Thanks Martin for an excellent and thorough response as per usual. Obviously, however I did not pose my question clearly enough though as I surely did not intend to ask whether we could make something before we fully scientifically understood it. As you correctly point out it is quite obvious that we can as has been proven throughout history.

Let me first describe how I intended the question (Part I) and then let me rephrase the question and pose a much more specific version of it based on how I think you and probably everyone else understood it originally. (Part II)

First I was not asking the question about “us” as in we humans I was asking the question in a broad, general, more universal sense as in is it possible on any world for any (intelligent) beings. Second I was not asking about making something/anything I was asking about making specifically a computer. I guess I mucked it all up with the second question I tacked on that was more general. Finally, and most importantly, my question was meant to go beyond a lack of understanding of science, or lack of abilities to do scientific things, I was referring to an active non use of scientific methods (even if by accident). In other words science or any scientific methods (unintentional or not) are simply not an option at all for the people on the world I was envisioning. Could beings like that invent a computer or even something like the antikythera mechanism and if so, how?

I posed this question to a colleague and described it as I just did above and her objection was that it would be impossible for such people to even live for how could they know when to plant crops or when to seek shelter if they did not make use of some scientific concepts like astrological signs for the passing of seasons or atmospheric conditions for the weather. The beings on my non science world have access to the same sense data that we do but lack the ability to “translate” them into anything other than direct action. Can they plan at all? Depends on if you believe cause and effect is a scientific concept. For purposes of my question I say they can understand cause and effect, that the past is different from the future, that actions have consequences, etc. They just can’t do anything “scientific” with that information. They cannot make predictions or if they do and one of their predictions comes true or does not they cannot use that information to make a better prediction the next time. They cannot hypothesize, or theorize, or test, or evaluate. What can they do? Can they make anything? I think they can. Can they make a computer? I highly doubt it.

In retrospect I can totally see where I went off track in my question asking. I was thinking ultra deep and posed the question somewhat flippantly without a lot of depth of explanation. Going back and looking at it now again it is very unclear and your answer is mostly on the mark given the context and wording which brings me to part II

Firstly I would say I do not believe I ever got an answer to the question as it was posed. At least not a yes or a no to the specific question about building/inventing a computer. I think you were leaning towards a no but seemed to leave some wiggle room. To begin to clarify some by computer I was thinking of a computer in the modern sense, powered by electricity, silicon and wires. Specifically the first modern computer running BASIC that was rated as capable of executing 0.01MIPS. That is not to say our non-scientists would have to use the same materials or even the same power source but I did specify that it needed to have similar capabilities.

Now to clarify further I am going to frame the question by taking your approach and refer specifically to a historical figure and/or a historical era that is considered pre or proto scientific and see if we can imagine a path to a modern day computer if that person, those persons, and/or those times were essentially frozen in terms of scientific development but continued apace in terms of the passage of time. Could something with the capabilities of a modern day computer be invented/emerge if our worlds (I am now of course only referring to humans on earth as I take it that is how you and probably every other human on earth understood the question) scientific knowledge froze at a specific time in history that most generally agree should be considered pre-scientific? In the interests of giving our ancestors a chance I am going to pick a more modern time than I might and suggest we consider the time Christ is said to have walked the earth. Most people are familiar in general with that time period (Roman empire, etc.) and can in their minds envision in a very broad sense the level of scientific understanding human beings had on average then.

The more specific question finally becomes this. Could humans on earth have invented the equivalent of a modern day computer running BASIC that could perform 0.01MIPS if our level of scientific understanding/knowledge was frozen at the average level it was during the time period when Christ is said to have walked the planet? I will allow our ancestors 5000 years of existence to work on the problem.

I say no. Anyone disagree and why?

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Research scientist (Ph.D. micro/mol biology), Thought middle manager, Everyday junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, Fish hater

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