Writing What time periods do you think are underused as settings?

WasatchWind

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Pre industrial,

Sengoku Jidai,

Mongol Khanates Height,

Final years of Rome

Height of Ottoman Empire

Meiji and Taisho periods
pre industrial, early industrial, and just in the thick of industrial development are all periods I'm trying to tackle in my story. It's rarely seen as a fantasy setting - one of the reasons why I adore Alloy of Law.
 

Jemini

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Based on what I know about memory (a medium amount), this probably isn't true - we have 'gist' memories and 'verbatim' memories, and both of these can be improved with mnemonics and drilling, especially at an early age, though adults can learn amazing memory tricks, too. And, even today, many memory specialists can recite hours upon hours of memorized information verbatim with little loss in other faculties (e.g. memorizing entire books of holy scripts). I think it more likely that the 'historians' of an oral tradition society would have a lot of practice with verbatim memorization and thus have exemplary memories, but I think the change is almost certainly quantitative and not qualitative. After all, throughout much of post-writing history, most people have been illiterate (and those non-literate people were not noted for having astounding memory relative to the literate scholars in their civilizations) - and, in the modern era, there are still a small number of pre-literate peoples out there. These civilizations often have interesting mnemonics for memorizing information, often nearly verbatim, but they aren't all memory geniuses. So I would contest the idea that writing somehow makes our memories worse, but suggest that we use writing as a mnemonic crutch at the expense of learning other mnemonics that would improve our oral memory.

That said, I agree with most of the rest of what you've written here. And, beyond that, there are non-sunken ruins that attest to how advanced some neolithic civilizations were. For instance, the ruins of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey are at least 10,000 years old and far more advanced that what was considered possible in the stone age. Its existence suggests that there were stone-age civilizations about which we have almost no knowledge, and/or that hunter-gatherers were capable of a much greater degree of organization than previously realized.

The problem with these studies on memory is really that these studies were all performed on Westerners. A people who are not just members of a writing culture, but who are members from an extended line of one writing culture that developed from another going back to the Roman era. (So, starting to boarder on a full millennium.) This is long enough to actually trigger a real meaningful evolutionary change in the manner which the brain is structured. Not a big one, but in a structure like the brain which we have already researched to be something that is designed with a lot of plasticity and adaptability to alter the way it forms according to early childhood experience, you do not need all that much genetic variation in order to cause a HUGE change in the manner which the brain develops.

That evolutionary comment may even not be necessary though and only be a red herring, because the early childhood exposure to what structures the brain really does show a lot of variation even within those who grew up in the west.

Non-literate cultures have not been subjected to a large degree of neurological studies. We only are just becoming interested in them for the reason of the example I gave about how scary accurate their oral traditions are. I am certain some neurological studies will be soon to follow. For now though, theorists have drawn up the hypothesis based on what we know of neural plasticity that the brains of people in a writing culture will likely dedicate less space to the purpose of memory since we have the option to write things down. Memory is a really intensive process within the brain, so freeing up that space allows the brains of people in writing cultures to dedicate more room to other things, which the theorists have suggested might be creativity related skills which would support the ability to invent and innovate. (This theory is a result of observing the fact that new inventions that change the wellbeing of a civilization always come out of writing cultures.)
 

Jemini

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pre industrial, early industrial, and just in the thick of industrial development are all periods I'm trying to tackle in my story. It's rarely seen as a fantasy setting - one of the reasons why I adore Alloy of Law.
Agreed on this one. Urban fantasy is the 2nd most popular setting among the fantasy genre, but urban fantasy is always either set in the modern day or, if the writer happens to be going for a more Noar feel to the story, then they might set it in the 1950s. This is just after the industrial age ended and moving into the space age. So, yeah, there are fantasies that take place in the period just after industrial, but hardly any during.

