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Parallel universe, human in this alternate Earth are innumerate at least; they do not have a sense of counting or quantifying if you will. I am wondering since these primitive humans are beginning to speak intelligibly and forming what looks like a hierarchical structure, how can they then elect a new leader fair and square? Should they decide to be leaderless, how can they vote on important issues?

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    $\begingroup$ Counting or quantifying? Those are two different things. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jan 15 at 4:44
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    $\begingroup$ note we know monkeys can count, it is very unbelievable to have humans as a species that cannot, it is pretty important survival trait. also if they cannot count how do they even have advanced government. they certainly are going to have a hard time with agriculture. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 15 at 6:19
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    $\begingroup$ Why they would want/need/had to have democracy if they can't count or quantify? For what they would use that democracy? War? Kind pointless if you can't tell if there is more enemies than you. Hunting? kinda pointless if you can't tell how many spears is enough. Gathering? When do you know when to stop gathering fi you can't tell how much is enough? $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jan 15 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ I'm with @SZCZERZOKŁY on the frame challenge here. The answer to the question as stated is "no"--but not because it's impossible to come up with voting systems that don't require counting. The answer is "no" because a people who have no concept of numbers will not have a sufficiently advanced society for voting to be meaningful. $\endgroup$ – GrandOpener Jan 15 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ The first question that needs to be addressed is, could these beings have societies at all. How could they trade goods and services without counting? How could they decide whether they had planted enough to feed their entire family/tribe? $\endgroup$ – jpaugh Jan 15 at 17:41

26 Answers 26

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Vote using physical tokens (like stones in pots) Deciding who has the most votes is then a matter of simultaneously reducing all the piles of votes by 1 token each. Eventually you’ll reach a point where only one pile has any tokens left. This is the winner.

To expand this out to multiple voting sites you can either take the remaining tokens in the pile (which represent the margin of victory) from each site to a central counting house and repeat the procedure, or you can define each voting site as a vote cast in a second level election and repeat the process.

This is a simple extension of my answer to this question, which details how a society that can only distinguish between 0, 1 and more than 1 can use mathematics to effectively count without counting. The same is true here. If sufficiently clever members of this society can work out the rules of addition and create some way of recording number then being able to count intuitively (as we do) is not necessary, they can always work things out the hard way by adding one each time. If you want to experience what this would be like, try counting from 0 to 1760 in increments of 176. You can’t do it easily because 176 isn’t an intuitive number to count by, but maths can always come to the rescue!

Of course, the less the general populace understand the way votes are counted the lower their confidence will be in the result, so maybe stick to stones in pots...

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Volume of the cheer from a crowd

Yes some people are louder than others, and the distribution of two main groups may not be uniform with regards to distance to the judge - but those problems have metaphors in current democracies (district sizes and gerrymandering).

You can also do a divide a conquer so allowing this to work for referendums in the millions or billions of people. A room of ~100 people shouts their votes, the elected representative notes the winner and travels to a district capital and shouts their vote with their peers, and then the leader of the district travels to the state capital and repeats, state leader travels to the national capital and repeats.

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    $\begingroup$ While this has never been used in an election, it has been used in real life game shows. $\endgroup$ – Studoku Jan 15 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Carbine A hollergarchy? $\endgroup$ – Studoku Jan 15 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Studoku Not quite, these are democratically yell-ected officials. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Hoagie Jan 15 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash Can you? You, who knows about ordered integers, can use your concept of less and more to tell me which sound is more or less loud without specifically mentioning integers. Could you have developed a concept of less and more without ever understanding that the amount of a thing can be quantified? $\endgroup$ – GrandOpener Jan 15 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Studoku Never used? I observed this just recently in the US impeachment. First, people are asked to yell "Aye" or "Nay" and the president estimated by volume which side won ("The Ayes have it"). Only when her estimate was contested, a slower counting process was initiated. At least in theory, the difference in volume may sometimes be big enough (and the losing side rational enough) that no counting is done. $\endgroup$ – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 16 at 6:43
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Say there are two leaders or issues to vote on, A and B. If the community is small enough then voters for A can pair off with voters for B. The unpaired leftovers determine the outcome. I could even imagine something like this evolving as a kind of violence-free proxy for actual warfare without either side having a notion of number.

