In 1964, Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev figured that civilizations can be categorized by the total amount of energy available to them. He defined three levels of civilizations based on their capacity to harness and use power. These have since been expanded by another four (in light of the increasingly wild speculations spawned by marrying mathematics and theoretical physics).
The Kardashev Scale, as it is called, now lists 7 levels of civilizations based on their power consumption, and implicitly on their technological advancement and extension.
A civilization that harnesses the energy of its home planet, but not to its full potential just yet.
As you might have guessed, that’s our good old human selves. We’re currently at about 0.73 on the Kardashev Scale. It is presumed we’ll reach type I in about 100 years, give or take, depending on how fast our technology advances and how diligently we procreate.
A civilization that is capable of harnessing the total energy of its home planet.
This is where we’re heading, whether we want it or not. The good part would be that we’d achieve an ultimate peak, the bad part is that we’d then soon have more energy demand than supply, because evolution can’t be so easily halted. We’d have to leave Earth and start pumping other planets for their worth, or even milk our own star directly for its power.
Regardless, becoming a type I civilization is overall a good thing. At least in fiction.
As a type I civilization, we would be capable of controlling Earth entirely. Maybe even influence the weather, control volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, influence global flora and fauna, geological makeup, plate tectonics, etc. That’s pretty awesome! On the flipside, we’d have to recycle everything to get by.
An interstellar civilization, capable of harnessing the total energy output of a star.
This is the next stage in the evolution of a civilization, and presumes a level of technological development that allows for gigantic constructions and utmost efficiency. Dyson structures come to mind here, which are gigantic constructs meant to harness the energy of stars.
I imagine a type II civilization would not just built these megastructures, but also inhabit them and completely control what goes on inside them. It would control the orbit of all planets in that system, harvest asteroids and comets at its leisure, and basically consume the entire solar system. An intimidating power to behold.
A galactic civilization, capable of inhabiting and harnessing the energy of an entire galaxy.
Here we start to venture into truly sexy science-fiction territory. Or am I the only one getting all flushed and tingly at imagining this scale of evolution? *fans herself*
A type III civilization would span the entire galaxy, colonizing and controlling numerous systems. It would be able to harness, store and use the energy output of all stars within that galaxy. Such a civilization would use planets like building blocks, being able to move planets from one solar system to other, merge solar systems, merge stars, absorb supernovae, and even create stars. The galaxy is their playground, and everything in it becomes a toy. Even galactic cat shit, if accidentally dug out. Probably here on Earth.
A universal civilization, capable of harnessing the energy of the whole universe.
This civilization would be supergalactic, able to travel throughout the entire universe and consume the energy output of several—possibly all—galaxies. Think of that real estate size!
It would also be capable of projects of gargantuan proportions, such as manipulating space-time and tinkering with entropy, thus reaching immortality on a grand scale. An essentially indestructible and highly utopian civilization.
A multiverse culture, capable of harnessing the energy of multiple universes.
Welcome to metaphysics! Leave your common sense at the door, and count your strings before entering.
No doubt a child of the increased popularity of string theory, the type V civilization would outgrow its own universe. It would span countless parallel universes, being able to manipulate the very structure of reality.
Find that hard to imagine in practical terms? You’re not alone. We’re all friends here. Have a cookie.
Even more abstract is the type VI civilization. The type VI exists outside of time and space, and is capable of creating universes and multiverses, and destroying them just as easily. It’s similar in concept to a deity.
It’s hard to imagine a story with such a civilization, since its perfection and indestructible nature would offer little conflict potential. Unless, of course, you’re a lower type civilization waiting to be chewed, swallowed, and digested by one such type VI monstrosity. Recipe for paraversal tragedy.
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This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2014.
In 2012, my K post was — Kudos and Karma