Set in a parallel universe, in a galaxy far far away, an Earth-like planet orbiting a yellow dwarf star with the mass of 1 solar mass. And yes, indeed that planet comes with a natural satellite that seems to be tidal locked but anyhow, could a specie, most probably mammalian would develop sapient intelligence through either evolutionary or selective pressure alone without inventing tools(physical object)? To qualify a sapient at least in my world is the ability to ask irrational questions on it's own... BTW a parrot named Alex tried to cheat but was took cared of.

  • $\begingroup$ You answered your own question. Being sapient means asking "who I am, who we are, were are we going in life, what's the purpose of life". Making tools is making tools. $\endgroup$ Nov 20, 2019 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ What exactly do you mean by "ability to ask irrational questions?". By many definitions of sapient elephants pass for example and they only use extremely crude tools. $\endgroup$
    – S. Move
    Nov 20, 2019 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ @S.Move: actually quite many animal species would pass the test with flying colours but only a human at least myself would seriously ponder why a chicken cross the road? $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Nov 20, 2019 at 11:09
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    $\begingroup$ Well, how do you know other species aren't asking questions like that if we can't understand them properly? There are only a small handful of species that we've unlocked some measure of two-way communication with that can discuss more abstract objects. What you're asking for (sounds to me like) the ability to consider things that are not immediate but ponder an abstract scenario. Again, some animals have shown signs of doing that. $\endgroup$
    – S. Move
    Nov 20, 2019 at 11:14
  • $\begingroup$ You can simply look at the countless species on earth to determine the ridiculous natural feats that can accomplished without tools. $\endgroup$ Nov 20, 2019 at 12:27

3 Answers 3


Unlikely, but Plausible

My first reaction was no, because use of tools is one of the ways we define intelligence. For example with logical thinking and knowledge of cause and effect you can reason that hitting something with a pointy stick is better than punching them. However, your question was not about using tools, but making them.

So in order for this to work you would need a species that:

  • Benefits from increased communication (a social or pack animal)
  • Benefits from logical thought
  • Lacks the physical capability to manipulate the environment with enough precision to construct objects.

For example a pack of omnivorous wolves. Increases in intelligence and communication could help them hunt, and if they figured out limited farming or ranching they would have a massive benefit to their survival, but lack the physical means to actually construct tools. They would certainly use any useful objects they found in the world around them to their benefit.

The reason this is not very likely, is that any genetic variance that increased precise manipulation would become hugely beneficial and would spread throughout the population. This would have to never have happened.

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    $\begingroup$ I would say more ulikely, than plausible. For cultural development there should be feedback loop: when intelligence modifies environment and then adapts to that more and more artificial (with each cycle) environment. Those " sapient wolfs" (or dolphins?) would stay at primitive culture with the languge of hundred words without any possibility to develop further. $\endgroup$
    – ksbes
    Nov 20, 2019 at 9:24

I would probably turn that question around, why would a sapient intelligent species not use tools if they have the capacity to make them.

Tools are not a necessity for intelligence (or sapiens), though it's an inevitable outcome of intelligence. Any entity with the mental capacity to shape the world around it to it's own benefit, will invariably do so eventually.


I think you should clarify whether you mean "without MAKING tools" versus "without USING tools". There are a LOT of intelligent animals that use 'found' tools including primates, birds, and even octopus.

If the question is "can you be sapient without USING tools", I think that's extremely unlikely, and would be possible with a creature that doesn't have any ability to manipulate physical objects.

If the question is "can you be sapient without MAKING tools", I think that's entirely possible and if you go on youtube and watch some of the crazy stuff octopus do, you might even argue that it's already happened.


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