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    $\begingroup$ It could even evolve from violence into some form of ritual wrestle with the paired voter and could end up as dance. $\endgroup$ – user1937198 Jan 15 at 13:00
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    $\begingroup$ This is by far my favourite answer, as it gives a really reasonable explanation for how these kind of things evolved. Instead of actually fighting, they would have some ritualised battle where the larger team always wins. This makes it very believable because it doesn't seem like the author just copied our voting system and made some workaround. Also it would fit a primitive society much better than some sophisticated counting-stones-system. $\endgroup$ – Guenterino Jan 17 at 15:17
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Tug-of-war

The side with the most people will win.

The Naha Tug of war (那覇大綱挽) is an event at the annual festival held in Naha, Okinawa, Japan.... It is a battle between the East and West teams.

The event draws some 275,000 attendees annually... In 1997 the event was first logged in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the largest tug-of-war event in the world. The rope weighs about 40 metric tons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naha_Tug-of-war

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    $\begingroup$ This is possible, but tug-of-war contests at this scale are dangerous; the rope tends to snap violently. priceonomics.com/a-history-of-tug-of-war-fatalities $\endgroup$ – user3153372 Jan 15 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ @user3153372 - You don't use one rope. It is easy to rig up a central frame that has many ropes attached to either side. This does not require counting because each rope passes right through the frame to which is attached and out to the other side. Note also that the further away from the centre, the narrower the rope can be because not so many people are pulling further out. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Jan 15 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ P.S. That article you linked says, "Relative to the amount of tug of war games played each year (estimated to be in the millions), severe injuries are an extreme minority...It's a healthy sport that promotes team ethics and encourages both cooperation and discipline. As long as proper safety measures are taken (particularly when trying to set a Guinness World Record), the game is generally harmless -- not armless. " - In a democracy, this way of deciding things would be a centuries-old tradition. I'm sure the organisers and participants are aware of all the necessary safety measures. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Jan 15 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ Notice that stronger people will have more "weight" in the vote process :p. This may influence the country's deep culture, favoring people with raw strength over other qualities. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Jan 15 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ If you’d it have access to strong ropes/frames then having many smaller ‘tugs’ using the same rope and discarding any games where both sides of the rope completely fill up works too, especially if they fold the rope in half, add an equal number of knots on each side of the rope and say it’s one person per knot. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 17 at 10:18
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Voting is easy

Proof with the water barrel technique! It's one of many solutions to vote without counting and even to a point quantifying.

What do you need ?

  • Being able to make a decision (that's obvious)
  • Being able to understand that a container is full
  • Being able to understand that something is taller or smaller than another one (you wouldn't dare to make a sentient species without that notion, do you?)
  • Liquid holding technology (taking barrels and cups as examples)
  • A liquid (taking water as an example)
  • A chalk or other marker tool

Preliminary set-up :

  • Take a cup, and get an empty barrel. Prepare some water too.

Preliminary set-up (once for every vote choice) :

  • Mark the water level on the barrel with the chalk. Make sure the marks are distinguishable from one another (either through color or adding a symbol)
  • Empty the barrel of any water and put it back where it was.

Vote process :

  • Fill in the cup
  • Empty the cup in the barrel if you vote for the decision.
  • Mark yourself to indicate that you have voted, or go in a room of "have-voted" guys, whatever you want to distinguish voters from non-voters.

Results :

  • The highest mark is the one with the more votes

Alternatives :

  • If you want votes to be hidden, then add as many barrels as there are choices. Put weights on the barrel so it can't be moved at all and cut only a small hole to pour water in and not take from it. Voters take water from outside the barrel room, then go inside it and pour their water in their barrel of choice before leaving. After this, open up the barrels, perform exactly like if they were cups : Pour one barrel in an another main barrel, mark, flush the water out, then repeat with the next one.
  • You can use sand, too, but remember to level out the barrel before marking :).
  • If your people can't even make out what is taller, ugh... Then they would have problems surviving in the first place ("hey, that's one nice 'small' bear!", "That cliff doesn't seem too 'high', I can jump!").

