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  #1  
Old 04-01-2012, 04:42 AM
Karak Norn Clansman Karak Norn Clansman is offline
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Exclamation Unclaimed fertile wilderness

Hi, I'm not a hardcore WoT fan, but I thought I'd register and start this thread to see if my thoughts about a certain geographical oddity in Wheel of Time are correct.

Let us take a look on the Wetlands map. Here, we can spot the state borders of 14 countries (15 if Mayene is counted). Do you notice something odd? I for one do, because there are a lot of unclaimed wilderness on the map, mainly between the Borderlands and the southern countries. Not all of it is prime farm land, but most of it look about as fruitful as Saldaea or Andor. Yet no crown of the lands claims lordship over these vast stretches of land, open for grabs and for whoever wants it.

The issue here is not whether these country-less areas have population or not. We know they do. In The Great Hunt Rand and the lot travelled southwards beyond Shienar's southern borders, passing villages as they did and discovering a flayed man at one occassion. One Red sister was punished with exile to a farm in the Black Hills, Cadsuane Melaidrin and some Brown sisters lived far away from large towns and borders. Last but not least there are several towns on the map in the unclaimed, sparsely populated "wilderness". Tar Valon, Far Madding and Falme are out there, each of which certainly bear some local influence in these state-less lands.

No, the issue here is why not the countries of the Wetlands make a grab for all the free lands. In part, we know that much of the current wilderness are the result of past chaos (mainly the Trolloc Wars), but given the long stretch of time that have passed, this is not convincing. Let me explain why:

Farmers mean taxes (or day works, for nobles), and in farming societies with no means to raise agricultural production intensely, by putting more labour, better crops or fertilizers to the fields, the only way to increase production is to do so extensively, in effect by putting new land to the plough and expand the farmland. Here we see an incentive for elites to push borders into wild lands.

Where there is no life in the universe, it's only a matter of time before it arrives there. Human nature and thus human society is expansive, not least when it comes to population. History is filled with advancing frontiers, such as the German peasant colonization eastwards during medieval times, the establishment of Viking settlements far and wide, the Russian drive eastwards into Siberia during the 17th-18th centuries or the American western frontier during the 19th. Outside the sphere of Europe, there are just as many drives of settlers throughout history, perhaps most notably the arduous colonization waves sent westwards into near arid wasteland be the Chinese several times throughout history to follow the trade routes and provide garrisons for the Great Wall. Stimulus have often been provided by rulers, such as granting some tax-free years for those willing to move away and settle in untamed areas. Where one state was perhaps unwilling to make the attempt, a rival was bound to do so and thus gain an advantage.

Where is this growth of countries into sparsely populated, unclaimed land in the Wheel of Time? I've come under the impression that rather than expanding, the human states of the Wetlands rather have been shrinking if anything. This is all too similar to the bleakness of Tolkien's Middle Earth, which is filled with sparsely populated, unclaimed wilderness. Much of it was once part of great nations, but alas no more. It isn't strange in Fantasy if some Dark Lord savages the land and nearly depopulate it. It is strange, however, when humans and other sentient species don't make a push for it and try to gain new domains. Rohan and Gondor could have raced each other for expanding into Eriador, fighting the Dunelendings as they went. Dwarves and even elves could have been part of it, but they weren't, and neither were the humans. What gets destroyed, pretty much stays destroyed in Lotr. The same seems to be true for WoT.

The lack of pushes into peripheral regions is made even more odd when looking for example at the race for the Laplands between Russia, Sweden-Finland and Denmark-Norway during the 16th-17th centuries. This northern region was heavily forested and contained little settlements apart from the mainly nomadic Samis, who herded reindeer. Yet there was something of a scramble between the three countries for this untamed land, because every little resource counted. Samis could be taxed, settlers could be made to move in and create new farm land and at lenght more farmers, thus producing more tax, and both the resources of the forests and the mountains could be exploited, thus creating more fortune for the state.

