There are lots of posts speculating about a planet (or whatever) where life evolves intelligence and goes on to produce technology, under different differences lacking something or another that is available to us.

Without thumbs, without metals, without vision, in a different atmosphere or liquid or vacuum, as a vegetable, and various other differences in environment and physical attributes.

For mental differences, I see one question about mindset being affected by lack of pain, but intelligence is already imposed by design.

When I see Vulcans portrayed as emotionless, I sometimes wonder if that's plausible, as emotionless humans do exist and we call them sociopaths.

Rather than without any emotion, I'm postulating a species that has an internal self-awareness in the same manner that we do, but is missing some specific emotions (relative to our situation).

In particular, Love and related social emotions evolved because we have social groups and close families for raising children. A species without emotions for individual attachment would have no concept of grief or heartbreak, and would find our idea of love to be maniacal.

I'm supposing this is due to lack of or profound difference in social structure, at least in the recent evolutionary past. How could such a species cooperate and not kill each other off like solitary territorial species, to develop a civilization?

Note that it may have different emotions, including something we have no concept of. You can't explain the feeling of an alien emotion, but can specify the evolutionary meaning and how it acts as a motivating influence.

(I have one idea, but I'll wait and see what others suggest)

Bonus: what would it do for poetry and art, seeing what drives ours? Or would that be missing as well and have a deep influence on the culture?

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    $\begingroup$ Sociopaths do have emotions. They just don't have empathy for others. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Apr 18 '15 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ i dont believe a species of sociopaths would develop a cultural society like ours. $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Apr 18 '15 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ possible duplicate of Are religion, emotion, and individuality binding factors for evolution of a technology-based society? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Apr 18 '15 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ Also, just to point out, Vulcans do have emotions, they are just in control of them. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Apr 18 '15 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ I think this whole question should have been worded with "empathy" instead of "love" $\endgroup$ – Sheraff Apr 18 '15 at 16:42

Love is a useful evolutionary development to bond individuals to each other and their biological offspring, so the first thing that is different on your world is that the dominant species (and probably all of them) do not have a mammalian or marsupial reproductive cycle. Even a reptilian one would be very questionable for this questions, since creatures that abandon their nests after laying eggs will probably be out-competed by creatures which do care for their nests (and by extension their young, like dinosaurs and birds).

So we are looking at creatures who's life cycles may resemble that of fish, molluscs or even invertebrates like starfish. This isn't quite as improbable as it may seem, some species of octopus and squid do exhibit complex behaviours and if the evolutionary dice had come up a bit differently, they might have evolved towards intelligence and sentience. The fact they have complex manipulators will also help them develop intelligence should conditions change dramatically in the future.

The lack of love would mean that the formation of large or complex groups would have to be determined on other principles. As well, the means of binding groups together would also be changed. Complex group dynamics could evolve in a sort of hive construct, where one individual is "queen" and the remainder of the flock/herd/school are subordinated and generally tasked to further the survival and reproduction of the group. Flocking and schooling behaviours are generally emergent properties of simple group behaviour (for example get no closer than "x" to any other individual in the flock, but do not let any individual in the flock get any further away from you than "y"). How this might evolve into intelligent or sentient behaviour is not clear to me, but since it statistically increases the chances of any individual remaining alive to breed and also allows for large group behaviour, a flocking or schooling creature might be isolated by climactic or geological changes into a more complex environment which fosters more complex survival behaviours.

This would mean that perhaps each individual member of the flock or school isn't particularly "smart", but the collective intelligence and collective behaviours of the group makes these creatures sentient and the dominant species on the planet.


Love is a label we place on a feeling. This feeling is grounded in our biology. Ants do not love, yet they cooperate and find very novel solutions. Even more so, say an alien organism has evolved to be cooperative with altruistic tendencies, is this sufficient grounds to call it love or do we need to know what the alien thinks about it?

I suspect in the very least, cooperative behaviour is favoured. This is because technology is the cumulative effort of many thousands of man-hours. It is more likely that a group of less sophisticated organisms, by cooperation, make technological advancements than it is for a single organism to achieve such a feat of intelligence on its own.

