Suppose we have a group of organisms (I am not sure if its a society).

These organisms are characterised by their ability to reproduce within themselves. That is, every member of this society can reproduce within itself. The new offspring is born by the organism's sole effort. There is no male or female or any gender differentiation and the idea itself is nonexistent in this group.

Would there be any emotions in this society/group, especially empathy supposing that it survives?

Also will this group be more superior to us? For the time being let's just say technologically superior.

Update This group (it is not right to call it a society, we still don't know) doesn't suddenly stop reproducing sexually, they just are that way from inception. My question is more centred on the origin of emotions in this group, not their survival given a change.

  • $\begingroup$ Would lifeforms that don't reproduce sexually have evolved to such a complex state in the first place? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 8:14
  • $\begingroup$ @JDlugosz But what complex state are you referring to? I have not assumed any such 'state' for the group. If you mean the capability to develop emotions, then ofcourse they will develop emotions, sexuality is not the basis of our emotions. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 9:53
  • $\begingroup$ @VishalMinhas, species that reproduce asexually tend to remain very simple as it's the random combinations of DNA from sexual reproduction that increases the rate of variation. Also you should probably be referring to sex not gender. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 11:27
  • $\begingroup$ @user16295 But mutations also occur in asexual species [biology.stackexchange.com/questions/23855/… And gender and sex are too correlated. I mean isn't sex in some way a consequence of gender? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 11:43
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    $\begingroup$ just because they can reproduce with themselves does not mean they can't reproduce with each other, they basically need to, asexual reproduction on a large long lived slow repoducing species is a key for quick extinction. self fertilizarion is fairly common in hermaphrodites. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jun 30 at 20:14

7 Answers 7


Sure. Or not. Maybe. What do you want the answer to be? It really is up to you as a worldbuilder to decide what sort of world you want to build.

A society is vastly larger than its reproductive process. If the opposite were true, we would see no distinction between the modern US, Aboriginal Australia, a family of beavers damming up a river, and bedbugs engaging in traumatic insemination. All of them rely on sexual reproduction.

As for emotions, are there any emotions that are not directly tied to sex so intimately that all emotion must immediately vanish if there is no sexual reproduction? In fact, one of my favorite [unproven] theories, the Lövheim cube of emotion actually theorizes that the "base" eight emotions are actually correlated to the balance of 3 neutotransmitters in the brain: serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline.

Would it be superior? What measure are you grading it on? There is 0% chance that it will be better at doing what we do best, which is being us. There is a 100% chance that it will be better at doing what it does best, which is being them.

From an evolutionary perspective (are we assuming evolution?), sexual reproduction is an approach used to maximize genetic viability in an environment which benefits from sexual reproduction. In other environments, asexual reproduction, such as mitosis, is actually better for genetic viability. It all depends on the environment.

Consider the lowly yeast particle. If it finds itself in a tremendously nutrient rich environment, it will use asexual reproduction such as budding or fission to reproduce as fast as possible. As it starts to run out of resources, it switches over to a sexual reproductive approach which is better at spreading viable genes to the next generation. It then sporulates, which is not sexual reproduction, not asexual reproduction, but something very convoluted where the cell begins asexual reproduction and then stops part way through, creating an extra protective layer around the cell before it goes dormant.

And that's just a yeast society.

  • $\begingroup$ I am not really sure if our is society vastly larger (complexer?) than its reproductive process. And even if it is, it might be an evolutionary result. Its not only about the 'mechanical' sexual reproduction. I stumbled at this question after realizing how immensely our society is governed by sex (encompassing love, affection and related emotions) and its related societal behaviours. Lövheim's theory is still a theory, I would love to see some empirical results. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 11:36
  • $\begingroup$ @VishalMinhas Is our society immensely governed by sex, or is our approach to sex immensely governed by society? Does affection have no use at all in society in any way shape or form if we remove our particular reproductive methodology? As an example, is there any reason to believe the love of a child does not exist when that child is produced asexually? $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ Usually its not about viability - sexual reproduction is about putting up a rodeo for parasites and diseases. Occasionally even sexual organisms revert to cloning - and the result are strange short-time population explosions, before fungi and disease make the faces fall off. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marbled_crayfish $\endgroup$
    – Pica
    Commented Jul 1 at 17:59

You've missed the concept of sexual selection. This is the overlooked brother of "natural selection", which usually applies to traits which get the bearer killed or not - things like the ability to find food or escape predators.