Where do we see such things in WoT? To give an example, Andor appears to be content with holding at its westernmost border Baerlon and some minings towns in the Mountains of Mist, instead of trying to incorporate sparsely populated lands into the state, thus gaining taxes from the few villages and farms that already are out there, and fur from the wildlife, and timber, grain and ore as settlers move in and begin to work the natural resources. There are a lot of rivers, forests and plains north of Andor which once held countries and certainly could do so again. The Caralain grass could be in the process of being quartered by Andor, Cairhien, the Borderlands and maybe even Tar Valon (because a budding empire isn't to be sneezed at).

And to finish off, all these unclaimed lands ought to be quite tempting for farmers during harsh times with lots of taxes, such as great war times. Why not try to escape the government by moving outside the country's borders? Where are the colonists? The Seanchan managed to create a sprawling empire on their home continent and even send settlers across the oceans to colonize the Wetlands, but the Wetlanders themselves seem unable to claim the wild land. It isn't as if the unclaimed land is one big desert like the Aiel waste, or a suicidal habitat akin to the Blight.

In short, there should be some signs of human regrowth and expanding frontiers in the Wetlands, but there are not any such signs. This is a pity, because Jordan managed to create a very convincing imaginary world in other areas.

Do you agree? If not, prove me wrong.

Last edited by Karak Norn Clansman; 04-01-2012 at 04:56 AM. Reason: Spelling
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:31 AM
GonzoTheGreat GonzoTheGreat is offline
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It is probably an effect of the DO. He is working to disrupt civilisation, and he is fairly succesful at that. That was also what was behind the Trolloc Wars. At the start of that, it seemed quite possible that humanity could have brought the Age of Legends back. If that had happened, then eventually a way of mending the DO's prison would have been found, and his chance for escape would have been gone.

There are frequent mentions of countries trying to grab larger stretches of land, but they always find that they can not afford it and have to withdraw within smaller borders again, if they do not collapse outright.
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:45 AM
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The key difference between the real world and WOT is that the world of WOT is experiencing population declines amongst humans, rather than growth. It's fair to say that all of those unclaimed wilderness areas were once populated and part of nations, but as the population shrinks - rather than expands as in the real life examples you cite - humans naturally band together in the more densely populated areas. Partly, this is the reason why the return of the Seanchan is a good thing; they're a population that is actually successful and expanding, rather than the Wetlands populations which are failing.
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:56 AM
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Like others already pointed out: it's mostly a population issue. Even if Andor decided to claim Caralain Grass and maybe even the Black Hills, they wouldn't have the military might to enforce that claim. Just look at the Two Rivers: Andor can't even keep control of the procinces that it does claim!

Also, there is one instance where countries do try to expand into unclaimed land: Arad Doman and Tarabon duking it out over Almoth Plain, while it's mentioned several times that neither side would actually have the power to keep control over it for any extended period of time. In fact, I'd bet that if the Seachan hadn't invaded, Falme might, after a few centuries, have expanded from a city-state into a full-fledged country bordering both Arad Doman and Tarabon.
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Old 04-01-2012, 06:07 AM
Karak Norn Clansman Karak Norn Clansman is offline
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GonzoTheGreat: Good point.

Sarevok: Good point.

However, I have always had a hard time buying the population decline in WoT. It doesn't make sense.

The only pre-industrial example of population decline not caused by war, catastrophe, environmental decline, starvation or diseases that I know of was the late Roman Empire, which for quite unique reasons had a defunct culture that couldn't reproduce itself. (This was one reason why Christianity came to replace the old paganism, since the culture of Christians took care of their sick better than pagans and also had higher birth rates.) Everywhere else, every old-fashioned organic society have been culturally geared for population increase.

Seeing the Dark One's hand behind any number or wars and catastrophes that help depopulate the Wetlands is all well and fine, but I've a hard time seeing the Dark One behind a continent-wide inability to reproduce sufficiently. If cursing the people of the land into slow extinction is the Dark One's way of preparing for the Last Battle, then the Seanchan will start declining as the native Wetlanders do once they settle down on the cursed continent. Now, this actually make a little sense, since the "Randlands" are pivotal to Tarmon Gai'don.

Also, states claiming wild land without hostile people isn't as much a case of military presence as it is of settlers and tax collectors. It is also a slow process.