  • $\begingroup$ How exactly do you know that ants do not have computations analogous to our "love", and why is that not to be called "love" also? (Assuming we grant that animals like dogs experience love.) $\endgroup$ – Rex Kerr Jul 13 '15 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ It flows from the definition, which I grant might be incorrect, but it is none the less a reasonable assumption to make. Assuming that love is a label that we place on a feeling, we need to grant that ants have feelings before we can grant that they experience love. If we assume that love is merely the observation of cooperation with altruistic tendencies, be it selective or universal to the colony, then I concede that ants do love. Whether dogs love is an interesting question, I would approach it by definition love and working from there. How would you define the properties of a dog's love? $\endgroup$ – niobe Jul 29 '15 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how you'd define the properties of a person's love, so I'm not sure what to do about dogs. But they seem affectionate, distressed when a "loved one" is in danger, lonely when away from them (depressed mood, less active), etc.. $\endgroup$ – Rex Kerr Jul 29 '15 at 21:58

I cannot trully define love, because the ideal of love manifested itself in various forms across our history. You have the romantic ideal of love, that appears after industrialization. Before this man/woman kind of love appeared and became the norm, another form of love was more emphasized. Love of god, love towards your brother. etc. So i will treat love in a general way, a bond between many people were each other care about their outcomes. To talk about love, and emotions in general, we need to talk about why those things developed in the first place.

Emotions are a powerfull way to set the general tone of the brain towards an objective. Our first emotion is fear. Reason alone cannot guarantee our survival, because reason works in a certain cadence that might be too slow to react to a danger. Reason might be impaired by incomplete information or contradictory information. Reason must deal with a limited set of information. Reason, as it starts as a blank sheet on the young, might not know the evolutionary history of our species, all the pressures natural selection exerted in your development. Reason might not be able, for one, to decide if you should walk towards a snake to know what it is, or flee from it. Because gathering information is for reason a good trade off, because information makes reason more and more powerfull.

So, emotions arise as a way to tell the person about dangers or things that it should do to guarantee our survival as individuals and as species. If reason alone was to decide if we should mate or not, the survival of our species might very well be endangered. Then emotions such as love or attraction develop to set a general tone in our brain and reasoning to force or incentive us to mate. If you see a snake, and reason does not know what to do because you dont know what a snake is or can do to us, emotions like fear, will raise to tell us to flee.

Love is then a way, to tell us that our species evolved as gregarious animals, and that living in society, starting at the nuclear family, is something that made our species able to survive. Reason, at a longer term might change those emotions or dominate then. But, the base emotion is there to help you know what are reasonable ways to deal with certain things. In other words, emotions are a kind of condensed history of humankind, a heritage from our past.

So regarding your question, if another intelligent species are not to have a emotion like love, this would mean that this species will need to learn and relearn as individuals everything that in our species is inherited as emotion. Effectively turning societal life much harder and, hindering its cultural development. So, i dont believe this is possible at all.

  • $\begingroup$ Pls show some love for my answer... $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Apr 18 '15 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ I would love to see objective criticism of my answer... $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Apr 19 '15 at 14:09


There's nothing uniquely viable about the human mind over the rest of mindspace. There's no real reason alien minds would need to have any random property in common with ours.

That being said, any sort of alien mind which evolved to live in communities with other alien minds of the same type and/or evolved to spend a significant amount of time caring for its offspring would likely evolve some sort of behavior which fulfills similar purposes to our love/friendship behavior. What you're looking for is any behavior which allows the possessor to buy genetic fitness for another organism at a more efficient rate than they can buy it for themself while limiting the recipients to those who are either genetically related to the possessor, thereby indirectly providing fitness for the possessor, or who share the same behavior, thereby potentially buying more fitness for themself in the long run when the other reciprocates. Love and friendship are good at these goals, but they aren't necessarily the only emotions which could serve.

Also, bear in mind that just as we could look at an alien and think that they are missing some grand and beautiful emotion which gives meaning to life, they could look at us and think exactly the same thing.

