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The muscles:

They have muscle tissue that can grow stronger with exercise and can atrophy with neglect just like our muscle tissue. But their muscles don't grow larger when they get stronger, and they don't get smaller when they get weaker. Their muscles stay the same size and shape throughout their lives no matter what they do or how strong or weak they are.

The underlying biological cause of this is not important to the question at hand.

What are the implications?

They can't see or feel whether a muscle is strong or weak, even on their own bodies, and they can't observe the physical changes to their bodies as a result of exercise. Their civilization is roughly dark ages now, so they don't have good science. Without easily observable physical changes, they start out mystified about why some people end up stronger than others.

The question requiring a theory:

The central question for which they are going to develop a wrong theory is: Why are some people stronger? Why can one person lift a big rock while another person can only lift a small rock? Of course if they develop good science they'll eventually discover and prove 'muscle theory' (exercise causes invisible changes to our muscles that make us stronger). But consider how long it took us to discover and prove germ theory (the spread of tiny invisible germs causes disease) and the wacky theories we had before that like miasma theory (bad smells cause disease) and exorcism (possession by demons causes disease) etc. What false theories about muscles and exercise would catch on?

The best answers would be if there is some reason the false theory stays around, like how miasma theory seemed right because without in-home showers and toilets, sick people ended up smelling awful, and when plague doctors covered their nose and mouth with those creepy masks to block the smell, they may have accidentally protected themselves a little.

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    $\begingroup$ The correct theory is that exercise makes these humanoids grow stronger. An example incorrect theory might be that the sun makes them stronger, since people who work outside like lumberjacks and farmers tend to be stronger than people who work inside like tailors and scribes. $\endgroup$ – Jared K Oct 24 '18 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, I see the confusion now. I'm not asking for an incorrect theory of why their muscles don't grow. They've never seen muscles that do grow, so it's not a point of puzzlement for them. The OF is that some of them are stronger than others. The wrong theory must explain that OF. Why can't humanoid A lift this big rock when humanoid B can, and they still look the same? The correct theory is that humanoid B has strengthened his muscles through exercise. Any other theory than that is a valid wrong theory. $\endgroup$ – Jared K Oct 24 '18 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ What do they observe? You've told us a lot of things they don't observe. But, for instance, do they get to observe that if you train at something, you get better at it? Also worth noting is that the answer to these question is incredibly cultural. The way your civilization approaches problems will have far more effect on the answer than the biology of the muscles. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 25 '18 at 0:23
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They will reach the correct theory eventually, because all the theories would be fairly easy for them to test.

Lets take a simple scenario. There is a farmer, who works in a field. Every day, for 16 hours a day. He tends the ground, carries crops, and takes it to market to sell. Now he is fairly strong. He does this all by himself. This makes the Noble who he sells to wonder why is it that a farmer is stronger than him. He comes up with several theories

  • He was born that way
  • Its because of what he eats
  • Divine blessings
  • Its because of what he does

In an effort to also become strong, the Noble investigates. Firstly, he notices that there are a lot of other farmers. So many being Born a farmer makes you stronger. The Noble however, also notices that the Knights from royal families seem pretty strong. So do the blacksmiths, wood workers, fishers and some other professions. Since its such a wide range of people, he knows it wasn't being born that way.

Then the noble looks at his second option. Is it what he eats? The noble, being able to afford the same food, sets out on a diet that matches the farmer. After a couple of weeks, he feels no difference. In fact he feels even weaker than he was before. So he rules that out.

Next the Noble is convinced that its because of the divine blessings. He visits the local church to which he is a generous donator of, to receive the blessing. But lo and behold, all the priests and nuns are such as weak as he is. While the priest does bless him, the noble quickly realizes that he is just as weak as he was before the blessing.