Last edited by Karak Norn Clansman; 04-01-2012 at 06:25 AM. Reason: Odd
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Old 04-01-2012, 06:47 AM
GonzoTheGreat GonzoTheGreat is offline
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Well, there were the Greenland Norse. While you might say that they died because of starvation, a more accurate account would probably be that they starved because they held on too stubbornly to a way of life that worked in Norway but did not work in Greenland. Thus, their extinction was more a matter of culture than of a lack of available resources.
Another example are the Maya people. Here it is not clear why their civilisation died out, but all the "usual suspects" such as war, climate change and the like fail to be convincing.
Then there are the Numenorans from Tolkien's books, but, since they are somewhat fictional, you may not be willing to count them.
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Old 04-01-2012, 07:14 AM
Karak Norn Clansman Karak Norn Clansman is offline
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Yes, the Greenland Norse were too stubborn, but they lived in an extreme climate. Their decline is not comparable with a temperate region that is relatively free of nature's more extreme hardships (i.e. the Wetlands). Here, cultures need not adapt intimately to the demands of surviving the local environment. Between, Greenland is a prime example of humans' ability to spread wherever they can, and to get up again when they fall. Both Scandinavian and Inuit peoples have abandoned the large isle or gone extinct throughout history, yet both have returned despite the place being a freezing hell on Earth to live in.

You are correct, I will not count the Númenoreans of Tolkien, because they (and the later Gondorians) clash with all experience of how pre-modern societies' population dynamics work. Here, we can look at the several re-colonizations and abandonments of Greenland as a guide to how things could look. Both in WoT and Lotr, there could be quite thrilling examples throughout history of devastating diseases, wars, famines, natural catastrophes and far-ranging Trolloc (or Orc) attacks that depopulate vast stretches of land. But instead of letting the remaining lands go declining, they could instead be labouring and even racing one another (though in a slow manner) in their attempts to snatch up new land out of the wilderness with the help of excess population. Then all these hardships, all this pioneering spirit and all this hope is dashed again by the next wave of destruction, whatever its shape and reach.

This way we wouldn't have pretty bleak imaginary lands, but instead occasionally cornered lands that bloody well try to expand and grow and get mightier, constantly trying to rise up and climb higher, only to fall again and again. The key point here is that an imaginary background world grows more interesting if we have an element of human expansive sprit, instead of stagnation. It help bring life to the world.

As for the Maya collapse, the usual suspects are rightly strong suspects even here, not least ecological collapse due to intensive farming and deforestation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classic...collapse_model

Of course, the fact here is that my willingness to compare Jordan's work with real history shows how good Jordan was at world-building, but his historical cycles of rise and fall could have been more realistic and intriguing.

Last edited by Karak Norn Clansman; 04-01-2012 at 07:44 AM. Reason: Spelling
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Old 04-01-2012, 07:59 AM
GonzoTheGreat GonzoTheGreat is offline
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A rather big difference is that in Randland, there is a reliable contraception method, which was definitely not the case in any society in our history which you might want to compare to it until the 1960s or thereabouts. Factor that in, and all your models will go haywire.
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Old 04-01-2012, 07:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Karak Norn Clansman View Post
Also, states claiming wild land without hostile people isn't as much a case of military presence as it is of settlers and tax collectors. It is also a slow process.
As noted above, Andor is an example of a country that can't even afford to send tax collectors to all of the areas it claims. Altara is another example, with Ebou Dar's effective control extending "not much more than a day's ride," IIRC.

The "unclaimed lands" aren't actually unpopulated -- they're populated in much the same way that the American Frontier was populated by people not exactly amenable to paying taxes.

Another point you are missing is that farmers have to be close enough to their markets to transport crops without spoilage. Farmers only go where there is a market for their crops.

As you noted in your original post, most of the unclaimed land lies just south of the borderlands. That means it is land occasionally troubled by trollocs and other shadowspawn as well as by human bandits. A military presence is highly desirable in those lands; one which Andor and Cairhein aren't willing to afford.

It is probably also worth noting that most of the unclaimed land is not accessible by riverboat or barge. In a pre-technical civilization, rivers are the primary means of long distance travel. Prosperous settlements that return more tax revenue than they consume in military protection are usually found along navigable rivers rather than in open savanna, like the Caralain Grass.