Sexual selection will apply to any trait which one sex or the other (or maybe even both) find preferentially attractive. It shows up in the peacock's tail and the antlers of many ungulates, the Irish Elk being a great example.

So. As Freud famously put it, "What do women want?". You can replace women with men if you like. If your race responds positively to zebra stripes in magenta and fuchsia, that's what you'll get, as long as the drawbacks aren't too great. For a species like H.sap, camouflage doesn't seem to be very important, so there's no reason to limit your imagination.

Radiation levels are not a factor at this level of discussion, since you have not specified the underlying biochemistry of your humanoids. In people, melanin production provides UV protection at the price of Vitamin D production, so we get (roughly) darker skins toward the equator. There is no obvious reason why that should be true in an alien race, and you can even postulate that in general lower energy levels will be associated with darker skin in order to absorb more energy. It might be true, it might not.

You can also consider the possibility of the presence of a chlorophyll analog, which would conceivably produce any skin color you wish.

Patterns? Stars and stripes? Sure, as long as possible mates find them attractive and the attraction is genetically linked and transmitted.

Wildly changing colors and textures, even strobing bars? Works for cuttlefish and octopi.


If you have a “society,” then you necessarily have some degree of empathy.

If we're talking about yeast, well, that's another thing entirely, I suppose.

However, if you want an example of a large social group whose emotional lives are bound up between one another but have no reproductive involvement or gender differentiation within the group, find your nearest monastery or gay nightclub, or look at historically gender-segregated military and schools.

If you want an example of reproductive selection without any social empathy, find a sperm bank.


Look at animals that are asexual, can change sexes, or are carrying both genders and how they work. You can have a society where gender is fluid or is kind of non existant and creatures look much more androgenous. Likewise you could have a society where the male is the one who carries children or rears them instead of that typically being the maternal role. Male sea horses carry and birth babies. Male penguins watch the egg until it hatches. You can have creatures that just divide to create copies. You can have them swap some genetic material with another creature. Look at nature. It's your best look into alien worlds. We don't even realize the anomalies happening in our animal kingdom most often. I say look into animals online that have characteristics like what you want.

  • $\begingroup$ I think the question doesn't aim at what different role models are thinkable, but what would happen if there is no role model at all (e.g. no Male=Strong=Hunter, Female=Weak(er)=Raise Child). $\endgroup$
    – JFBM
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 5:28

Starting with the reproduction -- since you've stated that you have human-level intelligence, you have two options:

  1. offspring with a long development period (time where its brain develops, time where its body grows to an adult size). A long development period always necessitates a period of parental attachment because the offspring will be nearly helpless at birth (human babies are designed to have maximal brain/skull size with minimal body size to keep brain functioning). There will be at least one nurturer; depending on how strenuous birth is there might even be more than one nurturer. And that for a comparatively long period of time, probably years. If there isn't some social glue like emotions keeping the nurturer(s) linked to the offspring to help it grow and learn, it gets kind of really hard to make sure all the resources invested into the next generation survive to adulthood. So your society will definitely have parental love and empathy and gratitude and happiness (plus the entire associated negative emotion spectrum).
  2. Genetic memory (no teaching necessary, physical development can be quite quick). This can result in large batches of quickly-maturing offspring, with obviously little to no emotional attachment from parent to child. However, between the children of a single batch, there could develop some kind of... hive-mind like structures, since they essentially all have the same memory. Even between siblings of different batches, there will be a lot of similarity. It might result in a very ordered society with very hierarchical structures of which genetic memory-line they originated from. There might be a lot of positive emotions associated with self-sacrifice due to redundancy (since there are others of the batch who will carry on the memory line).