The problem lies in the choice/action creation

Note that counting is a very strong skill to understand if something is bigger or lower than another one and this will become more and more needed as your society grows up.

Indeed, as a ruler (group or person), the more people there are, the more you need to work with numbers instead of individuals. If you can't easily analyze the current state of the nation, it will be even more difficult to distinguish good from bad courses of actions, and as a democracy, to offer a choice through vote (though once made, it can be quantified in interest by the vote results). This would most probably results in courses of action more based on luck than anything else.

In other words, counting and quantifying is one of the main step of abstraction, abstraction which is often needed in any kind of political system. Not being able to is your limiting factor in making a stable, organized society, even more so than having a ruling system over another one.

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The caucus process in Iowa involves people physically moving to an area of the room that represents their position on an issue. They keep discussing until consensus is reached with everyone standing together.

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You are probably overestimating the role of democracy in our early history. For large part of it the power or authoritative role has been held by one among the elderly, the priests, the warriors or the rich (or a combination of them).

It's just with the Greek civilization and their poleis that we stumbled upon the democracy. Before them, and it was a long time, there was no vote counting.

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    $\begingroup$ "It's just with the Greek civilization and their poleis that we stumbled upon the democracy." even with them, the people who were eligible to vote were broadly the same groups discussed before. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 15 at 7:40
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    $\begingroup$ Ooohhh, I just remembered the episode of blackadder about voting in medieval england :) $\endgroup$ – mishan Jan 15 at 13:01
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Frame Challenge

Democracy requires complex thinking, and communication, yet "these primitive humans are beginning to speak intelligibly".

Worse is "and forming what's look like a hierarchical structure".

Hierarchies are a-n-c-i-e-n-t ANCIENT, and our nearest relatives (the chimps and bonobos) are hierarchical. IOW, your humans have had hierarchies from the beginning.

As an example: chimp and bonobo hierarchies are maintained through Mob-like cooperation: the chief treats underlings well, while remaining the most powerful, and he -- she, in bonobos -- stays in power; if he's an arrogant jerk, eventually his underlings gang up and kill him.

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  • $\begingroup$ yup, I will pay a guessing game here and extend and say that any(good portion) pack-like species that can distinguish members on an individual basis(not every species can) has a hierarchy. The Canidae family is a simple example. reasons are simple - to be able to express the advantages which pack has it has to be organized, and hierarchy is advanced flexible option for those who have a little bit of brains. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jan 16 at 23:59
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Yes. There are simple ways you could measure votes without needing to count. Build a staircase, have people stand on either side of it to vote on an issue. Officials can check to make sure each person is standing on a step, and no one is cheating. Then, the side with more people on stairs wins.

Of course, your democracy would typically be a group of elders and the heads of affluent families, who decide matters less by democratic institution, and more by politicking.

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  • $\begingroup$ But... You can't really count how many steps there are on the two stairs; How do you know that each stair have the same number of steps/Have the same height per step? $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Jan 15 at 9:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena - As suggested in the answer: Have one wide staircase that will accommodate both parties standing side by side. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Jan 15 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ @chasly-supportsMonica Oh, read two staircases, my bad. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Jan 15 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ Arguably, establishing a 1-to-1 correlation between two sets is counting $\endgroup$ – JamesFaix Jan 15 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ @JamesFaix There can be a 1-to-1 relation between two uncountable sets. (Whether the Axiom of Choice is equivalent to counting may be a better philosophical question.) $\endgroup$ – alephzero Jan 15 at 14:29
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You don't need "count" to have "more". You don't even need "one".

As an example, decisions by elimination.

You can eliminate someone from the other side along with yourself from the discussion. Maybe you can even trade yourself for someone eliminated. Whomever is left decides.

The elimination game could come from duels over an issue. Originally if you disagree, you'd fight with someone on the other side, and the eliminated person left. Someone could offer to fight in the challenged person's stead.

Later, in order to make the duels less costly, they declared the winner also was also eliminated from the decision, which led to the duels being pro-forma (actually fighting over an issue was at first gauche, then unthinkable).

Now, to speed things up, someone steps forward with a proposal. You can either accept or reject. If you reject, you and the person making the proposal are eliminated. Someone can step forward to replace the person eliminated.

