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This is an edit of my previous question, in response to requests to clarify it and make it less opinion-based. Hopefully, this helps.

I'll be brief this time: is there any way that a human-like alien culture that biologically evolved at the same time and pace as humans did could achieve space-age technology thousands of years before us humans have? In other words, how might said culture have technologically advanced thousands of years faster than humans, without evolving any sooner, faster, or better than us in biological terms? Assume these aliens live on an Earth-like planet.

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    $\begingroup$ But thousands of years sooner that's half our recorded history if we take your 6000 year figure. That means they developed more then twice as fast. Faster seems probable but that much doesn't. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Apr 1 '17 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ idea - maybe they have much less developed personality, they are much more the same, and they spend much less time in conflicts between each other, and it is easier for them to have agreement on things, that for human beings. $\endgroup$ – vodolaz095 Apr 1 '17 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, but that would make them less human-like, vodolaz095. I'm looking specifically for big events that have occurred in human history that have hindered technological progress, but, if removed from the alien timeline, would allow them to advance faster while still being essentially human in nature. And I understand it's a stretch, Mormacil, which is why I'm looking for something big. $\endgroup$ – C. S. Wright Apr 1 '17 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ Note that brain cells naturally self-organize and form "brainets". If there were to evolve a biological mechanism for passing signals directly from one brain to another, as in the movie Avatar, then progress would be limited only by the rate of production of raw material ( which would necessarily only be limited by imagination of the collective super intelligence of the species ). $\endgroup$ – Nolo Apr 2 '17 at 5:50
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    $\begingroup$ The answer is "yes", but the hows and whys aren't necessarily easy to parse out. For a simple example, humans in the Americas advanced technologically much slower than humans in Europe/China. Many things probably went into this (read Guns, Germs, and Steel for some examples), but the scope of it is way too large for a single question. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Apr 3 '17 at 13:30
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War, war never changes

The main accelerator of progress seems to be war. War is always cutting edge. So if you want fast scientific progress keep them in near perpetual war. This gives them a state level reason to develop and research as their very survival depends on it. War has brought us the rockets of spaceflight, atomic power, the internet, jeeps, railguns and drones.

Non-human reasons

Another avenue that could greatly speed up their development could depend on their physiology. Perhaps they got an innate understanding of electricity or radiation. These could jump start several technologies by centuries. Or perhaps a shared consciousness and memories. That would probably exclude perpetual war though.

I can’t see a species that shares memories come to the misunderstandings that led to our wars. How can you see the enemy as the ‘other’ when you know their feelings, their emotions? But it would harden the species against loss of information and technology akin the fall of the Western Roman empire.

Mostly no though

To my knowledge there hasn’t been any events in human recorded history that set us back more then centuries and even that. The fall of the Western Roman empire was a dark spot but nothing too major. The economy created by Rome collapsed and with it the local specialization. You can’t focus on metallurgy if you’re starving because Egypt no longer supplies you with grain. And with that the local road network collapsed, knowledge of great architecture was lost.

But only in Europe, the Eastern Roman empire endured with all its knowledge. Asia endured without a hitch. Africa saw great empires rise and fall completely unrelated. Even in Europe much knowledge remained. Within centuries with outside help Europe rebuild.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Our most common necessity has been survival. After that came war, which supplied us with a new threat. Have your species threatened, it would force them to find ways to even the odds in their favor.

I don't think you can achieve your advance with your limits. I mean an early miracle that leads to electricity would help but that still requires extensive theory to be practical. At best I think a couple of centuries to maybe a millennium but not more than that.

There are plenty of reasons why progress would be even slower honestly. The American continent saw many of our common technologies never come to fruition till Europeans introduced them much later. If your species has no access to high quality ores that could be a huge slow down.

