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Sunday, 21 November 2010

Will our civilisation survive the crossing? Part I

For a start to this brand new and hopefully exciting Blog, I’d like to summarise, to the best of my abilities, some of the thoughts about the Types of Civilisations as theorised by two great scientists of our time: Dr Michio Kaku and Astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev. At different times and places in our modern era, both of them have conjectured about the various stages any intelligent civilisation in our universe would go through in its developmental progress.
Where do we, as a whole planetary civilisation, stand in the scheme of things?

Energy as a parameter for technological advancement.
In his book, Physics of the Impossible, Dr Michio Kaku tells us that “energy is vital to civilisation. In fact, all of human history can be viewed through the lens of energy.”
How so? About six millions years ago we left the apes to do their own things and we went our own separate way. It took us a while to realise what we could do with our own bare hands, we didn’t know then what energy really was. We had our bodies and sort of a thinking mind, that’s pretty much it. Life at that time was… primitive, we would simply say today. Really, it was a simple life made of hunting for food and moving from place to place. It was a short and savage life, with an average expectancy of twenty years.
Think about this: what happens when you use something too much, too often, when you push it to the limit? It wears off quickly, doesn’t it? The energy available to us six millions years ago was about a fifth of a horsepower; in other words “the power of our own muscles” (Kaku).

At some point we made our first crossing. Remember the ape in 2001: A Space Odyssey? She took up a bone and started to hammer the ground. With that bone she realised she could have power over the others with less screaming and jumping; in other words, a single bone increased her energy to do certain things. Now, jump to that day when a clever boy discovered (or invented?) the wheel and then his father put together the very first cart in human history. Suddenly that one-fifth of horsepower doubled – less wear of our muscles and more energy to do things. That’s what we call technological advancement, isn’t it?
Let’s time-jump again: ten thousand years ago we started farming and domesticating animals. We noted that the horse was especially kind and useful. And gradually we raised our energy output to one or two horsepower. “This set into motion the first great revolution in human history. With the horse or ox, one man had enough energy to plough an entire field by himself, travel tens of miles in a day, or move hundreds of pounds of rock or grain from one place to another. For the first time in human history, families had a surplus of energy, and the result was the founding of our first cities. Excess energy meant that society could afford to support a class of artisans, architects, builders, and scribes, and thus ancient civilisation could flourish. Soon great pyramids and empires rose from the jungles and desert. Average life expectancy reached about thirty years” (Kaku).

Fascinating so far? If that was the first great revolution, the second one occurred about 300 years ago when machines and steam power entered our daily life. Machines could plough massive fields or transport people comfortably for hundreds of miles. The energy available to one single person rose to dozens of horsepower. And life expectancy reached almost fifty in early 1900.
Today we are witnessing the third great revolution, the information age. Our curiosity has stretched exploration beyond the boundaries of our planet, and our creativity has led to technological advancements that require so much energy and power that we are actually stretching our finite supply of non-renewable energy to the limit. “The energy available to a single individual – Dr Kaku tells us – is now measured in thousands of horsepower. We take for granted that a single car can generate hundreds of horsepower.” So, do we all agree that the greater the energy available to a single individual, the more technologically advanced that individual is and the longer they live? If you don’t agree, please leave a comment below, otherwise carry on reading.
Part II to come soon.