Finally, Randland population is still recovering from the Aiel War. There is also fairly suggestive hints that Ishamael instigated a population draining war or three every 40 year furlough from the Bore. Viable Empires in Randland, like the Ten Nations or Hawkwing's Empire, were definitely sabotaged by Ishamael or his DF minions. Any sign of cohesion or effective control has been ruthlessly sabotaged by the Shadow to keep Randland weak and disorganized in anticipation of T'G.
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Old 04-01-2012, 08:34 AM
Karak Norn Clansman Karak Norn Clansman is offline
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GonzoTheGreat: Really? Is heartleaf, if I remember the name correctly, a reliable contraception method?

Weird Harold: Now we're talking! I had actually forgotten that hint about Ishamael. It was maybe part of one of the more boring books prior to KoD? Ishamael sabotaging stuff every now and then is just the kind of repeating catastrophe that is required to keep the large, state-less areas away from being dominated by other countries. That also leave room for recovering and regrowth, squashed repeatedly by a Forsaken's machinations. Nice.

Although I don't remember any mentions of neither brigands nor Trollocs south of the Borderlands, you are probably right. It would require a military presence. There is however no shortage of rivers: http://www.meahscorner.com/wheelofti...f-Time-Map.jpg

In Knife of Dreams a party of Illianer merchantmen had travelled to Saldaea to purchase gems. Looking at the waterways, it seem logical they travelled by river boat. Lacking state presence, it would by the way seem lucrative for hunters and fur traders to establish outposts along the unclaimed water ways.

Last edited by Karak Norn Clansman; 04-01-2012 at 08:40 AM.
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Old 04-01-2012, 08:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Karak Norn Clansman View Post
GonzoTheGreat: Really? Is heartleaf, if I remember the name correctly, a reliable contraception method?
Well, not drinking it seems a fairly reliable ception method:
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Originally Posted by WH, Chapter 12, A Lily in Winter
"She should have drunk that heartleaf tea," she babbled. She never told what she saw except to those involved, and only then if they wanted to hear, but she had to say something. "She'll get with child from this. Two of them; a boy and a girl; both healthy and strong."
"She wants his babies," the Aiel woman mumbled. Her green eyes stared straight ahead; her jaw was tight, and sweat beaded on her forehead. "I will not drink the tea myself if I—" Giving herself a shake, she frowned across the width of the hall at Min. "My sister and the Wise Ones told me about you. You really see things about people that come true?"
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Old 04-01-2012, 09:22 AM
Karak Norn Clansman Karak Norn Clansman is offline
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Haha, yes. I always thought that heartleaf tea was an unreliable contraception method, although probably better than those traditionally used in real history. A dampener to population growth, although not a destroyer, I imagine. Wait a minute? Winter's heart? Oh my, I had forgotten just how slowly paced the story became through an unhealthy number of books.
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Old 04-01-2012, 10:04 AM
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I was at the signing at King of Prussia last night, and asked a question about Randland life that has been bugging me for a while—do Aes Sedai ever have children, and why/why not?

Robert Jordan

I was impressed with Jordan's casual reply, as if this were common knowledge—that all Aes Sedai, and for that matter, most women have knowledge of a special herb that serves as an incredibly efficient contraceptive. This herb is just general women's lore, passed to women by Wisdoms and such.
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Old 04-01-2012, 11:12 AM
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As has been said, Jordan conceived of various themes that characterized the various ages. It appears that the theme of the Third Age is the withdrawal and withering of centralized human authority; the decrease of population, and the decline of man in general.

As a storytelling device, it's to make the odds against Rand in the Last Battle seem particularly long. As a worldbuilding device, it's definitely to make us understand that the world there is different from our world today.

At least, that's what I take from it. Your observations are good ones, but I think Jordan might respond that they're based on an understanding of the world from the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh or First Age (whichever we're living in now), and that doesn't necessarily apply to the Third Age.
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Old 04-01-2012, 02:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Karak Norn Clansman View Post

However, I have always had a hard time buying the population decline in WoT. It doesn't make sense.

The only pre-industrial example of population decline not caused by war, catastrophe, environmental decline, starvation or diseases that I know of was the late Roman Empire, which for quite unique reasons had a defunct culture that couldn't reproduce itself.
I confess I'll likely be unable to follow this thread now, but I'll like to chip in and apologies if it has been mentioned.

