If all humans had four fingers and no opposable thumbs, how would the world be different?

When I say 'have no opposable thumbs', I mean if humans never evolved them.

Specifically, I'm looking for differences in technology and western culture/society, but feel free to explore other possible effects.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean like on all fours? $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Apr 13 '15 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ No - all physiology is the same except for a lack of thumbs. Tuck your thumb under your hand and tilt your hand a little so you can't see the thumb - that's what I'm thinking of. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan Krage
    Apr 13 '15 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ our ancestor was a biped not by accident, they do so to free their hands to make tools and to complement each other. This posed a new question do they walk on two before becoming smarter or the other way around? (chicken or egg conundrum) sorry about the spam. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Apr 13 '15 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ Related: Could a Species Use Tools (and Build a Civilization) Without Thumbs? $\endgroup$
    – Trang Oul
    Apr 13 '15 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ Blackberries wouldn't have been nearly as popular. $\endgroup$
    – RoboKaren
    Apr 13 '15 at 14:07

Opposable thumbs are great at manipulating things. So great, in fact, that one of the few species with opposable thumbs has risen to the top and wiped out countless other species. I imagine that technology would advance slightly slower. How much slower? Honestly I have no clue, but we might currently be using 1970's tech at best if we lacked them.

I don't see much of an effect on culture/society. Since these people never had opposable thumbs to begin with, they probably wouldn't miss them. Cities wouldn't be thrown into anarchy or nations toppled simply because Joe Blow and Sandy Mandy over there don't have thumbs.

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    $\begingroup$ The largest changes to the culture would be in the areas of movie ratings hitch-hiking and facebook icons. $\endgroup$
    – Fungo
    Apr 13 '15 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ "Lack of Thumb"'s up for this comment. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Apr 13 '15 at 23:31
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    $\begingroup$ I think that you are very wildly out with "using 1970's tech at best". And, as a second point, in the big picture, there is no major societal differecne between the 70's and todday ( I am discounting FaceTweet) $\endgroup$ Nov 23 '16 at 12:54

There would be major differences both technologically and culturally.

Starting with technology, think back to all the basic tools that pretty much rely on the ability to grip - stone knives & spears, even into the future, ropes, pens, screwdrivers, swords, bows, even guns would be affected. I'm not saying they'd be impossible to use without opposable thumbs but certainly a lot more difficult and so probably wouldn't have developed as naturally as they did, if at all (difficult to use would mean thrown aside and forgotten).

I would wonder if we would ever get past the iron age, and would certainly be a lot slower to reach it and to advance beyond.

But why would that affect culture? Well presumably without such technology, the spread of mankind would surely have been much different. For a start, we would be less inclined to stand upright as user6760 said above. But even looking to more recent times, without the Long-bow would Britain have conquered as much as they did in the middle ages? Without such a mastery of ropes and knotting they would surely not have the dominant Navy they did, if indeed such a Navy could even exist. It's doubtful the Renaissance could have happened without the existence and skill in delicate instrumentation.

To build your world, if you were to be honest in your story, you'd need to start at the beginning of civilisation at the Stone-Age and imagine how each invention would be different if it was made for someone with no thumbs, and then the following generations of inventions would have to evolve from those, rather than from real inventions. You should find that quite quickly you have branched quite far away from what happened in real life.


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