Year 2730 AC¹. Generation Starship Epsilon arrives to the planet Gliese 180 c. Obivious signs of intelligent life are observed. To prevent interference, inhabitants of GS|ε stay on the ship for the time being. For the next few decades GS|ε has actively sent small groups consisting of scientists and exodiplomats. First contact is made soon after arrival, and a minimal common language is established. The results are quite surprising:
The civilization existed for at least millions of years. A continous biological evolution can be observed through this, albeit somewhat slower than on Earth. Despite this long time of existing, technological supremacy is not apparent.
The inhabitants lack any sign of even the basics of mathematic and predictive thinking, and have very limited abstract thinking. Everything they know must be based on experience, and they can't make predictions. They might know how a tool functions, but have no idea why it does, and beside blatantly obivious cases they won't have an idea what will happen if they try something new.
They are very curious and playful, and definetly not "dumb". Give them a nail and a hammer, they will do a lot of things with it, and eventually they will hit the nail with a hammer in the right setup and put it in a wood. They will fail to see why it works though. In the same playful trial-and-error way they will eventually figure you can join two pieces of wood with a nail. But they would never figure these out without actually doing them.
Every technology they have is the result of pure chance. They will only make tools they already did. If one of them by accident cuts a stone badly, and ends up making an axe instead of a gammer, then they will know how to make an axe. If a wheel on a rod falls in water in a lucky way and it starts to rotate, they invent waterwheel. If they experienced before that a rotating rod can be used in such and such a way, they will use it. But they won't ask themselves why it rotates. They won't try to deliberately improve it by wings.
They can recognize numbers but can't do (serious) math. They can e.g. distinguish groups of e.g. 3 and groups of 4, and they may know from experience that joining two groups of 3 will give a group of 6. But if noone observed what happens if you join two group of 10, they won't know it will be a group of 20, even if they've observed a group of 20 before. They only know numbers they can observe
They have supermemory, as in they remember everything they ever saw for a lifetime. If an individual sees the process of making a device, be however complicated, he will remember every step. If you give him the neccessary tools and the same starting materials, he will be able to reproduce the device (given he has good enough motoric abilities). Fail to supply one ingredient, and - unless he knows how to make it - he will fail and can't change the design on purpose.
They have an extensive spoken and writen language. Despite the lacking scientific mindset, their literatric capabilities are surprisingly vaste, and their records - including technical descriptions - are continous through their whole million-year history. Knowledge is rarely lost upon death.
They have a basic concept of time, but only see the future through their past. Though they won't have the abstract concept of past, present and future itself, they understand the difference between past memories, present happenings, and the things they aim to. They know what aim they have (crafting an axe), and they know what actions they will do to achieve them, if they have the knowledge. But if they deter from their memories they won't be able to predict what will happen, and won't think of it. In this sense they live more in the past, as opposed to the future-based humans. As they lack mathematical concepts, they can't measure time exactly or even vaguely. Their perception on elasped time goes at most as far as "just now", "a while ago", "ages before" and "before I born".
The lifespawn of an individual is undetermined. As they lack mathematical concepts, they don't measure and record birth and death time, and can't give even a vague description. All that known is that during the 2-3 decades GS|ε spent at the planet so far, any sign of aging was not observed. As far as we know they might even live for hundreds of human years.
My question: Given arbritrary long prior civilization lifespan, what would be the biggest technological level this civilization could reach? Assume that the mindset is the result of evolution and won't change seriously.
My reasoning behind this question is that I believe there would be a "saturation" of advancement, where the technology simply becomes too complicated to plausibly find it out by chance, even given an extremely long time. But where would this level be? Pre-industrial revolution level in 1800s are probably OK - we didn't have much science before anyway. Cars? maybe, but it would take long time. Spaceships? Unfausible at first, but hey, it's a million years...
Edit, to clarify what does"no science" mean:
They completely lack ability to recognize abstract patterns, and they don't know how to make deductions.
- They know that a nail goes across two slice of wood, and joins them.
- They won't know that a sharp thin object can be used to join two things together.
- They won't know that the nail goes through the wood because it's sharp and the wood is soft.
- They may realize by chance that three piece of wood can be joined by a single nail, but won't think of this themselves until someone accidentally does it.
Basically everything goes as a "monkey see, monkey do", only the first monkey here is always an accident or a mistake. They don't innovate on purpose. In this regard, they're more close to animals than humans - their intelligence is supermemory and superb copying ability, not abstract thinking and ability to predict.
And there's no other intelligent species involved; up until now they developed everything on their own. (Some other answers already considered aliens, this edit was made after they born).
Basically, the question I wish to explorle: how much of technology can be discovered accidentally and without involving scientific research or purposeful engineering?
¹ After Cataclysm