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THE KARDASHEV SCALE: HOW FAR CAN HUMANITY ADVANCE?

 

Let’s be honest, we have our fair share of problems on planet Earth: war, floods, disease, poverty, and environmental destruction (the list goes on and on, really). But we also have a lot of things going for us: the Alcubierre Warp Drive, invisibility cloaks, the Mars rover missions, the discovery of the Higgs (again, the list goes on and on).

How can we weigh all the exciting and inspiring scientific discoveries against all the destruction and chaos? We have an ever-expanding list of catastrophes that is coupled with (indeed, that parallels) our unrelenting march towards technological perfection. With such a coupling of unimaginable horrors and magnificent advancements, how can we possibly measure our status as a civilization?

One of the easiest ways to answer this question is to form a scale that will allow us to scientifically measure our technological abilities against the technological possibilities. Or in layman’s terms, something that will allow us to measure our awesomeness against the total possible awesomeness. Fortunately, there are several ways of conducting such measurements.

One is “The Kardashev Scale.”

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If you just want to understand the basics of this scale, you can read the following paragraph and skip the more technical section, which is helpfully marked “The TLDR Part.”

Essentially, to measure a civilization’s advancement, the Kardashev scale focuses on the amount of energy that a civilization is able to utilize. Notably, the amount of power available to a civilization is linked to how widespread the civilization is (whether it populates a planet, galaxy, or an entire universe).

The TLDR Part

The Kardashev scale exists because of a Russian astrophysicist known as Nicolai Kardashev (bet you’ll never guess where the scale got its name from).

In 1964, Kardashev came up with the idea that the status of a culture, as a whole, depends on two primary things: Energy and technology. He theorized that  a civilization’s technical advancement runs parallel to the amount of energy that the civilization is able to harness and manipulate. Essentially, the more energy that a society can produce, the more technologically advanced they are (this was originally just tied to energy available for communications, but has since been expanded).

In other words, according to this theory, a culture’s development (in the very widest sense) is a product of energy and of technology: Through technology, energy is harnessed, and as social systems are expressions of this technology, the status of a culture rests upon (and is determined by) the amount of energy that is harnessed.

The scale has a number of different categories (levels of classification). In recent years, scientists have expanded this scale to measure hypothetical civilizations—civilizations that are galactic, intergalactic, and even multiverse in nature.

Are you ready to find out where humanity falls? Then press on!

Kardashev Scale: The Kinds of Alien Civilizations in Our Universe
Click to View Full Infographic

Civilization Types

• Type 0: Subglobal Culture—This civilization extracts its energy and raw-materials from crude organic-based sources such as wood, coal, and oil. Any rockets utilized by such a civilization would necessarily depend on chemical propulsion. Since such travel is so pitifully slow, a civilization at this level would be (for the most part) confined to its home planet. Unfortunately, this is about where we are. We haven’t quite made it to Type I yet.

• Type I: Planetary Culture—This civilization would be slightly more advanced than those found on Earth. They would be capable of utilizing all available resources on their home planet, skillfully harnessing the energy output of an entire world (10^15 watts). With any luck (if we don’t blow ourselves to oblivion, or turn the Earth into an uninhabitable wasteland) we will reach this stage in 100-200 years. So maybe your grandkids will be around to see it; there’s some hope in that (assuming you have kids).

• Type II: Stellar Culture—This civilization would be far more advanced than we are (a few thousand years beyond our stage of evolution). Such a society would be able to harnesses all the energy of its star (in our case, about 10^26 watts). This culture might resemble the Federation of Planets, as seen on Star Trek; or the civilization might be like a majority of the humanoids in the Mass Effect universe, such as the Asari, Salarians, and Turians.

