# Is there a minimum population mass required for scientific/technological advancement?

So I'm down with a summer cold that flu in out of the blu. Mum is fairly aged... the combination means suddenly the chores are piling up. Somehow the way my mind works I started to wonder what it would be like to be marooned, and the first person in the world. As the first person, instinct would guide me some - the rest owuld be trial-and-error ... and unless in a Utopian setup there would be little time to think. The second person may be able to get some guidance over-and-above by instinct by watching how the first does things... and so on.

Science & Technology require keen observation. They may also require effort away from actively being involved satisfying basic human needs, and instead focussed towards experimentation which comes with it's own capital cost of resources & time - what may be deemed unproductive pursuit.

The thought in my mind is - is there something like a critical population mass required for science/technology to develop?

There is a minimum population of one.

A single person can make advances in technology. For instance, using a stick to hunt animals (it works better than tackling them). Then sharpening that stick. Now Stick 3.0 uses a stone tip. One person is capable of these level of technological advancement.

Observing that each iteration of Stick does a better job than the first is a science, done by a single person. Observing that rain always moves down, allows this single person to conceptualize a shelter which would be above them, shielding from the rain.

The level of advancements would scale with the population. Two people might discover a need to communicate or how proper fashion can impress another human. As discussed in this question, there are limits to what even an immortal human can achieve on their own. More brains means more computational ability, to a certain degree. Once accumulated human knowledge breaches some fuzzy barrier, humans need to specialize in order to keep advancing.

• I think two is a more realistic minimum :-) – jamesqf May 2 '15 at 1:37
• Yes ... and no. As an example, say he were to attempt to take on a leopard with a stick. Part of the premise in the post is about the effort & resources required for experimentation in technology to succeed. – Everyone May 18 '15 at 14:27
• @Everyone Is eight billion enough? Say those eight billion were to take on a moon crashing into their planet. There is always something too big to survive; something too big for technology to do anything about. – Samuel May 18 '15 at 14:57

I don't know if there is a firm number... I think it's more a matter of resources.
If I have to spend all day hunting and gathering to get enough food to feed my family I'm not going to have much time for experimenting.

Some things will be figured out by luck, or just really inquisitive people wanting to make their lives easier, but the big leaps need people who can spend a lot of time figuring things out.

Once agriculture became a thing, suddenly people didn't have to look for roots and berries or kill an animal to eat, and more people could spend time looking into the secrets of the universe.

• Science and technology can't occur as long as people are struggling merely to survive. Only when agriculture produces sufficient food that some of that society can spending time working on other things do you see non-immediate survival activities (philosophy, science, art, etc.) start to flourish. Look at periods of time in which humans struggled to survive (stone age, dark age) and you'll notice little to no scientific work done. I don't have anything quantitative to add though. – Jim2B May 1 '15 at 19:14
• @Jim2B Thanks, pretty much what I was getting at. :) There will always be some advancement, even in starving times. The deer is fast, so I will throw a stick. If the stick has a rock tied to it, it goes further. What if it was a sharp rock. etc. But they will mostly be to help you get food easier. At some point you say "This bush is to far away, what if they were planted closer?" and agriculture is born. – AndyD273 May 1 '15 at 19:27
• Precisely my point :) Once you have a certain level of resources, challenges, and people - technological advance should be able to take-off. For instance the Mayan/s had astronomy, a script ... other sciences - yet failed to develop the wheel. – Everyone May 18 '15 at 14:33
• @Everyone I'm just not sure what the minimum number is. You need X people to grow/gather food, Y people to maintain/build the shelters and other structures, and Q people to gather other resources. The numbers have to be high enough that a small number of people can do deep thinking and experimentation without being seen as taking away from chances of survival. In plentiful times with lots of resources X and Q can be lower. Its like in the game Civilization. At city size 2 you need everyone gathering food. At size 8 you can make people be scientists while still having growth, terrain permitting – AndyD273 May 18 '15 at 15:07
• @AndyD273: An emphatic 'Exactly' ... :) – Everyone May 19 '15 at 6:53

There is the precedent that of the 15 genus homo that existed for the pass 3 million years only 3 or 4 had similar brain capacity as homo sapiens (pass 500,000 years). The rate of development of science or technology seems linked to the growth and size of population. The Neantherthal man who existed for close to 250,000 years and during their existence interglacial periods had ocurr (like in the last 13,000 years for homo sapiens) did not develop agriculture or experienced any revolution in existing technology. It is known that Neantherthals were scatered across Europe in small groups and that at their peak of population all toguether may not have surpassed the 250K individuals and were at 100K most of the time. In contrast the agrarian revolution ocurred when human population on earth was one million.

The following technology revolutions have occurred (although some may have been developments of prior technologies).