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    $\begingroup$ Great answer, Mormacil. I'll try to focus more on compelling reasons to advance technologically (i. e. war, survival), rather than large-scale progress-hindering events that were/could have been avoided. I'll also try to lessen the time difference between human progress and alien progress, if possible. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – C. S. Wright Apr 1 '17 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ Give them some advantages in material availability as well. Plenty of iron and copper. Perhaps a lower gravity to make launching into space easier. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Apr 1 '17 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ Good idea. I was considering using lower gravity and increased variety of natural resources for ecological reasons anyway, so this gives me all the more reason to use them. $\endgroup$ – C. S. Wright Apr 1 '17 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer a lot. War is survival of the fittest by definition. It forces society to evolve. $\endgroup$ – Brian Woodbury Apr 2 '17 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ While huge steps backward aren't evident on a grand scale they are at a more local level: The Maya collapse, Anasazi, the kingdom that was in what is now Ethiopia, various kingdoms in the middle east. On the flip side many societies were stable, and virtually unchanging for millennia. Egypt. China. $\endgroup$ – Sherwood Botsford Apr 2 '17 at 22:13
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Any system that rewards innovation and transparency.

The system of patents was a step forward: A 12-20 year monopoly on a process or invention in return that everyone gets to know. This system has been abused a lot lately. It doesn't help that it takes longer for something new to come to market now.

Copyright is another one, although the current term is too long.

Not stepping backward is a big plus. Many of the inventions of the Renaissance could have been made in Roman times. The dark ages got in the way. (These were not bereft of innovation, but the culture didn't encourage sharing.)

Record keeping. Once paper and printing replaces parchment and scribe knowledge can spread much faster.

Numeracy. Being able to calculate quickly and easily. Both the sliderule and the abacus could have been invented millennia ago. (Romans did have something similar to an abacus that used small stones in grooves.) Admittedly making a good sliderule would have been hard.

Arabic numbers for bookkeeping.

Institutions of knowledge. Monasteries. Universities. Places of stone where books could be kept from barbarians whose only thought for them was toilet paper and fire starter.

Non-class ridden society. A society that has upward (and downward) mobility allows the best to rise to the top. Big factor in western civilization in general and the U.S. in particular.

Stunt prizes. Newspapers would offer a bag of gold and a princess (wait, different story...) for the first person to do X. Fly across the Atlantic, sail around the world in a bathtub. Joking aside, England use this method to get a decent way to compute longitude at sea. Our modern day X prizes.

Races. A huge amount of improvement in internal combustion engines is due to race competition. What would happen if we had cross country EV races?

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, good points. I'm getting the sense from both your answer and the previous one that politics/socioeconomics might play the biggest role in all this. $\endgroup$ – C. S. Wright Apr 1 '17 at 20:47
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Leg up

In 1700 there were many cultures on earth with Stone Age technology - American Indians, Australian aborigines, New Guinea islanders etc. Today the descendants of those populations are driving cars and carrying cell phones. They have modern medicine. They listen to the radio. How did these cultures accomplish in 300 years what took the Germans 5000 years? The answer: people who had already developed these things brought them and the Stone Age people adopted these technologies.

Stepping back: humans who were like us lived in Europe, Asia, Africa 30,000 years ago. After 25,000 years suddenly all these cultures were forging bronze. The answer: someone figured it out and other people caught on quick.

Up until the 1500s no-one ate maize or tomatoes or peppers anywhere except North and South America. Then suddenly people all over the world were gobbling those things up. Why? Because these crops (each the product of hundreds of years of breeding efforts) were not known elsewhere. But when people were introduced to them they realized how good they were and adopted them into their cultures.

Humans are creative but we are even better at copying and adopting tech that we encounter. If aliens showed up we would adopt their tech as fast as we possibly could.

If you want your people to move along faster, have aliens show up and give them the tech.

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  • $\begingroup$ I know I've heard this idea before, but I really appreciate the historical examples you provided; it lends a lot more weight to the model. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – C. S. Wright Apr 2 '17 at 19:55

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