• Type III: Galactic Culture—This civilization would be able to harnesses the energy output of a galaxy (about 10 billion times the energy output of a Type II civilization, and about 100,000 to 1 million years more advanced than we are). They have colonized the galaxy itself, extracting energy from hundreds of billions of stars, traveling across interstellar space, and populating innumerable worlds. This civilization may resemble the Borg (but hopefully not as mean and “resistant-is-futile-like”), or perhaps they would resemble the Empire from Star Wars (but hopefully not so Darth-Vader-choke-hold-like), or maybe they would be more like the Reapers from Mass Effect (but hopefully not so break-your-body-down-into-biogoop-like)…did anyone else notice that the civilizations at this level all seem to be evil and horrid?

A Brief Explanation of the Kardashev Scale: How Far Can Humanity Really Advance?
Lucasfilm

• Type IV: Universal Culture —This civilization would be an intergalactic culture, spanning the breadth and width of the Universe. They would travel across the cosmos, commanding the power of a billion trillion suns. These societies would be capable of attempting projects of gargantuan, superhuman proportions, such as changing the structure of space-time or the deliberate slowing of entropy (or even its reversal) to achieve ultimate immortality. (Or, said civilizations may ultimately become capable of living INSIDE the event horizon of extra-massive black holes!) For humanity, such accomplishments might be forever beyond our reach. This level may be achievable only by incorporeal beings, such as members of Star Trek’s Q Continuum, or the Gallifreyans from Doctor Who.

• Type V: Multiverse Culture—This civilization will have transcended their universe of origin. It would be capable of universe-scale manipulation (jumping between multiverses that contain varied forms of matter, physics, and space-time). A civilization such as this would be home to beings of unimaginable power and ability.

Looking to the Future

It is a little disheartening that we haven’t even reached Type I yet. It would be nice to say something inspiring, like “given our lowly position, there’s nowhere to go but up!” Yet, it is entirely possible that some major catastrophe (be it natural or human induced) will send us spiraling back into the Stone Age.

So, what’s the ultimate take away from all of this?

If we want to advance beyond a Type 0 civilization, we’re going to need to play nice with one another (and maybe invest in science and education; that helps too).

 

TYPE 0: WHY IS EARTH SO PRIMITIVE?

To measure the level of a civilization’s advancement, the Kardashev scale focuses on the amount of energy that a civilization is able to utilize. Notably, the amount of power available to a civilization is fundamentally linked to how widespread the civilization is (you obviously can’t harness the power of a star if you are confined to your home planet). In a previous article, we offered an overview of the various civilization types, Subglobal Cultures, Galactic Cultures, Multiverse Cultures etc.

Today, I want to talk about what it would be like to live in a Type 0 Civilization—A Subglobal Culture.

This might seem like a rather strange topic for discussion. After all, we are a subglobal culture. So couldn’t I just say, “What you are doing right now is living in a subglobal culture. Congratulations. Look out your window or something.” Wouldn’t that give you a much better understanding of this civilization type than any explanation that I could give? No.

UNDERSTANDING OUR WORLD

Based on our energy use, in 1973 astronomer Carl Sagan estimated that Earth represented a Type 0.7 civilization, more current assessments put us at about 0.72. What does this mean? We’ve had 4.5 billion years and we still haven’t made it to a Type 1 civilization.

So there’s a lot more to a Type 0 civilization than simply what you see when you look out your window. What about what came before? And what will come next?

On our own planet, at the lowest civilization type (Type 0.1) you would be a proto-human. You would use sticks and other basic tools to hunt and forage for your food. You probably wouldn’t wear any clothes. Many of your fellow proto-humans would be eaten by proto-lions (which would not be terribly pleasant, I’m afraid).

Civilized man: We’re still working on it…
Civilized man: We’re still working on it… (See a larger image here)

However, as an individual in a proto-society, you’d have to fight to earn mating rights, protect your hunting territories, and establish leadership through a strength based dominance hierarchy…so your fellows getting eaten by proto-lions might actually work to your advantage. Warm showers would (of course) be out of the question. You’d have to rely entirely on natural resources such as hot springs, fires set by lightning, and your own muscle power.

But eventually a proto-human in your proto-society would start carving stones into tools. Thus, your little world would evolve into the Stone Age (how exciting for you!).