(I can think of exactly 1 example though. Avitar The Last Airbender is set in something of a late pre-industrial era where they're just breaching into what will kick off their equivalent of the industrial age, and Legend of Kora is set at the height of that industrial age that was hinted at in TLAB.)
 

jabathehut

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pre industrial, early industrial, and just in the thick of industrial development are all periods I'm trying to tackle in my story. It's rarely seen as a fantasy setting - one of the reasons why I adore Alloy of Law.
Almost all my stories are fantasy pre industrial
 

jabathehut

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Almost all my stories are fantasy pre industrial
I'm going to write one where its from the POV of a civilization that has just been invaded and are being rapidly accelerated in technology. Like theyre medieval but a fantasy race conquered them to run a train line thru
 

OvidLemma

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The problem with these studies on memory is really that these studies were all performed on Westerners. A people who are not just members of a writing culture, but who are members from an extended line of one writing culture that developed from another going back to the Roman era. (So, starting to boarder on a full millennium.) This is long enough to actually trigger a real meaningful evolutionary change in the manner which the brain is structured. Not a big one, but in a structure like the brain which we have already researched to be something that is designed with a lot of plasticity and adaptability to alter the way it forms according to early childhood experience, you do not need all that much genetic variation in order to cause a HUGE change in the manner which the brain develops.

That evolutionary comment may even not be necessary though and only be a red herring, because the early childhood exposure to what structures the brain really does show a lot of variation even within those who grew up in the west.

Non-literate cultures have not been subjected to a large degree of neurological studies. We only are just becoming interested in them for the reason of the example I gave about how scary accurate their oral traditions are. I am certain some neurological studies will be soon to follow. For now though, theorists have drawn up the hypothesis based on what we know of neural plasticity that the brains of people in a writing culture will likely dedicate less space to the purpose of memory since we have the option to write things down. Memory is a really intensive process within the brain, so freeing up that space allows the brains of people in writing cultures to dedicate more room to other things, which the theorists have suggested might be creativity related skills which would support the ability to invent and innovate. (This theory is a result of observing the fact that new inventions that change the wellbeing of a civilization always come out of writing cultures.)
You can't simply presuppose what future studies will find, nor presume evolutionary pressures, let alone posit actual change, just because enough time has passed for some change to theoretically occur. Moreover, it's problematic to assume that there's been some major evolutionary change in how memory itself works, given that the basic mechanisms of the Papez circuit, the hippocampal-entorhinal loop, and of course working memory within the PFC are all reasonably well-understood and appear to be preserved across mammalian lineages, to say nothing about within humans.

But let's suppose you're correct and that there's some significant fundamental difference between the brain wiring of pre-literate and post-literate civilizations. This brings with it a host of experimental predictions, such as that (assuming there has been evolutionary pressure to facilitate literacy) people from societies without these pressures will have significant issues learning to read, and that people from societies with these pressures will be less receptive to the mnemonics used by pre-literate societies. There's considerable evidence to suggest that this is not the case.

I think the more parsimonious explanation is neuroplasticity - you're right that early childhood experiences may be an explanatory factor here. Though this also supposes that social/environmental factors are present sufficiently early and with sufficient strength to actually drive the plasticity. This may well be the case for some societies and not for others - I don't know enough about anthropology to know if there's data out there on it - and whether there's a trade-off between verbatim memory and reading acquisition. I'd be curious to find out. Certainly, among people who are in literate societies, there is a correlation between working memory and reading acquisition, but this doesn't necessarily mean better verbatim memory is also associated with it (the brain mechanisms overlap but aren't identical), but this doesn't rule out a different mechanism in other societies. I just don't think we should assume it's there.
 

Jemini

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You can't simply presuppose what future studies will find, nor presume evolutionary pressures, let alone posit actual change, just because enough time has passed for some change to theoretically occur. Moreover, it's problematic to assume that there's been some major evolutionary change in how memory itself works, given that the basic mechanisms of the Papez circuit, the hippocampal-entorhinal loop, and of course working memory within the PFC are all reasonably well-understood and appear to be preserved across mammalian lineages, to say nothing about within humans.

