If you look at our society, you can see why we developed technology. Each individual wanted an easier life, therefore we invented tools and overcame obstacles to achieve this easier life. One could also argue that the driving factors for our civilization have been things like religious beliefs, emotions, and our very individuality and ability to think independently to come up with a wide variety of solutions to problems quicker than species that lack these.

My question is this:

Are religion, emotions, and a sense of individuality required for the evolution of a high tech society? Are these three factors required for our evolution, or could a species realistically evolve without one or more of these features?

  • $\begingroup$ I can't see how religion would fit in with the other two very general ideas. Perhaps you mean something more like spirituality? But then it might just be the emotional aspects of that. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Feb 26 '15 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ I do mean spirituality. Spirituality generally leads to religion, so I thought I would just generalize the term since the two are so related. $\endgroup$ Feb 26 '15 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ Emotions aren't required for intelligent life, however they are required for a cooperative society such as ours...more specifically Empathy, the ability to detect others feels and sympathize with them, is required. There's a big difference between intelligent life and a society though, so this is a comment not an answer. I'd be curious if a high-tech society could rise from a non-social species $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Feb 26 '15 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Twelfth I know it is not required for us to comprehend and learn, but to develop advanced technology, you need a cooperative society. $\endgroup$ Feb 26 '15 at 19:25

Not all of these features are required for intelligent life.

Part of the difficulty for this question is defining intelligent life. I think Wikipedia has a good start on the definition of intelligence:

Intelligence has been defined in many different ways such as in terms of one's capacity for logic, abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, communication, learning, emotional knowledge, memory, planning, creativity and problem solving. It can also be more generally described as the ability to perceive and/or retain knowledge or information and apply it to itself or other instances of knowledge or information creating referable understanding models of any size, density, or complexity, due to any conscious or subconscious imposed will or instruction to do so.

It appears from this definition that at least emotion and self-awareness are required. I don't think that's true; it's a very human-centric view of intelligence.


I would argue that a hive mind, a collection of cooperative individuals without self-awareness, can also be called intelligent. Even if we don't have a current example of that, there is no reason it can not exist. Intelligence itself seems to be an emergent quality, there is no set of neurons in a human brain that are intelligent, it's the interaction of it all working together. Such emergence is seen from groups of individuals already, like an ant colony. Though it may not be considered intelligent, it's not difficult to imagine the effect being scaled up to something we would recognize as intelligence (then again, it may just be a Chinese Room, but that's a whole different discussion about intelligence). So a hive mind intelligence could have emotion, be non-religious, lack self-awareness, but be intelligent. It could also be lacking in emotion, but that might not be as likely for a biological entity.


I'm under the belief that in order to have emotion, a mind must have a body. This arises from the James-Lange theory. It's why I don't believe artificial intelligences will ever be the angry homicidal beings that fiction makes them out to be. An artificial intelligence then, will be self-aware, non-religious, won't have emotion, but can be intelligent.


I don't see any cases where this is required at all (I think it also requires emotion, so I don't think it even belongs in a fundamental list). Not even for the evolution of human intelligence. It's prevalence in human civilization seems more likely a remnant of the suspicion and superstition that helped us survive early in our evolution. Suspicion gave us the wariness to avoid predators and the overactive pattern recognition that has almost no evolutionary counter-pressure. Superstition let us follow the wisdom of not eating the red berries without understanding why we can't eat the red berries. But belief in a higher power doesn't specifically provide evolutionary advantage, all the benefits can be had without that side effect. Humans are capable of morality, love, awe, wonder, and altruism without religion. Secular humanism is a good example. I suppose that could be called a type of spirituality, but it should not be confused with belief in a higher power, which is implied by the term religion.

  • $\begingroup$ The only reason I included religion is because of a History Channel documentary. It said that religion might provide the evolutionary benefit of morality----from the stand point of it helps keep people in line(helpful laws being e.g. Don't steal) and helps societies form around a set of common beliefs. $\endgroup$ Feb 26 '15 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ @DustinJackson Oh my, well I am very glad we don't use religion for morality. People would be put to death for cursing either of their parents (Matthew 15:4). I don't think many of us would have survived our teenage years :) Rationality and love are much better guides for morality, neither of which require religion. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Feb 26 '15 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, but I can see how having a common religion would be beneficial for a civilization, rather than having none. History has shown many times that without a set religion, people rely more on greed than compassion and love. I think it is against our competitive nature as a species to let compassion and love in their purest form guide us. $\endgroup$ Feb 26 '15 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ This is is assuming that the species has emotion and self awareness. $\endgroup$ Feb 26 '15 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ @DustinJackson I can see how community would be beneficial, but again, that does not require religion. People without community resort to greed, a set religion does not abolish greed. We are competetive, but altruism is also in our nature because it is better for the species on average. We don't actually need religion for any of these ideals. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Feb 26 '15 at 19:58

Two different questions

Are religion, emotions, and a sense of individuality required for the evolution of a high tech society?

High tech societies are pushed by what I called a laziness factor. People want more time to do what they want to do (often nothing!), and so find ingenious ways to reduce their work load or speed up a chore. The dish washer, the washing machine, vacuum cleaner are all tools to reduce a time of chores that are daily or weekly occurrences.

I'm a software engineer, my best ideas are ones that reduce the time a worker needs to spend on something. Often this is repetitive, boring and error prone work. It can be done by a person but why should it? In two weeks I wrote a program that automated data entry that was taking one person 20-40 hours a week to do, mostly overtime, to 2 hours mostly by a computer running in the background. Just the thought of all the time she had to waste was driving ME nuts.

Us lazy people find short cuts to everything because often we don't want to be doing it in the first place!

Are these three factors required for our evolution, or could a species realistically evolve without one or more of these features?

Now are the factors required? No, but I have a hard time envisioning a culture developing very far on their own without some form of spirituality which at the very least comes from curiosity and having questions you don't know the answers too. Emotions? I think you need at the very least curiosity, need/want also pushes, the need for food, shelter, safety etc. Individuality? Actually I don't think this is necessary, or at least the least important. I think you need an idea of 'us' just as much as a 'me', maybe more, since, to much 'me' and you lose reasons for team work. Too much 'us' and the individual loses importance, but for a species survival, that can actually work out very well in the long run.


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