Proto-technology at its best
Proto-technology at its best (Author Unknown)

At this point, as you move to a Type 0.2 civilization and beyond, you figure out how to manipulate fire and use it to your advantage (like making roasted proto-lion). You also start wearing clothing and other items that protect you from the natural environment. Eventually, you harness animals and use them to herd and transport material (proto-Lassie and proto-Mister Ed).

You might use smoke signals to communicate to distant tribes as you expand across the planet. And so you would slowly evolve from relying on natural forms of energy to manipulating resources for use.

An advanced civilization = having an advanced way of killing other civilizations
An advanced civilization = having an advanced way of killing other civilizations

As your culture continues to develop, you will begin metalworking. But moving from the Stone Age into the Metal Ages takes time…a lot of time (the Stone Age on Earth lasted some 3.4 million years). But eventually you’ll stop using those ruddy stones, and you’ll progress through the Copper, Bronze, and Iron Ages, where metal tools replace previous devices (and you make swords to stab your enemies, which will be of great assistance as you continue to fight to earn mating rights, protect hunting territories, and establish leadership through an economic based dominance hierarchy). Better fuels, such as coal or oil secured from local tar pits, will replace wood in campfires (just be careful with your herds around those tar pits; if one of your animals slips in, it probably won’t be seen again until some bloody scientist from a Type 0.7 civilization unearths it in a few millennia).

As you form into a more advanced community, you develop large structures that allow you to harness water power and wind power. Populations around rivers and other water systems surge and cities begin to truly develop (which makes plague spreading a snap and sewage removal a serious problem). Assuming your civilization isn’t wiped out by dysentery (it’s caused by fecal contamination of food and water), you will plateau here for a bit, at about Type 0.4.

Civilization, glorious civilization…
Civilization, glorious civilization… (Author Unknown)

The large structures created to harness wind and water energy are really only capable of producing a tiny amount of energy. So slowly, ever so slowly, you transition into widespread use of fossil fuel burning. And as we all know, a tiny bit of oil or natural gas goes a long way: Cue the industrial revolution!

Of course, steam and electricity are soon to follow.

Once you have electricity, your subglobal culture will evolve at an amazing rate. With electricity comes the advent of instantaneous global communication systems, amazingly fast transportation systems (which enable people to traverse the planet on a whim), global markets and planetary trade activities…and the dawn of a global culture is at hand.

At this level, you begin to truly understand the processes that create the planet and cosmos (your archaeologists delve into the deep recesses of tar pits and learn much about the herding practices of your ancestors). Nuclear energy is soon to follow and, as the energy released by nuclear fission is a million times greater than that released in chemical reactions, it fuels industry and technology even further, bringing society ever closer to breaching the bounds of the planet.

AND HERE WE HAVE THE MAJOR TEST

xlarge
via Wikimedia Commons

Nuclear energy isn’t all fun and games. Sure, you can use it to power cities and expand world markets. But you can also use it to obliterate your enemies (and much of the planet in the process) as you continue to fight to earn mating rights, protect hunting territories, and establish leadership through an economic based dominance hierarchy.

If you pass the test, you will harness the power of your planet and advance to a Type 1 civilization—a united global society that is capable of harnessing all the solar energy that reaches your world, manipulating planetary weather systems, and you’ll start to pull energy from other objects in the cosmos. If you fail, you will quite literally bomb your society back into the Stone Age (assuming, of course, that you don’t completely obliterate every living member of your civilization).

So if we want to advance beyond a Type 0 civilization, we’re going to need to play nice with one another (and maybe invest in science and education; that helps too).

TYPE 1: CONTROLLING THE POWER OF A WHOLE WORLD

To measure the level of a civilization’s advancement, the Kardashev scale focuses on the amount of energy that a civilization is able to harness. Obviously, the amount of power available to a civilization is linked to how widespread the civilization is (you can’t harness the power of a star if you are confined to your home planet, and you certainly can’t harness the power of a galaxy if you can’t even get out of your solar system).