One of the themes in the plot is the Dragon being tied to the land. In tDR, we see how the population of Illian and Tear reacted to the presence of forsaken with despair and hopelessness. And there's Masema's influnce on his supporters and Aridhol.

I think those areas died out because of the influence of the DO on the RL continent. Men are needed to make the land work, but if the pull of the DO is too strong, then people will gather together for safety where his influence is not so strong. Maybe the same if there aren't enough people who are determined enough to resist him.

Just a thought though.
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Old 04-01-2012, 04:09 PM
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Red-headed, fair-skinned desert dwellers. (The Aiel).

A universal belief in reincarnation and yet no formalized religion.


A population that has been split apart by oceans, virtually impassable mountain ranges and leagues upon leagues of open wilderness - with very little contact between foreign societies - and yet everyone speaks the same language.

A square-shaped continent that is essentially the result of a catastrophic upheaval (meaning the likelihood of a landmass in the form of a simple geometric shape is rare).

An almost universal inability to recall past lives and yet a universal belief in reincarnation... (I could go on about this one at length).

A magic system in which "one does not have to see a flow to unravel it if one knows what it is and where it is," with no explanation of how one can know what it is and where it is without seeing it.

A sun that will never die alongside an Age (Ours) in which science claims the sun will die...

A weave of the One Power attuned to a man who will not be born for three thousand years. (The weave that protected Callandor. How exactly did they program it to respond to Rand without him being there or even EXISTING to be used as a template?)

A device that allows one to see the memories of one's ancestors and retrieves those memories from.... where?


The same device allows one to see memories from one's descendants and gets these memories how?

(I mention these last three because RJ wants us to think of the One Power as a technology and not as a form of magic.

Not to piss on Clark's Law here, but technology is not indistinguishable from magic. The primary difference is that technology has to be BUILT by humans (or at least mortal species) and is thus subject to human limitations.

So, when the Aes Sedai built the glass spires, how did they design them? At some point they have to embed "instructions" into the spires. Look in this place and retrieve this data.

So, where to the glass spires go to retrieve not only the memories of people who have been dead for thousands of years but also the memories of people who have not yet been born. Or are they simply a giant virtual reality simulator?)


I could go on but the point is that no matter what RJ says, this is a series that is loaded with magic. This is a world that is NOT at all like the real world so trying to use real-world concepts (such as population expansion) is pretty pointless.

Now, that being said, there are times where the series skews off on tangents of silliness that just go to far. But for the most part if you just accept the world as it is without trying to liken it to real life, you'll enjoy it more.
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Karak Norn Clansman View Post
There is however no shortage of rivers: ...

In Knife of Dreams a party of Illianer merchantmen had travelled to Saldaea to purchase gems. Looking at the waterways, it seem logical they travelled by river boat. ...
The key is Navigable rivers. We know because of characters various trips that the rivers from Ebou Dar to Jehanna (Ghealdan), Illian to Saldea. and Tear to Cairhein, Arafel, and Sheinar are navigable, with regular boat/barge traffic. There is, however, no mention of docks or other river traffic in and around Caemlyn or Lugard that I recall, suggesting that the rivers shown near those cities aren't navigable. Likewise, river travel would have sped up the supergirl's trip from Tanchico, so there doesn't appear to be river traffic towards Amadicia.

From The Three Amigos' trip with Bayle Domon to
Whitebridge, it would seem that there are no noteworthy human habitations along that stretch of the river; One would expect trading posts or the like at the confluence of the rivers draining the black hills if they were navigable for even small craft.
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  #18  
Old 04-01-2012, 09:20 PM
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Ishara Ishara is offline
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The other factor, aside from population as the primary explanation for the question, is fear.

Weird Harold mentioned earlier the propensity for wars to arise with every appearance of Ishamael, and the nasty habit he had of finding ways to destabilize any attempt at cohesive ruling and/ or cooperative nation-building. But even if you only go as far back as the Aiel War, you find reason for why the existing population does not spread out as they should in reasonable population models.

