(D&D thoughts about this Charlie Stross article I just read. You should go read it when you have time and your thinking cap/bottle of brain-helper. You probably don't need so much of those for this post, though.)
Three questions (ok 5 or 6), two notes:
1. Does the need for dungeons & treasure necessitate settings with a "mythology of a distant golden age in the past" a la pre-18th C Enlightenment? Is it 'cause D&D settings are mostly emulating pre-18th C times? What if there wasn't an ancient civilization with their buried shit everywhere?
2. Are PCs "actually discovering how the [campaign's] universe works, and improving [their] lives" as functionally post-Enlightenment agents in a pre-enlightenment campaign world?
Do the answers to those questions trend differently in old school D&D play vs new school?
This question may be wanky overacademic bullshit, I haven't decided.
3. Do we blame the Elves? In a lot of settings (based on a lot of mythology) they have an old, decayed kingdom that humans/etc built on top of. Dwarves may be implicit here too. Also, for some of you G+ perverts*, aliens and reptile men.
The above questions are related to concepts in paragraph 1. They have probably already been asked. Feel free to school me.
Note 1: This sentence from paragraph 5 states this idea the most clearly that I've read: "What we call "hard SF" today mostly isn't hard, and isn't SF: it's fantasy with nanotech replicators instead of pixie dust and spaceships instead of dragons."
(one reason why they have such a big audience crossover?)
Note 2: A big reason (for me) that Zak S**'s drawings and such are awesome are that a lot of them give me the "Sense of Wonder" or "eyeball kick" as mentioned in paragraph 8ish.
*I love perverts.
**for some reason I called him Zak S, which is how I see him mentioned on other gaming blogs.