In short, according to the Kardashev scale, interstellar travelers = advanced society.

In a previous article, we offered an overview of the various civilization types: Subglobal Cultures, Galactic Cultures, Multiverse Cultures etc.  We’ve already discussed a Subglobal Culture. Today, we want to talk about what it would be like to live in a Type I Civilization—A Planetary Culture.

This type of culture doesn’t sound too terribly interesting. A Planetary Culture…a culture that lives on a planet. Wow. Fascinating. But don’t be so quick to judge, as such civilizations are generally far more advanced than we are.

Kardashev Scale: The Kinds of Alien Civilizations in Our Universe
Click to View Full Infographic

Earth: Above and Beyond

While it’s true that such cultures are limited to the energy that can be obtained from a single world, that they are stuck on a single rock, Type I Civilizations have harnessed the power of the entire planet itself (estimated at about ~4 x 10^19 erg/sec.).

This means that their technological advancement isn’t limited by the availability of fossil fuels.

So in essence, if you lived in a Type I Civilization, you wouldn’t need to worry about earthquakes, tornadoes, or other catastrophic phenomena. Horrifying natural disasters like Pompeii, the 2004 South Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina…all of these cataclysms would be things of the past.

Ultimately, harnessing the power of the planet means controlling weather patterns, plate tectonics, oceanic currents, controlling volcanoes…the list goes on and on. As such, Type I Civilizations are able to manipulate (and, in many ways, manufacture) their own world.

You want rain? You can program it, so no more droughts. And no droughts means little to no starvation. This is a very good thing.

So. What Would it be Like?

Of course, exploiting the power of a planet takes work. And you certainly can’t do it if your civilization is comprised of a few measly individuals who are confined to one tiny continent. Consequently, if you lived in a Type I civilization, you would be part of a vast population. Cities would stretch across the globe. Literally. Your world would no longer have countries or nations; it would be a single City-Empire. All peoples would act as one. They would be one…a truly global culture.

This is an inspiring and a harrowing thought.

The optimist will assert that Type I Civilizations will have ended war and genocide through peaceful processes. The pessimist will assert that Type I Civilizations will have ended war and genocide through war and genocide—by killing all those who dissented and opposed the majority.

Kardashev Scale: What It’ll Be Like When We Harness the Power of an Entire World
Trantor

Regardless of the path taken, the main point remains: A Type I Civilization will be a single, global culture that uses a network of highly advanced planetary-wide technologies to harness the total energy output of the Earth. For any world plagued by war and infighting, the large-scale projects required to attain Type I status will simply be out of reach.

When Will We get There?

Obviously, Planetary Civilizations are more advanced than we are. But, with any luck (if we don’t blow ourselves to oblivion, or turn the Earth into an uninhabitable wasteland), we will reach this stage in 100 to 200 years. So maybe your grand-kids will be around to see it; there’s some hope in that (assuming you have kids).

But there are problems that we will need to overcome if we are to attain the vast amount of energy generation needed to advance to a Type I Civilization. In order to reach Type I status using current modes of technology, we would need to essentially coat the entire surface of the planet with man-made structures. Such an enterprise would be astronomically expensive…and insanely detrimental to the environment. Moreover, we lack the material needed to create such large-scale structures.

On top of all this, nearly all forms of energy – electrical, thermal, mechanical, nuclear – they all return to the biosphere in a single degraded form: Heat. And heat is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Without it, we would all be very, very dead. But too much of a good thing is, well, not a good thing. Thermal pollution can rapidly reach catastrophic proportions. As more and more energy (heat) is liberated, the global temperature begins to rise, and the precarious energy balance of the biosphere begins to suffer irreversible damage.

At what point will this ultimate catastrophe occur?