So finally, he asks himself, Maybe its what the farmer does everyday. Not very happy with the prospect of hard labor, the Noble simply decides to carry some more equipment around during his day to day activities. After a couple weeks, he realises he is strong and that the equipment he was carrying before feels a bit lighter. He isn't completely out of breath, but he is still tired. He tries to lift some heavier things and after another couple of weeks realises that it too has also become easier to lift.

The happy noble, stops excising and arranges for a feast where he will spread the good news. Over the coming weeks, he doesn't do any exercise because he is too busy preparing the party. On the Night of the party, he gets his butler to bring out the weight and tries to lift it again. After much boasting and applause, he fails, after much embarrassment, he retires to his chambers early.

The other nobles, head off home and gossip about it. They come up with their own theories

  • Is it true you can get strong by lifting heavy things?
  • Will I always stay that strong?
  • Do I have to keep lifting heavy things to stay strong after I become strong
  • How much can I lift before I stop becoming stronger

The only interesting catch would be due to intensive exercise. "If you exercise too hard, it makes you weaker" but in the long run, they would figure out how to get stronger. Its easy to look at someone strong and isolate what they did to make themselves strong.

Edit: A note about the invisible germs

There are many invisible germs that cause many different problems. Peoples bodies also react differently and it is influenced by a ton of factors like your parents, who you are in contact with, hygiene and diet. Two people can catch the same disease and have widely different reactions. With so much variety, its very hard to narrow down whats the individual cause. With exercise, there is basically only one thing that happens. You get stronger/fitter over time. It doesn't really matter who the person is, who they hang out with, who they were born as, who they worship, what their body is like. As long as they perform an exercise over and over again, it becomes easier. That's not to say it becomes trivial to perform, its just easier than someone who doesn't perform the same exercise.

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  • $\begingroup$ It seems like this logic relies on the ruler following the scientific method. At what point did that sort of approach become common in the real world? $\endgroup$ – Admiral Jota Oct 25 '18 at 2:24
  • $\begingroup$ @AdmiralJota I think when it comes down to it, the ruling class has always been more intelligent than the masses. People on power have to manage and protect their assets and if they themselves are incapable, or don't have staff that are, they will likely be replaced by someone down the family line who is far more ambitious. People already knew the earth was round, as far back as the 3rd century BC. We just often reach plateau in development, but increasing strength would have been one of the first we faced and overcome. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Oct 25 '18 at 2:53
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    $\begingroup$ The "ruling class" has the time to waste. The working classes work to survive and don't get the chance to fool around like in the examples above. There is no difference in intelligence (you'd have to provide some heavy duty references if you want to claim that). $\endgroup$ – Cyn Oct 25 '18 at 2:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Cyn True, there might not have been a difference in intelligence, knowledge and the application of such knowledge would be a better way to describe it. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Oct 25 '18 at 3:11
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    $\begingroup$ people making careful observation long precedes a formal elaboration of the scientific method. certain curious sorts of people have been asking the 'why is that' question for a long, long time. certainly well into pre-history. how else did they construct their elaborate tools. $\endgroup$ – theRiley Oct 25 '18 at 5:30
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If your culture is the way that people who don't need to do physical labour or don't need workouts are inclined to give up the prospect of bodily strength in order to obtain or preserve something they perceive as more important then it is easy to blame physical strength on something which is also a consequence of workouts.

  1. Drenched in sweat makes you stronger. (But who wants to smell all the time?)

  2. A rapid heartbeat makes you stronger. (But people with slower heartbeat live longer.)

  3. A flushed face makes you stronger. (But it looks rather unbecoming, doesn't it?)

You could probably find other reasons.

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I think it'll be as simples as the more you do something, the better you are at it. They'll just observe that there are people who start weak and as they perform their activities, then they get better and faster at it. Probably there would be people more prone to physical activities, but they would just be called stronger people.

A cleric trying to learn how to read will start slow and as he gets better at it, he'll read faster and understand more words. He doesn't have the faintest idea on how his brains made synapses and modified itself so he could do what he did, and I don't think he cares.

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