Err... It's called a hypothesis. These are the things that guide study. Throwing them out there is how we know what future studies should be based upon. This actually is a part of the scientific method.

You are right that me simply saying it does not mean this is the case. The purpose of bringing these ideas up was to potentially throw some light on the fact that you are discounting the possibility of there being a qualitative difference in a greatly ahtroprologically different culture because all the studies done on westerners who are about a millenium's worth of cultural differences and different evolutionary pressures away from this other culture show certain results. I am saying those results fail to prove what you are saying they prove due to the different pressures, of which I threw out many potential differences that might cause your proof to be invalid.

In this case, I am pushing the null hypothesis. When pushing the null hypothesis, all you have to do is introduce evidence that shakes the foundations of the other side's proof. The burden of positive proof is always on the one trying to vouch for the positive hypothesis.

EDIT: Also, to pre-empt any claim that I am making a positive clam, my negative claim is that there are enough differences between a multi-generational literate culture and a multi-generational non-literate culture that you cannot make the positive claim that studies on the one culture can apply to both. Therefore, no, I am not asking you to prove a negative against the claims I made. The claims I made only drive at potential reasons why you need to do the same studies on the non-literate culture and see if they match up before you can make any claims about how memory works in non-literate cultures.

But let's suppose you're correct and that there's some significant fundamental difference between the brain wiring of pre-literate and post-literate civilizations. This brings with it a host of experimental predictions, such as that (assuming there has been evolutionary pressure to facilitate literacy) people from societies without these pressures will have significant issues learning to read, and that people from societies with these pressures will be less receptive to the mnemonics used by pre-literate societies. There's considerable evidence to suggest that this is not the case.

No, see, right now you are arguing on the basis of some blatantly false assumptions. You are not properly understanding my argument.

So, to lay it out more properly here, what I am supposing is NOT that the different evolutionary pressures facilitate literacy in western cultures. What I posited is that literacy removes the evolutionary pressure that selects for memory. There was never any claim about the members of the non-literate culture having a greater or lesser ability to gain literacy.

So, this is an example of the umbrella problem here. The way you put it is an example of saying that it rains as a result of people opening their umbrellas. You reversed the cause and effect from my argument.

I also made a second-order prediction by the way. The second-order prediction I made was that with the brain space formerly dedicated to memory in those of literat cultures would be re-purposed toward creativity.

So, that's two testable hypotheses. 1. That those in non-literate cultures will have a better memory. 2. That those in literate cultures would have better creativity.

If both of these hypotheses hold true, then it adds weight to the theory that the brain space dedicated to memory in non-literate cultures gets re-purposed toward creativity in literate cultures. It does not prove the theory, but it gives it significant weight.

So, that's my real hypothesis laid out in more detail. Please address the argument I'm really making next time. I hate to sound snippy here, but I do find it annoying when people go off arguing against something different from what I actually said. It tells me you were not really trying to understand my argument and that you are only looking for a fight.
 
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OvidLemma

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Err... It's called a hypothesis. These are the things that guide study. Throwing them out there is how we know what future studies should be based upon. This actually is a part of the scientific method.

You are right that me simply saying it does not mean this is the case. The purpose of bringing these ideas up was to potentially throw some light on the fact that you are discounting the possibility of there being a qualitative difference in a greatly ahtroprologically different culture because all the studies done on westerners who are about a millenium's worth of cultural differences and different evolutionary pressures away from this other culture show certain results. I am saying those results fail to prove what you are saying they prove due to the different pressures, of which I threw out many potential differences that might cause your proof to be invalid.

...


No, see, right now you are arguing on the basis of some blatantly false assumptions. You are not properly understanding my argument.