  • $\begingroup$ this is an ideological construct devoid of relationship with reality. $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Apr 18 '15 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ Could you be more specific in your objection? What about it do you consider unrealistic? $\endgroup$ – Saidoro Apr 18 '15 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ Because you cannot say WHY aliens would evolve differently. Its like if on earth we evolved the way we evolved simply because we "chose to be that way". Nope, things in nature happen usually the needed way. Its not a choice but a consequence. If you have beings that zaped into intelligent existence out of thin air, then anything goes, but as soon as you are constrained by needs and circunstances, you get something similar to humans. Humans are history things, and aliens will, if they exist, be historical too. Keyword here is history.. $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Apr 18 '15 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ There are a large number of potential evolutions. Love does have evidence in its favor due to it working out fairly well for us, but the evidence is not sufficiently strong to make it the only conceivable option. If I had to choose one specific emotion to fulfill the stated goals it would be love, yes, but there is a fairly large "everything else" category as well, which may contain useful things within its folds. Yes, the aliens will be historical, but the Xorphs will evolve as Xorph!history dictates, not necessarily as Human~history does. Could you explain what you mean by contingence? $\endgroup$ – Saidoro Apr 18 '15 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ there are a large number of potential evolutions ? care to enumerate those ? $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Apr 18 '15 at 22:16

First of all 'love' is a linguistic category, signifying, at the root, a complex of neurochemical reactions to the living environment. And, in different usages of the word 'love' the complex of underlying reactions in the brain might be differently oriented. But, of course, you do not mean love in the mundane sense, to mean like very much, but love which includes empathy, altruism, self-sacrifice, etc.

Even here, one must differentiate between what is essential and what is contingent. In two different individuals a similar external environment, a complex of stimuli, might produce different manifestations of emotion. But, the essential neurochemical reactions are more or less the same, not wholly, but more or less. If the two individuals come from the same cultural background, they will use similar linguistic categories to express their 'feelings'. An individual from a wholly different cultural world will express himself differently. So, one might express the feeling as love, the other might express it as unease.

My point is that the essential reality of the physical world is mediated and framed through the contingent reality of the cultural world. So, love is a culturally and historically constructed linguistic category, and not essentially a 'real' thing. So, I, can't really say that love is a factor at all in any evolutionary trajectory. One has to step down the ladder of abstraction to more fundamental emotions - sadness, joy, fear, sexual desire. Whether any interaction between these is expressed as love is wholly contingent on the cultural trajectory of a civilisation.

So, yes, a species could advance, without ever having to construct the idea of 'love'. It could have something we might interpret as 'like love', but love itself is not an essential emotion. It is a cultural construct.

  • $\begingroup$ did you ever heard about the concept of qualia ? $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Apr 19 '15 at 7:48
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, actually. But I must admit, even though it seems intuitive, the idea of 'qualia' is too forced, and, in my opinion, unnecessary. Although I have not delved deeply into philosophy of mind, my area of study is philosophy of science, I feel the solution to the mind-body problem, if ever, has to be founded on a neurochemical foundation. That is the only objective reality, as of now, we have access to. $\endgroup$ – Sykik Apr 19 '15 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ so watching a red wall is not objective ? $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Apr 19 '15 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ You ask whether 'watching' a 'red' 'wall' is objective. The answer is - No. The act of watching, the concept of a wall, they are both contingent on how any species 'watches' - it does not have to be through the sense of sight - and the idea of a 'wall' - which has cultural connotations. The experience of 'red', is a more relevant question. But I don't know if this is the place for such a discussion. $\endgroup$ – Sykik Apr 19 '15 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ So describing the wavelength of red light is objective but watching it firsthand is subjective ? In other words, anything that does not pertain the sciences is subjective so its inferior to the "official science" notion of red ? I see there a tyranny of science that has quite usefull traits for those in power... But hey, objective reality is not a reality shared by many people ? When people see red, even if they cannot describe it, they can usually detect its difference from, say, green... Provided that there are differences of perception, it is still red for most people... $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Apr 19 '15 at 16:17

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