Can you get modern levels of health care, with no electric technology and no steam technology?

Both electricity and steam are possible. Physics is the same as real life.


  • No Cavities

  • No Acne

  • Antibiotics

But, what I'm mainly going for, is to justify my villagers of such a society to look as good as modern people could, sort of like a Historical Beauty Upgrade... Or... would that just require that they bathe like us, and know not to get their wounds infected and small things like that?

  • $\begingroup$ Is it a case that electricity hasn't been invented yet, or is completely impossible? In the former, all it takes is a magnet and a coil of copper to generate some. $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode May 28 '15 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ @ArtOfCode - Just haven't invented, it's RL Physics... ... Gonna tag that... $\endgroup$ – Malady May 28 '15 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ RL Physics? Can't say I've heard of that... - ah, Real Life? You might be advised to expand that acronym :) $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode May 28 '15 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ You might want to look up the book Where There Is No Doctor: A village health care handbook. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 28 '15 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ Sure... if your doctor wants X-Rays, MRI or even an electrocardiogram he could use some Tarot cards. Not to mention the machine that goes ping (youtube.com/watch?v=NcHdF1eHhgc) $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 May 28 '15 at 17:36

Actually, there is a significant historical basis for many basic hygiene practices being used across different cultures and in different time periods, though they were primarily limited to the most superficial elements. There is records of people using frayed wood to brush their teeth, proto-soaps to wash and bathe, perfumes, dyes for hair, and many non-chemical skin treatments use perfectly natural ingredients. Even early antibiotics were simply refined fungus and many herbal and natural remedies have some scientific element that makes them work (not all, there are still plenty that are purely psychosomatic), such as chewing coca leaves relieving pain and giving energy because of ingestion of the contained cocaine. Really, the main things that prevented earlier adoption of medicine and sanitary practices was religion/superstition and micro-observations.

Religion and superstition influenced peoples views of what was going on, causing any number of things to be attributed to the super natural rather than analyzed with logic or reason (This is one of the reasons that the renaissance period is sometimes referred to as the 'Age of Reason') If a village got sick, then a god was angry, or a witch lived among them, or any other supernatural element they could come up with. It was never thought that perhaps is could be feces being washed into the well or grain that had grown a fungus and then ground into flour for bread. This lack of objective thought stymied peoples ability to develop solutions to their medical issues.

People also were not at all aware of microscopic life like bacteria and viruses, in fact the very idea that there was something so small you could not see it was a revolutionary idea when it finally came about and was met with much resistance. But without an understanding of these issues, there was no hope to understand the importance of sanitation to prevent infection or even just to promote general health.

Now if you had a society with a community of respected natural philosophers able to deduce these issues through empirical evidence and use the scientific method to determine what herbs, concoctions, and recipes helped fight illness, as well as realize certain basic sanitary elements like disposing of waste in a way that prevents it from getting into the water supply and washing your hands before preparing food, they could easily use elements from the natural world to improve the health and physical appearance of the people. Of course, do remember that beauty standards fluctuate with society and what some consider attractive can be unattractive in a different society.

  • $\begingroup$ Religion is a mixed bag for science. Sure, there are cases where religious viewpoints were anti-science. It is also true that Christians took the position that God was consistent and we could find the laws established by God. Much of the early science came from Catholic monks trying to look deeper into the laws of God. These days since science is so widely respected only the negative aspects of mixing science and religion are noticeable. $\endgroup$ – Gary Walker Dec 13 '15 at 22:10

No, but you're talking about aesthetics, not health care in general.

You can not get modern levels of health care without electricity. A vast majority of diagnostic equipment would not work (no dental x-rays or CAT scans), no pacemakers, no defibrillators, etc.

Electricity is used in other industries, like mining, to produce quality materials used in medical devices, surgical tools, plastics, and probably every single other currently used technology in medicine. The drug industry would be nearly non-existent without computers and other tools needed to precisely manufacture the drugs. You need steam for an autoclave, but I'm assuming you mean steam like steamworks, not hot water vapor.