So, to lay it out more properly here, what I am supposing is NOT that the different evolutionary pressures facilitate literacy in western cultures. What I posited is that literacy removes the evolutionary pressure that selects for memory. There was never any claim about the members of the non-literate culture having a greater or lesser ability to gain literacy.
Yes, I'm aware of what a hypothesis is. I am claiming that your hypothesis already has existing evidence against it that needs to be accounted for (and has not been). Moreover, what you are framing as a null hypothesis is most certainly not one. In order to shift the burden of proof, you need substantial grounds to falsify the old theory - the old theory being that any person from a literate society could perform the same feats of verbal memory as a person from a non-literate society because there are no intrinsic differences in memory. If you have invalidated this claim, then it has escaped me. If not, then you are very much working with an alternative/experimental hypothesis.

I don't think you quite realize the scope of what you're claiming here - for a gene that selects for memory to be wiped out in every literate civilization in no more than a few thousand years implies a massive evolutionary pressure to the contrary. This would be a massive, groundbreaking claim. And to imply that there's no evolutionary trade-off would actually shake the foundations of evolutionary theory, since there must be a huge difference in reproductive success. Genetic drift (the common cause of loss of a previous adaptation) simply doesn't work that quickly. And, moreover, a significant fraction of the world's population is only a few centuries removed from living in pre-literate civilizations, which most certainly hasn't had time to exert substantial evolutionary change, let alone through drift. This is part of the evidence that works against the evolutionary change claim. It doesn't mean it didn't happen, but it makes it very, very improbable.
 

Jemini

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Yes, I'm aware of what a hypothesis is. I am claiming that your hypothesis already has existing evidence against it that needs to be accounted for (and has not been). Moreover, what you are framing as a null hypothesis is most certainly not one. In order to shift the burden of proof, you need substantial grounds to falsify the old theory - the old theory being that any person from a literate society could perform the same feats of verbal memory as a person from a non-literate society because there are no intrinsic differences in memory. If you have invalidated this claim, then it has escaped me. If not, then you are very much working with an alternative/experimental hypothesis.

I don't think you quite realize the scope of what you're claiming here - for a gene that selects for memory to be wiped out in every literate civilization in no more than a few thousand years implies a massive evolutionary pressure to the contrary. This would be a massive, groundbreaking claim. And to imply that there's no evolutionary trade-off would actually shake the foundations of evolutionary theory, since there must be a huge difference in reproductive success. Genetic drift (the common cause of loss of a previous adaptation) simply doesn't work that quickly. And, moreover, a significant fraction of the world's population is only a few centuries removed from living in pre-literate civilizations, which most certainly hasn't had time to exert substantial evolutionary change, let alone through drift. This is part of the evidence that works against the evolutionary change claim. It doesn't mean it didn't happen, but it makes it very, very improbable.
What you just made is a positive claim, your positive claim being that "any person from a literate society could perform the same feats of verbal memory as a person from a non-literate society because there are no intrinsic differences in memory."

I provided an example of the incredible feats of memory that non-literate societies are capable of. You need to provide a counter-example of the same from someone in a literate society.

Also, again, the evolutionary difference proposition was a case of me innumerating the potential for difference between literate and non-literate societies. You are entirely glancing over the part where I followed that up by saying an evolutionary difference may not even be necessary to explain these differences, and it could just be a simple matter of childhood development taking advantage of neural plasticity.

This argument is also dragging things significantly off from the original point, that original point being that there is a qualitative difference between the memory of a non-literate person in a non-literate society, and a literate person in a literate society. This difference can be supposed to be compounded if that literate society was in turn born from another literate society (say, the US from England,) and that in turn from another literate society (England from France and Germany) and that in turn from another literate society (France or Germany from the Western Roman Empire).

This is a long enough line of literate societies that it would be more strange to suppose we are the same than that there is likely some difference that has developed. For instance, in Kenia, they practice a coming of age ritual in which at age 13 they rub mud on a young boy's face and then let the mud harden. Then, they subject the child to some manner of physical pain. (I don't remember this clearly, but I think it was actually a circumcision ritual.) If the mud on their face cracks as a result of them cringing from the pain, their tribe judges them as cowardly and the women of the tribe judge him as an unfit mate.

