Supposing humans weren't so power hungry and selfish, what could motivate us to advance our technology at the same rate as we have been?

If you imagine a very community based world where everyone is kind and understanding, people helped each other out and expected nothing in return. Imagine their are no wars and... wait a second, imagine the song "Imagine" by John Lennon.

I would argue that a lot of the reason we have advanced at the rate we have was because of wars. Our scientific advance has been driven by an arms race for better weaponry.

What reason could these docile, relaxed, sharing people have to advance at the same rate if not faster than us?

  • It is important that it's at least at the same rate
  • You can invent reasons such as "their immune systems are not as good and therefore they need better medicine faster"

Edit: I'll rephrase the question to make it less like idea generation...

What forces would motivate humans to develop technology faster if they had no desire to kill each other and capture land/resources?

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    $\begingroup$ This looks dangerously close to idea generation. You may want to rephrase in the form of "Besides conflict, what driving forces exist to encourage technological advancement." rather than 'Give me ideas.' And allowing us to completely alter their physical nature also makes it pretty close to idea generation. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2015 at 18:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Maybe they could create some sort of central hub for ideas. Then they could incentivize advances by letting people vote for ideas they think are good, and downvote the bad ones. The artificial point system would motivate people to create advances to get more points, driving technology. You could also use community moderation, and badges, and... huh. This sounds oddly familiar. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2015 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ Ok I think I've improved the question somewhat. @DanSmolinkse But what would be the motivation for the incentivisation? You wouldn't implement that kind of system for no reason. $\endgroup$
    – Varrick
    Aug 11, 2015 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Webkanguru: That wasn't a serious comment (which is why it's a comment and not an answer), I was just poking fun at the stack exchange system. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2015 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ @DanSmolinkse Yea I got the reference, just couldn't tell if you intended it to be a useful comment. $\endgroup$
    – Varrick
    Aug 11, 2015 at 20:16

4 Answers 4


There are couple of good reasons:


Quite a lot of progress comes from the mindset "I don't want to do this stupid, hard, boring, tedious task. In fact, I want to sleep on my couch all day long. How can I achieve that?".

So the person starts thinking, trying out solutions, and eventually makes everything better automated, more efficient, etc. Eventually, more people adopt the solution, and it becomes a norm.

And once it becomes a norm, it also becomes a stupid, hard, boring, tedious task for the next generations.

Consider washing dishes. It was considered stupid, hard, boring, tedious task, until someone invented automatic dishwasher. How marvellous it is for the people, who, for the fist time in their lives, are liberated from washing by hand! And then, for their kids, it becomes a stupid, hard, boring, tedious task to load and unload the machine.

Such is a circle of life.

Attracting mates

Assuming world, where people are not power hungry and selfish, and where war and conflicts aren't a norm, it would make less sense to be attracted to live impression of Conan The Barbarian, and more to the smart guy who can improve your life in thousand little ways (see my first point).

Surely, it wouldn't always work, but then again there are notable exceptions in out world as well.

Protection from Mother Nature's wrath

Even if other people are not a threat, there are still tornadoes, earthquakes, malaria, locusts, and whatever lives in Australia. One way or another we would have to protect ourselves from all those dangers, or at least try to mitigate their effects.

Sense of adventure

What is on the other side of that lake? I won't find out until I learn how to build a boat.

What is on the other side of that sea? I won't find out until I improve my boat.

What is on the other side of that mountain? I won't find out without proper gear.

Et cetera.

There is always more, there is always something beyond the horizon, there is always something we want to explore. But to find out what's on the dark side of the moon you need to constantly improve your technology.

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    $\begingroup$ Nice. Reminds me of threevirtues.com $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2015 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ A good, round answer. You might want to edit out a few of the spelling mistakes! $\endgroup$
    – Varrick
    Aug 11, 2015 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ @DanSmolinske Indeed, while writing I had a vague memory of reading something like that in the past, but I could not remember what was that. Thank you for for the link, it would be nagging me for the next three days. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2015 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Webkanguru Thanks for the compliment and sorry for the mistakes. English is not my first language, so I often rely on spellchecker to much and not enough on proofreading :) $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2015 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ @DanSmolinske, the three virtues come to us from the camel book $\endgroup$
    – hildred
    Aug 12, 2015 at 2:26

Sounds you describing a civilization which embraces altruism. This itself could be a powerfull motivator.

Better technology with respect to medicine, agriculture, mitigating natural disasters would lead to a better qaulity of life for all.

Taking into consideration the value of general sciences which can indirectly lead to advances in all these fieds, a civilization that would put a majority or resources in this would lead to more fundamental leaps in technology.

Because humans are "greedy", we tend to only research things which we know will provide a return. Hower... Things like computers, electricity, nuclear energy... These are results of general research which we only provide tiney amounts of investment in. Look at the large hadron collider... This only exists because after WWII the return on investing into physics research became obvious. Had we put as much investment into general phylosophical questions like "what is time?" earlier, we would have made the fundamental discoveries sooner.

While an altruistic society might not research harder than a greedy society with personal motivations, by putting a larger pool of resources into general research they could make technology as a whole advance faster. Also, lack of rilvary beteewn academics would help the pace of things. A lot of engineering research we do is kept private and pattented.. A society with open access to all information would greatly speed up technological advancements.


For the joy of inventing.

As an engineer, inventor, and tinkerer I would argue that these people would advance for the pure pleasure of creating something that solves a problem in a novel/better way. Then they would continue to create new things to solve the problems that pop up from using the things they already created.

Every society, even one without war or religion, has things which are not ideal that can be made better through invention.


Such nice people wouldn't want to impose child control policies. As the population grows, they'd hit a problem with limited resources. They need to produce more food, they need to find a way to fit more people into the existing space, etc. Since wars are ruled out, the only way to solve such problems is technology.

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    $\begingroup$ These "nice" people are also intelligent and conscientious. This means they know the huge burden on society too many children will create and will have less desire to have lots of kids. They are living in harmony with their environment and each other and aren't in a position where they need to have more than 1 or 2 kids between one couple. If you look at places in the world where people have lots of kids, it's usually where the conditions are bad and more kids are needed to guaruntee the survival of genes. $\endgroup$
    – Varrick
    Aug 11, 2015 at 20:02

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