-Lower paleolithic: Emergence of tool development and fire
-The Upper Paleolithic Revolution: The emergence of "high culture", new technologies and regionally distinct cultures (50,000 - 40,000 years ago).
-The Neolithic Revolution (perhaps 13000 years ago), which formed the basis for human civilization to develop.
-The Renaissance technological revolution: The set of inventions during the Renaissance period, roughly the 14th through the 16th century.
-The Commercial Revolution: A period of European economic expansion, colonialism, and mercantilism which lasted from approximately the 16th century until the early 18th century.
-The Price revolution: A series of economic events from the second half of the 15th century to the first half of the 17th, the price revolution refers most specifically to the high rate of inflation that characterized the period across Western Europe.
-The Scientific revolution: A fundamental transformation in scientific ideas around the 16th century.
-The British Agricultural Revolution (18th century), which spurred urbanisation and consequently helped launch the Industrial Revolution.
-The Industrial Revolution: The major shift of technological, socioeconomic and cultural conditions in the late 18th century and early 19th century that began in Britain and spread throughout the world.
-The Market Revolution: A drastic change in the manual labor system originating in the South of the United States (and soon moving to the North) and later spreading to the entire world (about 1800–1900).
-The Second Industrial Revolution (1871–1914).
-The Green Revolution (1945-1975): The use of industrial fertilizers and new crops greatly increased the world's agricultural output.
-The Digital Revolution: The sweeping changes brought about by computing and communication technology, starting from circa 1950 with the creation of the first general-purpose electronic computers.
-The Information revolution: The massive economic, social and technological changes resulting from the Digital revolution (after 1960?).


Maybe the exhange of ideas independenty developed and technology growth requires a certain number of trial and error attemps of course the more population exists the more trials occurr per unit of time and thus the development of aplications is impacted by this. In addition it could be that the more people the more observants and thus there is a higher probability with a larger population that one individual hits on a discovery or hits on something that others did not see or think and sparks a new revolution or an aplication that others did not envision).

So from this respect it seems that there is a threshold between 250K and 1 million individuals where a new complete technology can emerge. Also between 0 and 100K where it can but at extremely low paste.

I would say: Science - No. Technology - Yes.

Engineering has existed far before Science as we know it was ever a thing. People would make tools to benefit survival, and then improve upon those tools. These tools benefit daily life and are viewed as necessary. This is technology in a simple sense, and it's a crucial part of evolution.

Science is different. As we know it, it's a study of natural phenomenon all around us. The people who made tools for hunting didn't study a natural phenomenon so much as a means to achieving a goal. That is one of the intrinsic differences between how I would view Science and Technology. With Technology, you learn to achieve a goal. With Science, you learn to understand. There is overlap with methods, as trial-and-error is present in both, but ultimately they are quite different from one another.

It is why Science didn't appear in humanity until well after Technology had.

I would say yes or no, purely dependent on definitions.

I actually had a long string of questions regarding the definition of "science" on the Philosophy StackExchange. The answer seems to be that there is not an agreed upon definition of what science actually is.

If your definition of science is laboratory science with Popper style statistics based falsification at the forefront, it will take quite a large critical mass. However, if you open up the definition a bit, alchemy starts to look awfully scientific.

The same goes for technology. Someone will put two sticks together in a novel way to solve a problem. Human ingenuity is extraordinary. If your definition of technology is blueprints and machine tools, that will take a while.

I do see a general pattern of "modeling" that seems to sit behind science and technology. The idea of building models in your head, playing with them, and then building the best result, rather than starting off by building things in the real world. To me, this idea that the models in your head can be uncannily useful for affecting the real world is the kernel that starts us on our way towards science and technology.

This suggests there may be a critical mass of control over the environment where science and technology take off. You have to reach the point where calories and mental-development spent on modeling the world around you starts to pay off. In some environments, the human body is so much better at taking care of itself that modeling would actually get in the way. In other environments, where the question of "what to do in the long run" starts to become more important, modeling things in our heads starts to help us make decisions. The easiest way to get an opportunity to think about the long run is to extend your control to a larger region, allowing you more time to react to the more banal threats to life.

If you look at the history of science and technology on this planet you discover that science (pre-Bacon, not science as we would normally define it today) is really nothing more than a methodical system of trying to improve technology.

Synchronicity and dumb-luck observations only get you so far. Stick => club, Fire => cooking, etc. Technology started to become systematic when early metal-working began because this was high value tech that really justified scientific specialization.

Finding nuggets of gold, silver, copper on the ground is fine, but learn how to extract and refine ores was the first systematic science. Some agricultural techniques (irrigation and seeding techniques) may be considered the first systematic technology by some people though, or possibly early pottery techniques.

In any case, it is not so much the population basis as it is the opportunistic nature of early technology.