This, over the generations, has sexually selected for pain tolerance. This pain tolerance explains why Kenyans do so well at Olympic level running. That's a rather ground breaking qualitative difference in evolution right there, and it doesn't take many generations to develop.

This doesn't prove there is an evolutionary difference. It just opens the door for the possibility, and the number of generations separate between a western culture and a non-literate culture are so vast that if you take my example of Kenya into consideration then you would have to be pretty wrong-headed to claim that we of western civilization are genetically identical to people in non-literate cultures.

My only actual claim though is that the tests for westerners prove nothing about how the memories of a non-literate culture would perform, and you have to re-do all the tests on those non-literate cultures in order for the models to be accurate.

Now, do I have to pull up other examples such as how people who are born blind have larger temporal lobes than people born with eyesight? That would be the other non-genetic angle from which to approach this. Because your claim is that we are identical to people from non-literate cultures and my negative claim is that we are not identical, I can attack this from literally any angle. If you don't like the genetic example, then I'll give it to you and start on the neural plasticity route since you are getting so hung up on that.

EDIT: (Also, it is not hard to imagine what the negative pressure for memory would be. Memory is a pretty resource intensive process. Therefore, the negative pressure is constantly applied and requires a positive pressure to equalize it. If there is no longer a positive pressure selecting for memory, the simple removal of that intense positive pressure by offloading the need into written word would be enough to allow it to degrade so those resources can be re-allocated to something else... such as creativity.

This edited-in argument BTW can apply equally to both the evolutionary as well as the neural plasticity explanations. For the neural plasticity angle, how many people over the age of 30 can remember their friend's phone number today? Now, same question, when you were 10, could you have remembered your friend's phone number back then? The simple introduction of the smart phone seems to have altered our memory capabilities for phone numbers quite a bit within the same lifetime. This isn't even childhood neural plasticity anymore. This is adult level neural plasticity, which is far lower than a child's.)
 
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OvidLemma

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What you just made is a positive claim, your positive claim being that "any person from a literate society could perform the same feats of verbal memory as a person from a non-literate society because there are no intrinsic differences in memory."

I provided an example of the incredible feats of memory that non-literate societies are capable of. You need to provide a counter-example of the same from someone in a literate society.

Also, again, the evolutionary difference proposition was a case of me innumerating the potential for difference between literate and non-literate societies. You are entirely glancing over the part where I followed that up by saying an evolutionary difference may not even be necessary to explain these differences, and it could just be a simple matter of childhood development taking advantage of neural plasticity.

This argument is also dragging things significantly off from the original point, that original point being that there is a qualitative difference between the memory of a non-literate person in a non-literate society, and a literate person in a literate society. This difference can be supposed to be compounded if that literate society was in turn born from another literate society (say, the US from England,) and that in turn from another literate society (England from France and Germany) and that in turn from another literate society (France or Germany from the Western Roman Empire).

This is a long enough line of literate societies that it would be more strange to suppose we are the same than that there is likely some difference that has developed. For instance, in Kenia, they practice a coming of age ritual in which at age 13 they rub mud on a young boy's face and then let the mud harden. Then, they subject the child to some manner of physical pain. (I don't remember this clearly, but I think it was actually a circumcision ritual.) If the mud on their face cracks as a result of them cringing from the pain, their tribe judges them as cowardly and the women of the tribe judge him as an unfit mate.

This, over the generations, has sexually selected for pain tolerance. This pain tolerance explains why Kenyans do so well at Olympic level running. That's a rather ground breaking qualitative difference in evolution right there, and it doesn't take many generations to develop.

