit obliquely, and I am not unmindful of the scientific & technological achievements which were ahead of Europe at the time. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 5 '17 at 2:15
  • $\begingroup$ @PipperChip I wasn't suggesting there were Greeks in Middle Earth, my remark was an allusion to concepts held by the historical Ancient Greeks. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 5 '17 at 2:17

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