The people who would farm the lonelier stretches of countryside - fertile, or not - outside of the big cities like Cairhien have still not recovered from the first Aiel War, let alone the more recent invasion of Shaido. People fell safer closer to, or in, cities and so there they flock. This will only get worse in the coming days and months with the Last Battle close upon them. So for all the tax incentives that a kingdom can offer people, and again the example of Cairhien comes to mind, people will not avail themselves of those opportunities at the expense of their personal safety - or the perception of such.
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  #19  
Old 04-02-2012, 03:27 AM
Cortar Cortar is offline
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Red-headed, fair-skinned desert dwellers. (The Aiel).
They aren't very fair skinned now. Plus I hardly imagine 1000 years is enough to alter the genetics of a people.

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A universal belief in reincarnation and yet no formalized religion.
Simple, reincarnation is supported by all of the prophesies and has been passed down from generation to generation. Every knows the dragon will be reborn, thus it solidifies their belief. There is also no formalized religion because I assume the loss of a formalized religions were a byproduct of the age of legends. Or maybe the pattern prevents them from forming?

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A population that has been split apart by oceans, virtually impassable mountain ranges and leagues upon leagues of open wilderness - with very little contact between foreign societies - and yet everyone speaks the same language.
Simple, they never lost the printing press. With a device such as this your language isn't going to alter THAT much. Compare modern English to 1700s english. Still pretty much the same thing.

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A square-shaped continent that is essentially the result of a catastrophic upheaval (meaning the likelihood of a landmass in the form of a simple geometric shape is rare).
http://www.meahscorner.com/wheelofti...f-Time-Map.jpg
There are some square mountain ranges, but these were MAN MADE. So maybe a particular weave caused the creation of mountains in a square formation?

Anyways, a geometric formation is just as probable as a non-geometric formation so this is moot.

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An almost universal inability to recall past lives and yet a universal belief in reincarnation... (I could go on about this one at length).
I really don't understand why this is such a hard concept for you to understand.

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A magic system in which "one does not have to see a flow to unravel it if one knows what it is and where it is," with no explanation of how one can know what it is and where it is without seeing it.
Simple, I know my desk to in front of me if I close my eyes. Or more like, this is an example to show you that you never actually "see" weaves, instead the physical represents are just that, something their brains make up to explain a metaphysical concept.

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A sun that will never die alongside an Age (Ours) in which science claims the sun will die...
Who knows what happens at the end of the 7th age? Maybe some huge event with tons of the OP renews everything? What if the world is destroyed and the creator remakes everything? Anything is possible. Also we are assuming their science works exactly like ours.

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A weave of the One Power attuned to a man who will not be born for three thousand years. (The weave that protected Callandor. How exactly did they program it to respond to Rand without him being there or even EXISTING to be used as a template?)
Who says there was such a weave? Obviously there were traps but what if it were just normal traps? How many times did men who could channel gain access to it? Also, since it was a part of prophesy I would assume the wheel would keep anyone from actually getting close enough to grab it.

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A device that allows one to see the memories of one's ancestors and retrieves those memories from.... where?


The same device allows one to see memories from one's descendants and gets these memories how?
Maybe it stores it as data like a computer? Maybe it reads the pattern and can see backwards from one thread?


Quote:
So, when the Aes Sedai built the glass spires, how did they design them? At some point they have to embed "instructions" into the spires. Look in this place and retrieve this data.

So, where to the glass spires go to retrieve not only the memories of people who have been dead for thousands of years but also the memories of people who have not yet been born. Or are they simply a giant virtual reality simulator?)
Again, its probably a machine that can identify a thread in the pattern and track it backwards, showing that thread's history and past (following the thread will lead to its parents, etc)

Quote:
I could go on but the point is that no matter what RJ says, this is a series that is loaded with magic. This is a world that is NOT at all like the real world so trying to use real-world concepts (such as population expansion) is pretty pointless.

Now, that being said, there are times where the series skews off on tangents of silliness that just go to far. But for the most part if you just accept the world as it is without trying to liken it to real life, you'll enjoy it more.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Last edited by Cortar; 04-02-2012 at 03:36 AM.
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  #20  
Old 04-02-2012, 05:23 AM
GonzoTheGreat GonzoTheGreat is offline
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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Our technology is insufficiently advanced.
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