Lets look at a vote for "who should be the new leader".

Suppose there are 3 parties -- red green and blue.

Red has 20 people, Green has 10 and Blue has 5.

The member of Red says "Red Prime should be the leader". A Blue person objects. Either another member of Red, or the person who spoke up, is eliminated, along with the Blue person.

R19 G10 B4

Green Prime then says "I should be leader". Red and Blue factions look at each other. Eventually, a Red member objects. A second Green person takes the hit for Green Prime.

R18 G9 B4

This continues, with each Red Prime nomination blocked by either a Green or Blue, and each Green and Blue nomination blocked by Red, until there are 5 Red 0 Green and 0 Blue. And Red Prime becomes the leader.

In the case where one isn't the majority, you run into tactical issues.

R15 B10 G10

Here, Red cannot block all of Blue and Greens nominations. Red can block every Green nomination, or every Blue nomination, but not the two of them combined. Red has an advantage, but not an insurmountable one.

While I described the process with numbers, the process itself doesn't require any numbers by the people doing it.

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    $\begingroup$ How can people who can't count 1. develop such concept 2. convince themselves that it's fair? $\endgroup$ – user1079505 Jan 15 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ @user1079505 I detailed how it could evolve from a simple "challenge+duel" system, I'm not sure how that doesn't address your concerns? It being "fair" mostly means "is it what people are used to" in humans. $\endgroup$ – Yakk Jan 15 at 17:48
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The answer with the staircase is pretty cool, but I still see problems and/or further interesting aspects:

If the people can't count to one, they might not be certain if somebody is standing on a step or not. They also might have problems deciding which side of the staircase is for which opinion or who wins in the end, because two opinions and two places are both too many to count. We also need to think about what this means for the psychology of the people: We support democracy because we know that we can make a difference. If they can't count to 1, they might not understand what their own vote means.

To make sure the process couldn't somehow be corrupted, you may need to take very drastic measures: The people live in a really cold environment. Both sides have only one single spokesperson that can't leave their fireplace. The people can look for wood and form into a tight circle to keep wind from extinguishing the fire and to warm each other. When the people picking wood get cold, they can step into the circle to warm up. The more people you have, the higher chances are for being able to keep your fire alive. If one fire dies, the spokesperson freezes to death and the people that supported him have to either die or start supporting the fire of the opposing spokesperson.

This system might not be as accurate as one in which counting is used, but it might have other advantages that we're missing out on: People who are truly desperate will work harder to keep their spokesperson alive and won't switch sides as quickly when the opposition has an early advantage. Younger people who'll have to live longer with the decisions that are being made will have an advantage because they're physically stronger.

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  • $\begingroup$ if they can't count how can they build two stair cases with the same number of steps. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 16 at 5:44
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Have a democratic melee battle

Include the entire voting population in the battle. Each side wears a coloured ribbon. The side with the most survivors has won the vote.

Note: The assumption is that the most numerous party will win. That is almost certainly true if everyone fights in melee rather than soldiers following the orders of generals who employ tactics.

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  • $\begingroup$ You'd need to eradicate the entire opposition, or else you come right back to the problem of counting (which side has more survivors). You also run into the issue that candidates can't vote, lest they be killed in the battle - the election is rendered pointless if the candidates die. Closely decided races will also result in the death of nearly the entire voting population - even a clear majority 75-25 split will result in half of voters dying. I hope elections are rare! $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Hoagie Jan 15 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ @NuclearHoagie they do not have to die for real, just like in Airsoft. and voting is an exact replacement for killing each other over disputes - cost-effective and does not reduce overall group strength. So what he is proposing is totally legit if u do not have voting, and in form of war games, it was practiced and is up today $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jan 15 at 18:08
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There already are answers in that direction by @justthisonequestion and @Dan Piponi, but you may broaden and generalize the approach by familiarizing yourself with Swarm intelligence. It is a typical problem there, as developing a set of rules for achievement of a certain goal. Set of rules which agents are capable to process, as well known examples not only can't count but incapable of thinking in general like bees, ants.

