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Oh hey, the cats from those old questions are back. So, since I doubt most of you have read those past questions, let me summarize the differences they have to normal cats:

  • They have mildly opposable thumbs that can be used for weaving and similar actions.
  • They are not controlled by instincts and are fully sapient
  • Unlike actual cats, they are largely cooperative and indeed have mini-governments (I say mini since the average government is maybe 20-80 people)
  • Their current technological level is primitive (They don't really use tools except pestles and spears, but have somewhat unreliable boats without sails, a basic understanding of agriculture and animal husbandry, taming, and similar)
  • They can stand bipedally while still, like a squirrel or rabbit
  • They are the same as normal cats in every other way

With that out of the way, the question. These cats indeed live in a world inhabited by humans, but you can handwavium them so much that you can very well pretend the human race is dead and they left behind their infrastructure and tools. The cats of this world don't use fire, mostly since they are terrified of it but also for other reasons that do not matter to this question. The closest they get is heating up water on extremely hot days or making adobe, and even then it is less fire and more sunlight. Their 'infrastructure' is summarized by utilizing what's already there, and if there's nothing then you bring out the sticks, mud, and moss.

I thought of this question and went on a little dig, but the closest I got was what'd happen if primitive humans couldn't even ignite fire, and that's different since in this world fire does indeed exist, just isn't manipulated or used unless the opportunity presents itself, and they can have a little nudge from previous human infrastructure if they somehow learn what in the world it is.

So I became curious, what's the farthest technological level a species could reach without the use of fire?

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    $\begingroup$ No fire means no metallurgy, so an off the cuff guess would be that they don't even reach the Bronze Age in terms of tools and weapons. $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2021 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ Could you link the previous questions for context? $\endgroup$
    – Karst
    Jan 16, 2021 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ no fire means , no metallurgy, no pottery, no real chemistry, they can't even make decent glue. but the biggest deal is no cooking, cooking may very well be what allowed us to become human, by drastically increasing our available calories. fire predates Homo sapien so they only have technology that predates Homo sapien. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 18, 2021 at 3:48
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    $\begingroup$ "they use fire is heating up water on extremely hot days"... you.....might want to rethink that sentence? $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Mar 18, 2021 at 4:29
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    $\begingroup$ "Technology" isn't this single all encompassing thing, it's a catch all term for many different things so the question doesn't really make sense & is too broad, hence all the negative responses // you'd have been better off asking "what technologies are available & how far can they be developed without fire", accept that would have been asking for a list so been closed, it's what you're really asking though. VTC. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Mar 23, 2021 at 19:55

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Pottery would be off the table, since you need fire to construct a kiln. So, no ceramic vessels or tiles. Same goes for metallurgy, although if there are ancient ruins in this setting, they'd likely be able to use scavenged scraps for knives, arrowheads, etc.

The real problem with lacking fire is that these people wouldn't be able to cook their food. Humans developed cooking because it makes meat and plants easier to digest, so you get more calories/nutrients out of whatever you've caught or foraged. This is especially important for a sapient species- about 20% of a human's caloric needs are just for the brain. Without fire, they'll need more food per person than they would otherwise.

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  • $\begingroup$ to be clear they need about twice the calories $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 18, 2021 at 3:49
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    $\begingroup$ Not so relevant, when the species in question is an obligate carnivore. They need the nutrients in raw meat. Cooking is a way for us omnivores to make complex carbohydrates easier to absorb. Without fire we cannot eat most of out grains and vegetables. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Mar 18, 2021 at 4:32
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    $\begingroup$ @PcMan cooking also doubles the caloric availability of meat, cooking is just as important for a carnivore. No animal needs raw meat. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 18, 2021 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ @PcMan It's also really useful for making food safe to eat as well as reducing parasite loads (which are really common among hunter-gatherers who cannot control what their prey is eating, in contrast to domesticated livestock). This species would be dealing with much more frequent food-borne illness compared to humans. $\endgroup$ Mar 23, 2021 at 20:32
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The first and main advantage of having fire is that it allows to:

  • get more energy from the cooked food
  • get better condition for managing the environmental conditions

Having more energy from the food means that less time has to be devoted to searching for food. Having more free time means having more time for inventing new stuff.

Having better environmental conditions, basically a warm place to stay, means being able of settling in areas where else it would be difficult or impossible to live.

Said that, I think it's pretty clear that without fire technology development is much slower or even impossible.

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not really even stone age

To be clear fire as a technology predates humans, fire used by hominids may very well be what allowed humans to evolve. So your species does not even have the minimal level of technology humans started with.

