Considering the state of human civilization to be what it is currently at this moment, complete with its technological advance, our mechanical and electrical equipment and its dependence on electricity, but with most of our knowledge gathered digitally rather than books. What event can send it hurtling into medieval times where none of the above would be of any use, all our knowledge would be wiped out and humans would not be able to re-develop them?

One of the things that i am thinking of is something like a very huge EMP (electromagnetic pulse) on a global level, which would not only fry everything currently but leave a very huge magnetic flux surrounding the globe that we would not be able to reinvent the above. But I am not sure of what effect this would have on the humans physically, constantly being exposed to large magnetic fields can’t be good. I have not yet thought the whole thing through.

You are free to take an alternate route but it has to be something caused by humans.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe there was this really, really fun Renaissance fair... $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 8 '15 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ that question is similar to what i am asking but the accepted answer is not what will work as we do have alternative sources of energy which will be able to compensate for oil depletion, the only acceptable comment is worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/9313/7044 $\endgroup$ – Bob Feb 8 '15 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ One thing worth noting is that the earth is already surrounded by a huge magnetic field, which regularly gets EMPs thrown at it by the sun that are far in excess of what we could create. So far, they haven't stopped us from being able to build electronics. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Feb 8 '15 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's worth considering if the return to "medieval times" includes social and cultural values or just technology. $\endgroup$ – CoolCurry Feb 8 '15 at 22:24
  • $\begingroup$ Here's how... pbs.twimg.com/media/B9LIh2WCQAAppML.jpg $\endgroup$ – user_1818839 Feb 9 '15 at 11:58

I think the only way to push humans to medieval times would be to push society to before that point in time and then let it rebuild.

The problem of knowledge

So long as their exists knowledge of the modern day, that knowledge can be used to progress technologically far faster than humans would otherwise be capable of. I personally could write down the basics of atomic theory, calculus, and gunpowder manufacture, as well describe how steam and internal combustion engines work. Especially given the huge amount of raw resources that the survivors would have in the form of old equipment that can be turned to scrap, humans could fairly quickly recover to an industrial revolution-era level of technology, even if there were no electronics or petroleum reserves.

To get people to really regress in terms of technology, you'd have to destroy everyone who has knowledge of technology, and either all records of modern technology or everyone who can access those records.

Medieval technology, of course, would be reliant on preserving the same sort of knowledge, just of a different variety. The problem with preserving this knowledge and eliminating modern knowledge, though, is that there isn't really any community on Earth that lives in this sort of manner. Most knowledge of medieval society is held by fairly educated people who have devoted their lives to studying it, while someone like a farmer is more likely to know how their tractor works.

So how do we do this?

Kill off everyone who lives in a modern city. I imagine that a well engineered supervirus, ideally with a few months of latency followed by rapid onset lethal symptoms, perhaps coupled with a world wide thermonuclear war, would do the trick. The only people left would be those with no contact with the rest of society. Basically, this would mean primitive uncontacted tribes of hunter-gatherers. These people exist in quite a few countries, like Brazil and Papua New Guinea. If they were the only ones left to repopulate, they'd spend a few thousand years spreading through the rest of the world, building civilizations and probably avoiding the irradiated wastelands of the former cities.

Eventually, these new people would arrive at something akin to what we view as a medieval society, a few thousand years after the initial war.

  • $\begingroup$ Sure, but can you build a toaster with that knowledge? (+1) $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Feb 8 '15 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ You might enjoy the 1632 series - the "really regress" part (though the story is about them not regressing...) $\endgroup$ – user487 Feb 8 '15 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa actually, yes! $\endgroup$ – Pip Feb 8 '15 at 23:29
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, I had never thought in those terms, I will really think along those lines. But rather than have them to be primitive uncontacted tribes, I might make them have a particular strain of resistance to the virus due to residing in a certain element rich geographical area. $\endgroup$ – Bob Feb 9 '15 at 17:35

A pandemic killing majority of human population could do it, if it persisted more than a generation.

People would be forced into small self-sufficient settlements avoiding contact with each other. This would make the logistics and economies of scale industrial economy requires impractical. Mankind would be forced to revert to pre-industrial economies. Pre-industrial is very close to the desired renaissance level.

If the risk of contamination and pandemic persisted for more than one or two generations, and generations would presumably be shorter after the collapse of modern medicine, people would no longer have the level of education required to rebuild. Not that people would necessarily be ignorant or uneducated, but specialized training and education modern technology tends to require would not be available. It would not even be wanted as people would not have the population base to support high level of specialization anyway.

Given the drop in population, I expect that people would be able to get their weapons and machinery by scavenging and looting without any real need to rebuild manufacturing until all the people who still remember how would be dead. And even if people still remembered small settlements would be unlikely to have the resources and know-how to rebuild anything major. Or even need to. And if the pandemic was still a realistic threat, trading would be impractical and would not support any specialists.

A pandemic this bad would presumably destroy the police and military forces. Nation states would collapse. People in survival mode would be unlikely to be interested in any level of organization larger than a tribe. Tribes would actively, and possibly violently, compete for resources. Risk of contagion would make diplomacy and trade suicidal, thus a likely response to stranger moving anywhere near to your home would be to warn them off with gunshots. First gunshots might not be aimed at people, but scared people will shoot to kill.

Since most people have no real skill at low-tech survival, people would probably be too busy to teach their children anything that is not needed right now. So the skill base would be lost fairly fast. The one thing that children would be taught would be that contact with strangers and travel are taboo. Depending on the specifics of the pandemic they might even be taught to avoid old cities that might still be contaminated.

Obviously all this would make any rebuilding impractical.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, your answer does touch on some very important points but one thing was that i am trying to avoid is retaining any modern age weapons or machinery so that people would have to resort to swords and bows $\endgroup$ – Bob Feb 9 '15 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Bob Modern technology does not survive long after people lose ability to maintain and repair it... You'd have mountains of plastic garbage, some things built from stainless steel or titanium, not really a problem. What might be a problem is that military forces have huge stockpiles of weapons and ammunition. It might be impossible to get rid of all the assault rifles... there really is a lot of them and they use standardized ammunition. Maybe easily accessible stockpiles would be plundered during the first few generations after which even assault rifles would be lost... $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Feb 9 '15 at 19:26

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