The difference which may come from that is that there may be no particular voting event as such, and not much hierarchical system if you like. So if you choose it to be that way it may be inherited treat from evolution and less a cultural development. It does not have to be brain hardcoded, it can be like it was done that way since the day of creation - so there is total freedom of choices.

If your choice is a hierarchical system, meaning there is some sense/relation of recognized authority in their society, then Representative democracy or some of the flavors of it may be an option. Then you not necessarily have an election day, but it can be rolling development. In a sense, it is an old system that works up until today's time.

If we depict this approach as if there is election day, then people split into groups around people authority of which they recognize or people they wish to support. They send representatives to form a second group which does a similar but not necessarily identical thing. For example, if you can see horizon instead of heads of people around you, then the group is small enough. You may switch activities which you establish authority with, such as dancing in a chain circle imitating snake movements. Whoever breaks the chain is not eligible, continue. Or your typical sports competition grid, or plenty of other stuff of not necessarily a competitive nature (rolling dice to follow the will of gods), or in contrary the famous rule of the strongest/fittest. Those activities are means to define who are those people you describe, and depend on the story.

So for each split there can be a specific set of activities, based on all sorts of conditions or triggers, exotic or typical ones. Praying to gods of chaos with an event which has a certain degree of randomness, which can be induced/started by agent, and outcomes of which can be recognized by the agent. This can be quite a universal thing, it fits in a lot of ways to a lot of situations. One can roll dice, or look at clouds, or those behavior randomizing superstition events. Better are those which can be induced on request, or happen frequent enough and are different for each agent (look "robotic swarm" at YouTube plenty of materials for inspiration), applied in a good way they may have a good correlation with good decision making.

The ability to establish authority fast in small-medium-big groups is quite a strong survival factor. Fish shoals are a good example of that, as there are all sizes and types, the authority part may be trickier to recognize but it is there in an indirect way.

It is convenient to split part of your group for different tasks, fast and in an organized way. In some sense, you may relate to your own experience and gut feelings. However, our ancestral ways were on smaller numbers, and many decision making of that sort are substituted by traditions, habits, specialization, sticking to routines, and ways of life like nomads, etc. But the other part also had a place in culture and different games and entertainments and social interaction serve for that and other purposes.

As a note or a tip if you like

You may consider choosing a different reason for the existence of your system, different from the ability to count. The reason may be that chimps can count up to 9(?) and they are better at that on different tasks than any human. It shows that the perception of amount and counting is an essential trait. I bet many species have some counting. We can directly observe it in chimps, as they are intelligent enough so we can sort of communicate with them. I saw this in a research facility on YouTube.

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  • $\begingroup$ thanks for the edit, keyboard is partially broken and it is harder than usual to write, lol $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jan 16 at 23:35
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If they can't count but still conduct paper voting, simply comparing the stack heights of the ballots should be sufficient to decide a vote, unless it's a very thin majority.

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    $\begingroup$ Considering a thin majority to be the same as a draw would probably be beneficial $\endgroup$ – SpoonMeiser Jan 15 at 13:37
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Obviously yes (see @JoeBloggs accepted answer for a good demonstration), but the form it takes will be reflective of their culture and also shape it.

For example: You could see a pseudo-parliamentary system where One person at a time rises to propose something, and it passes unless someone rises to oppose him/her. Then repeat, with pro- and con- pairing off until either pro is unopposed or no-one is left to rise for it. That might be a collective society, with a strong tendency towards individual responsibility to act, all within a rules-based framework. Everyone is ready to put a shoulder to the wheel for what they personally believe in, etc.

Tweak that slightly, and you have a system where one rises for issue A, and someone rises to oppose. They go off, and the floor is open again. The next guy might rise for issue A again, or for issue B. That gives you a similar society to the first, but with much more focus on careful maneuvering and good timing to achieve what's most important instead of reflexively supporting what you like and opposing what you don't. (both versions are obviously caricatures).

If instead of just pairing off, they do some sort of ritualized combat (e.g. hold up one end of a low-weight stick until you decide to put it down; roughly analogous to a filibuster), you have a different culture again.

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The key concept for democracy is that all the people are represented in decision making including those who are weaker or vulnerable and minorities. Voting is just an attempt to realize this concept – imperfect, and also never fully implemented in present politics.