No fire means:

No metallurgy outside a few extremely rare nigh mythical artifacts made from native metals.

No pottery.

No strong glues (they can't render or melt things)

No fire hardened wood

No reliable food preservation (salting works but you need to boil salted meat to get the salt back out of it to make it edible).

No heating at night or in cold environs

Many forms of leather are not even possible, but they can make sinew which helps.

They also need 2-3 times as many calories as human of the same weight and have a smaller selection of sources, (no way to detoxify many plants). It is worth asking if they can even reach the stone age this way.

They also need many guards at night since they don't have fire to keep away predators.

They have cordage, wood, bone, sinew, and knapped stone and that's about it, which is less than paleolithic humans had. But at the same time they can't transport material or food efficiently since they can't walk upright, so stone tools will be very rare and they will have a hard time feeding themselves.

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Pretty much our level (and beyond), if they somehow invent parabolic mirrors (with a little nudge from the humans, mostly by seeing it is possible at all) and then use the solar power to obtain metallurgy and go from there on. Though the path will be more difficult and the probability of success lower - fire is just damn convenient.

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    $\begingroup$ How do you make a mirror without fire? $\endgroup$
    – NomadMaker
    Jan 16, 2021 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ @NomadMaker By making bronze or glass with the help of an existing mirror. Bootstrapping will be tough, but it could be helped by natural volcanism. Or pehaps "hand"-polishing blocks of ice if the season is right. $\endgroup$ Jan 17, 2021 at 5:46
  • $\begingroup$ Copper can be cold-worked. Annealing is important, but that can be done using volcanoes. $\endgroup$
    – rytan451
    Jan 19, 2021 at 4:01
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    $\begingroup$ copper can be cold worked but very little copper exists in a usable form naturally, sizable lumps of native copper are extremely rare. also you need huge high clarity mirrors to smelt metal, which they can't make. copper can be hand worked but it can't be turned in into a mirror cold. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 18, 2021 at 3:53
  • $\begingroup$ Water can be used as lens, so as ice. For water it needs some transparent material-creative work with bladders, fishskin+oil(?). Hg was used to make mirror coating, and obtaining Hg is heating HgS - can be done in small quantaies on small scale. Gold can be hammered in a solid, so as in a foil and found as mettal - requires periodic heating. SiO2 crystals are found in nature, can be of considerable sizes, they can be the bootstraping direction for lenses, for making translarent shape with small pieces of it. Agar can be quite transparent and hold shape(like ballistic gel) moderate heating $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Mar 18, 2021 at 5:22
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Electricity can do basically anything you'd want fire for, including metallurgy, so with electricity they can create nearly any technology we have and more. Their electricity would need to be produced from hydro, wind, solar or nuclear generators or other renewable sources. Fuel cells powered by natural gas would also be an option. Getting there starting from nothing is not easy, but they can just use some of the human infrastructure to get started.

The only thing I can think of that they won't be able to replicate is rockets and thus space exploration. They could develop nuclear rockets but that doesn't work very well for launching from earth and it makes your launch site radioactive. Cars and aircraft would need to be electric, so there's still some development needed on that front.

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  • $\begingroup$ Go ahead, and build an electric motor or generator or heating element without using metal, which you cannot smelt. Go ahead, i dare you. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Mar 18, 2021 at 4:33
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    $\begingroup$ Generators, so as chemical batteries are not the only way to harness electricity - there are at least 3 other ways, 2 were used in history, one still in use, metalls aren't the only conductors. Efficiency of early setups is not important. Smelting is not the only way to extract metals, so as not the only way to give them shapes(not as convinient and somewhat limited, but enough for a start). Gold is found naturally in metallic form as well. So there are ways to work out initial setups $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Mar 18, 2021 at 7:41
  • $\begingroup$ @PcMan Forgot another important way(MHD) to make electricity, so 4 other ways than u typical rotating generator. First comment for u also $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Mar 18, 2021 at 7:47
  • $\begingroup$ @PcMan What makes you think they can't smelt? The blast furnace can be heated electrically. Reducing gasses (carbon monoxide or hydrogen) can be created in many ways if you don't like smoldering cokes. And if you don't like this method at all, iron can be reduced electrochemically just like aluminium already is. (It's just not economical in our economy.) For making and casting steel electric arc furnaces are already in common use. $\endgroup$
    – JanKanis
    Mar 18, 2021 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ @JanKanis You have no metal, You have no fire. Some smart guy tells you to use a metal device, that runs on electricity generated by a metal generator, and conducted on metal cables, to run electric arc furnace, to smelt your first metal.. Do you see the problem? $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Mar 18, 2021 at 12:46

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