This doesn't prove there is an evolutionary difference. It just opens the door for the possibility, and the number of generations separate between a western culture and a non-literate culture are so vast that if you take my example of Kenya into consideration then you would have to be pretty wrong-headed to claim that we of western civilization are genetically identical to people in non-literate cultures.

My only actual claim though is that the tests for westerners prove nothing about how the memories of a non-literate culture would perform, and you have to re-do all the tests on those non-literate cultures in order for the models to be accurate.

Now, do I have to pull up other examples such as how people who are born blind have larger temporal lobes than people born with eyesight? That would be the other non-genetic angle from which to approach this. Because your claim is that we are identical to people from non-literate cultures and my negative claim is that we are not identical, I can attack this from literally any angle. If you don't like the genetic example, then I'll give it to you and start on the neural plasticity route since you are getting so hung up on that.

EDIT: (Also, it is not hard to imagine what the negative pressure for memory would be. Memory is a pretty resource intensive process. Therefore, the negative pressure is constantly applied and requires a positive pressure to equalize it. If there is no longer a positive pressure selecting for memory, the simple removal of that intense positive pressure by offloading the need into written word would be enough to allow it to degrade so those resources can be re-allocated to something else... such as creativity.

This edited-in argument BTW can apply equally to both the evolutionary as well as the neural plasticity explanations. For the neural plasticity angle, how many people over the age of 30 can remember their friend's phone number today? Now, same question, when you were 10, could you have remembered your friend's phone number back then? The simple introduction of the smart phone seems to have altered our memory capabilities for phone numbers quite a bit within the same lifetime. This isn't even childhood neural plasticity anymore. This is adult level neural plasticity, which is far lower than a child's.)
I think you are misconstruing the nature of the problem and putting the cart before the horse here. You're using purely anecdotal data to posit a large effect size. Fine. That's the hypothesis, and the one that we ought to pursue - that there is, in fact, an effect that we need to explain. I am stating that I'm not convinced that there's an effect to explain. If you want to see feats of incredible memory from people in a literate society, it's only a Google click away. There's no need to delve into highly speculative evolutionary or connectomic or plasticity theories until we establish that there's an effect to actually address. But let's assume there is a 'there' there.

Now I'm happy to weigh in on what I think are and aren't good explanations for such an effect, since the notion that there *is* an effect is an exciting and interesting hypothesis. I've already mentioned why I don't think the evolutionary angle is a good one, though I'm happy to go into more detail if need be. What's more interesting to me are the more plausible hypotheses, which are why I focused on neuroplastic/environmental effects. And, indeed, there's some good literature to support such effects. I'm not aware of the research you've mentioned on temporal volume, but I *am* aware of an interesting body of literature on cortical *thickness* and training (for instance musical training). There are similar studies looking at visual expertise (e.g. object and face recall and recognition), and I suspect the phenomenon is generalizable. Basically early and consistent training in given domains is correlated with increased cortical thickness in associated areas and with performance in sensory and memory related tasks. So I propose we've already got a very good brain mechanism for why some cultures might have vastly better verbatim memorizers than others (assuming this is true) without needing to resort to any highly speculative notions of ultrarapid evolution.
 

Discount_Blade

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make ya happy or make ya real sad
And you sir, are a real hero. Can't wait to see you save someone from a burning building. I suggest not wearing a cape though. I know they consider it standard hero attire...but flames tend to latch onto the cape first and you can't be saving people if you're having to stamp out a fire burning your own arse first.
 

WasatchWind

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And you sir, are a real hero. Can't wait to see you save someone from a burning building. I suggest not wearing a cape though. I know they consider it standard hero attire...but flames tend to latch onto the cape first and you can't be saving people if you're having to stamp out a fire burning your own arse first.
O.... kay. Apparently my reference was not understood.
 

Discount_Blade

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O.... kay. Apparently my reference was not understood.
Oh I got it. I just decided it was best to derail the whole thing.

For the anarchy, of course. I'm sure you understand. If not, set a fire or two and you'll feel better,
 
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