Democracy also doesn't reject hierarchy in decision making. So for example you could have a leader who makes a decision after listening to the opinions of all the citizens (or their representatives, in case of a larger society). Sky is the limit. Take into account that humanity hasn't figured out the best way yet.

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In the History of the Peloponnesian War Thucydides recounts that the Peleponnesian league (thats the Spartan side) made the decision to go to war in the following way. Delegates from all the member states were assembled and a discussion held. At the close of the discussion each side (pro-war and anti-war) took a turn cheering/shouting, the side that was louder was deemed to have carried the day. Why they did this I have no idea, perhaps it was some sort of anonymous voting deal. But there you have it, no counting was required. However I must point out that Thucydides thought the person evaluating the loudness had fudged the results in favour of war.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome Seven. An interesting tidbit which could have been used to support an answer to the question, however, you seem to have omitted the rest of the answer. You can use the edit function to fill us in more on what your argument might be. Take the tour, and when you have some spare time, read-up in the help center about how we work. Enjoy the site. $\endgroup$ – Rottweiler on market-day. Jan 16 at 8:14
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Lining bricks.

Everyone gets a brick of a standard size.

When it is your time to vote, you put a brick on the floor, in line with the other bricks.

Whatever line of bricks is the longest wins.

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Scales:

Have a vast pile of equally-weighted stones. there is a big scale with two baskets. Everyone who can vote places a stone in the appropriate basket. Whoever tips the scales of democracy wins. This is a mass-based alternative to the voting system of ancient Athens.

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Democracy is not about counting votes as well as object oriented programming is not about objects (but messages).

Species who are unable to count do not need a leader because they wouldn't feel any rational inequality (my neighbor has more oranges than me). I doubt that the could form any hierarchy at all (elevate the strongest and the wisest).

Bees communication through waggle dance:

First thought that I had was about some kind of psionic communication based on waves or collective unconscious. Maybe they could mix their thoughts like now we can mix colors of visible light. Different wavelengths affect final color warmth - determining more positive or more negative vote. There is a concept of fuzzy logic which could be used as explanation for voting-sense behavior or emotional agreeing. (BTW, isn't voting an emotional matter?)

Although, they need to agree to this non-rational manner of making a decision.

In simpler words: it's all about waves and interfering waves - the stronger is signal when people think about that candidate then more 'votes' that person gets.

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No.

Any concept that can be used to form a democracy is equivalent to counting in the end.

If you have multi-party elections or multi-possibility votes, you certainly can have a democratic binary decision.

If you can have a binary democratic decision, then you can compare two numbers, the numbers of people who voted for each decision.

If you can compare two numbers, then you have numbers.

If you have numbers, you can increment them.

Then you can count.


I skipped a few steps and took some liberties with nomenclature, but this is a solid argument which could be formalized.

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    $\begingroup$ Comparing quantities does NOT necessarily mean you have numbers. Being able to increment representations of numbers does NOT require a concept of numbers. Differentiating 31 apples from 32 apples is one thing, analysing the pile of apples to produce a pile of 31 coins without seeing the apples is quite another. $\endgroup$ – EdvinW Jan 16 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ @EdvinW I'm trying to find an argument in your comment, but I'm failing. I just see an unfounded claim I'm supposedly wrong. Comparing quantities is actually even more complicated than counting - the usual algorithm, given in some variant by most of the highly-voted answers - actually depends on decrementation, i.e. counting backwards, a concept arguably more complicated than counting forwards. $\endgroup$ – Nobody Jan 16 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ "Counting backwards" to compare two quantities doesn't require you to name the numbers, you just pair up the two kinds of objects and see which one has leftovers. With our notion of numbers, we see that 17 horses have something in common with 17 days or 17 meters. If you know what 17 is, you can produce sets of 17 pebbles, 17 shoes etc by counting them. For comparing quantities, none of these skills are necessary. $\endgroup$ – EdvinW Jan 16 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @EdvinW To see the commonality between 17a, 17b, 17c and 17 what you are doing is exactly comparing them - probably you are comparing all of them to 17 of some dimensionless mental unit, but if you wanted you could just keep a stash of 17 pebbles in your home and use that as a reference. That's actually one technique used in primary schools. $\endgroup$ – Nobody Jan 16 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ okay, I see. u can improve your answer by taking some of their's solution and show on those as an example. Another aspect to improve is to define the semantics of "count". As an example, does someone counts water molecules by taking a gallon of water, or not.op did not existing poor job in that aspect of the definition of "count", so people decided on their own what that "count" practically means. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jan 17 at 18:37
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As others mentioned on this thread, tokenistic counting (1 pebble=1 person) emerged very early on, plus hunter-gather bands were usually <100 people, so "counting" was unlikely to ever have been a bottleneck.