Additionally without the communication networks provided by those technologies emergency medical care would be severely limited in response time.

Overall, without electricity or steam, medical technology would be incredibly limited. It would be no where near our modern abilities.

If all you want is for your people look good then things are a little easier. However, they're still going to have acne, scars, and bad teeth. We can't cure acne without technology today. Scars will be worse with low quality surgical tools and practices (a lot of exploratory surgery would be required without scanning technology). Nice looking prosthetic teeth might be possible, but will be brittle as the strong ones require materials that are made using electricity.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, if you want to edit the question, but keep it within the "Doesn't not render previous answers irrelevant" Policy, go ahead... I'm not that good a writer... or maybe I am... ... Post edit - Oh... 'kay. $\endgroup$ – Malady May 28 '15 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ No need, the answer is the same. Aesthetics plays a part in medicine, even though it's more of the creme on top; it's important but not essential. $\endgroup$ – Samuel May 28 '15 at 18:14

There are many ways to achieve a high degree of health

You mention cavities as one example. Did you know that cavity rates are actually substantially higher in developed countries than they are in many developing countries? (source) I'm having trouble finding similar numbers for acne, but it does seem that Western-culture acne rates are not any lower than historical averages, and may even be higher than the historical average. Antibiotics in primitive cultures is well recognized. In fact, big pharma often sends out teams to native cultures to identify the plants they use to treat diseases. They then isolate the active reagents.

So by the three examples you gave, it would not be unreasonable to consider your society to actually be better off than we are! And in general, we have been finding that primitive cultures often had medicine which was advanced in ways we never even recognized.

  • $\begingroup$ I knew I should have said that I read Historical Beauty Update! - It also says the thing about Cavities, and it says that it was due to the introduction of (cane) sugar! $\endgroup$ – Malady May 29 '15 at 2:41

I think this depends on what you mean by "modern levels of health care". If you want exactly the same things, then (as other people have explained) the answer is no. OTOH, if you want the same level of health achieved through other means, then I'd say the answer is yes.

A big part of this is simply knowledge. If we assume that the society has somehow learned about nutrition, contagious diseases, and so on, then they have the ability to prevent many problems. Simply knowing enough to put the outhouse a long way from the well does a lot to prevent many diseases.

At least some vaccines are possible without advanced technology. Jenner did his first smallpox vaccination in 1796 (and other, more primitive methods had earlier been used by other cultures - see e.g. http://www.bartleby.com/34/2/11.html )

Finally, in such a village life, many of our modern lifestyle diseases, which are rooted in obesity & inactivity, would simply not happen. Much lower incidences of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and so on.

PS: Perhaps I should also note that a good many people in modern society can go from adolescence to fairly advanced age without much in the way of medical treatment, other than for accidents.


Most of what modern medicine could prevent your villagers from is either lethal or crippling. There are few ailments which do not kill or disable you but just make you look ugly without treatment. The healthy look of modern humans can be achieved just by maintaining proper hygiene and grooming, which could be explained as a completely cultural thing. Many religions in the world mandate regular washing (like the Islam). When your culture has access to plenty of clean water (maybe even a hot spring for winter), you could upgrade this to daily full body bathing with soap (which existed in ancient rome). Your culture might also mandate dental hygiene and ritual body hair removal, maybe even make-up.

The primary service modern medicine could do for your cultures appearance would be plastic surgery. By the way: there are some native cultures which perform what one could described as plastic surgery without proper medical knowledge (like the Mursi), but these body modifications are usually not what people from outside that culture would describe as beautiful.

  • $\begingroup$ "The healthy look of modern humans"? Seriously, have you visited say your local WalMart (I'm assuming you're in the US), or some other place where you see a cross section of modern humans? Maybe 1/3 will look reasonably healthy. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 29 '15 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf I am not from the US. $\endgroup$ – Philipp May 29 '15 at 19:34

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