Emotions that can never be denied are ones having to do with self-preservation. If your creatures don't have a self-preservation instinct, they cannot have survived for long let alone evolved to an intelligent species. So, no matter how strong or weak the self-preservation instinct (weaker with genetic memory and many offsprings), there will be positive feelings linked to survival, anything making survival possible, finding enough to eat, etc.. And negative emotions like fear and hurt and sadness for getting hurt.


Since you have an intelligent species, you will probably have a good measure of curiosity and ingenuity and playfulness. If a species doesn't try things out and try to figure things out and try to understand the world around them, make use of the world around them, they probably can't be termed 'intelligent'. So curiosity and ingenuity etc. are probably linked to positive feelings, too, due to evolution making sure those traits survive (as long as they help with the species's survival). Society might impose a different nurture over that when it wants to retain a status quo.


Once you stipulate you have a society, you pretty much have already said that you have empathy. Even in the genetic memory hierarchy, that must the case. If there was no empathy, you'd have a society of sociopaths (people who cannot understand what the others feel and so why hurting others is bad). Either they'd wipe themselves out, or they'd quickly go their own ways -- meaning no society in both cases. So, society implies empathy.

On the other hand, society also implies prejudice and a whole slew of negative emotions. Once you have a stable group (=society), everyone not inside is other and foreign. Anyone not wanting to integrate must be labeled as 'bad' because that protects the society. Anyone hurting the group must be labeled as 'bad' and driven out; otherwise they could destroy the group. The group must be defended against outside influences, including other people. And so on and so forth.


All in all, I'd say their society is no better or worse than ours. Yes, they might not have all the issues and emotions dealing with sex and genders, but they have all the other emotional problems and prejudices. Depending on how strongly their biology and evolutionary nature values 'individual' versus 'society', their emotions might be weighted differently. However, they should be pretty much the same in their base components.

So, I'd say they will have a technological superiority if they've had a longer time to develop than we have. Or if their curiosity - versus- fear-of-all-foreign weighting is different. Depends, really.


What your saying sounds like parthenogenesis or Virgin birth. That means the genderless society is all female. The pros easy to reproduce. The cons no gene swapping with someone else. There is no real reason why the genes can't be randomized in parthenogenesis, I'm just not aware of it happening. I'm pretty sure the fish and amphibians that can do this are just clones of their mother.

Their empathy and morals is more of an evolution and cultural thing. If humans were all women, but taller and stronger reproducing either through Virgin birth or as hermaphrodites then society would be more or less the same. Even rape unfortunately. If women evolved to have to do everything on their own then they would have the mixed instincts of men and women. Those that were too lady like would be eaten before having too many kids. Male aggression isn't great in a modern civilized society but it is very useful in a neolithic society.


Aside from the answers you already had, which cover most points, consider:

Just because a species breeds asexually, does not mean it does not have sex, or that it is genderless.

A completely asexual species can easily evolve "sexual" behavior in which individuals stimulate each other for pleasure, in a way that helps them bond with each other. Eventually, individuals that pleasure each other a lot, will form couples or clades, and raise their offspring together (becoming step-parents), even though the offspring was created asexually.

You would end up with a society that knows sexual lust, jealousy, romantic love, familial love, friendship and fondness. They even might end up assuming cultural genders. For example, a couple of identical asexual hermaphrodites can still have one act as a Man and a Dad for the children, and the other as Woman and Mom, depending on their personalities.

Their genders can end up even more exaggerated than ours, because asexual breeding can lead to weird mutation and sub-speciation, with no way to breed back into a baseline.

For example, consider the scenario: a hundred thousand years ago, some of the Organisms lived in the northern woods, and some of the Organisms lived in more southern plains. To fend off predators, the woods Organism evolved to be burly and strong, and more aggressive/defensive (like aurochs), while the plains Organisms evolved to be skinny, fast and careful (like gazelles). When the two mingled again, the Strongs and Swifts felt mutual sexual attraction, and started forming Strong-Swift couples, where Strongs protected their shared nests, while Swifts cared for their shared young. even though the two genetic lines did not breed, they effectively became symbiotic Husband-Wife system.

All you need for your society is a way for them to have sex, or sex-like activity (just give them clitoris-like bumps that can be stimulated), and a good reason to live in symbiosis.


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