But I think you have a lot of other assumptions in there that are coloured by how society looks now:

  • Why does there need to be a hierarchy? The alternatives are consensus decision-making, independent decisions making ("I'm going to go there, you want to come?"), context/expertise dependent leadership (the respected hunter is the most influential voice for where to go during hunting season, for the winter you'd rely on someone else).
  • Why is majoritarian rule fair? If 30 people in your 50 person tribe always got their way, and the other 20 people never got their way, is that fair? Could you maintain a tribe like that over time? And if the tribe broke up instead... is that even a bad thing? Even the assumption that bigger, more stable collectives are "better" is a logic that doesn't really work for hunter-gatherer societies.
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One way to do this would be to have a trial/contest between the candidates and their supporters. Whichever party is stronger/is faster/is smarter/etc. wins the election.

Or you could have people line up in lines depending on their preferred candidate, and whichever line is longest wins.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't see how the first suggestion is democratic, because the people aren't doing the chosing. $\endgroup$ – KillingTime Jan 17 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ @KillingTime Does my edit fix it? $\endgroup$ – User135797531 Jan 18 at 0:01
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Give each citizen a token. Have them put the tokens in a pile for who they're voting for. Then, remove the tokens from the piles one by one until there's only one pile. That pile is the winner, and once the winner is decided, all tokens go back to the citizens.

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I am not sure there is that much of a difference between quantification and counting. Counting is simply abstracted, formalized quantification. The rudimentary capacity for it is built into even babies, like when do they know to stop drinking milk. Even seemingly simpler animals like bees too show a fairly advanced capacity for it.

The point is that the foundations of quantization and counting arise very early in the evolution chain. At some level, this intersects with very basic details of natural selection and might not even be a part of what we would recognize as conscious mental activity, like how to viruses evolve to become drug resistant. They do so by testing out genetic combinations that them 'greater' survivability. To me this question seems to touch aspects of the mind as much outside of today's scientific understanding as consciousness or free will. It is almost like asking if zombies can form a democracy.

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I think the other answers are missing an important point: if people can't count, then the notion of comparing two quantities is just out of their reach, and so is the notion of "decision approved by the largest amount of people".

You can't imagine a democracy this way. It would have to be a feature imported from the outside, by someone from our universe who has achieved great importance to these folk ?

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    $\begingroup$ I have a relative who is incapable of counting or quantifying in general, yet they do notice when their meal plate is big or small or if someone is taller or shorter than another one. A vast quantity of rocks can be felt as big and a tiny one as small, without either being able to know there were 5000 in the first and 3 in the latter. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Jan 15 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena But that's because this relative is in a society where everyone counts. Very large differences can still be grasped, but the concept of majority is very subtle to a society that doesn't count... $\endgroup$ – Vincent Fourmond Jan 15 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ Well, if society counts for a higher vote than mental difficulties ;p... Putting aside this example (examples are not hard-proof alone, after all), it's hard to believe that animals, who don't seem to be able to count unless taught to, still know if they can attack a prey in a herd and which one. I'm not sure about it, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are science studies on this topic. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Jan 15 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ Anyhow, to improve your answer, you should detail why people wouldn't be able to form democracies if they can't count ^^. It would help in understanding why you think this. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Jan 15 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ The notion that innumeracy precludes any quantitative comparison doesn't make sense to me at all. You don't need to be able to count to know if someone is taller than you, or if one piece of fruit is bigger than another, or if one candle burns longer than another, or if one sound is louder than another, etc. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Hoagie Jan 15 at 18:20

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