On Earth, it is estimated that our pale blue dot will turn into a dry dead inferno long before we reach the energy levels needed to reach a Type I Civilization. The main point: The coming days will test us. There is a limit to every kind of energy production. At least, there is a limit if we don’t want to kill ourselves. So if we want to really advance, if we hope to boldly go where no one has gone before, then we are going to need to invest in new technologies and new means of production. We are going to need educated individuals to conduct research (we’re looking at you).

TYPE 2: CONTROLLING THE POWER OF A WHOLE STAR

To measure the level of a civilization’s advancement, the Kardashev scale focuses on the amount of energy that a civilization is able to harness. Obviously, the amount of power available to a civilization is linked to how widespread the civilization is (you can’t harness the power of a star if you are confined to your home planet, and you certainly can’t harness the power of a galaxy if you can’t even get out of your solar system).

In short, according to the Kardashev scale, interstellar travelers = advanced society.

In a previous article, we offered an overview of the various civilization types: Subglobal Cultures, Galactic Cultures, Multiverse Cultures etc.  We’ve already discussed a Subglobal Culture and a Planetary Culture. Today, we want to talk about what it would be like to live in a Type II Civilization—A Stellar Culture.

You might be saying to yourself, “but aren’t we already harnessing the power of the Sun?” When we talk about a Type II Civilization, we aren’t merely discussing transforming starlight into energy — we’re talking about controlling the star. Does this sound like the plot of a bad super-villain film? Keep reading.

How Do We Do It?

This isn’t about capturing a star’s energy for nefarious means. Instead, it would be necessary for the continued advancement of the civilization in question, as exponential technology requires exponential energy.

Several methods for capturing the sun’s rays have been proposed. The most popular of which is the ‘Dyson Sphere.’ This moonshot device, if you want to call it that, is best described by Carl Sagan,

“Imagine the energy crisis of a really advanced planetary civilization. They’ve used up all their fuels, they depend on solar power. An enormous amount of energy is generated by the local star, but most of the star’s light doesn’t fall on their planet. So perhaps, they would build a shell, to surround their star, and harvest every photon of sunlight. Such beings, such civilizations, would bear little resemblance to anything we know.”

If this idea sounds familiar, it may be because the Dyson Sphere has made appearances in popular television quite a lot. In fact, such methods of energy harvesting are  frequently used by species that are Type II on the Kardashev scale (or beyond). For example, in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Relics,” the Enterprise encounters a Dyson Sphere that was abandoned after the encased star became unstable, rendering the inner surface uninhabitable. Likewise, in the Doctor Who episode “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS,” it is revealed that the TARDIS itself is a Dyson Sphere.

Alternatively, if fusion power (the mechanism that powers stars) has been mastered by the race, a reactor on a truly immense scale could be used to satisfy their energy needs. Nearby gas giants can be utilized for their hydrogen, slowly drained of life by the orbiting reactor. In this case, the civilization would be controlling planets for their energy needs.

Kardashev Scale: What It’ll Be Like When We Control the Power of an Entire Star

TYPE 3: CONTROLLING THE POWER OF A WHOLE GALAXY

IN BRIEF

According to the Kardashev scale, a Type III civilization is a society that has managed to harness (and control) the energy output of a galaxy. Here’s what that means.

A Galactic Culture

To measure the level of a civilization’s advancement, the Kardashev scale focuses on the amount of energy that a civilization is able to harness. Obviously, the amount of power available to a civilization is linked to how widespread the civilization is (you can’t harness the power of a star if you are confined to your home planet, and you certainly can’t harness the power of a galaxy if you can’t even get out of your solar system).

In short, according to the Kardashev scale, interstellar travelers = advanced society

In a previous article, we offered an overview of the various civilization types: Subglobal Cultures, Galactic Cultures, Multiverse Cultures, etc.  We’ve already discussed a Subglobal Culture, a Planetary Culture, and a Stellar Culture. Today, we want to talk about what it would be like to live in a Type III Civilization—A Galactic Culture.

 

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The Inhabitants

A Galactic Culture would be able to harnesses the energy output of a galaxy (about 10 billion times the energy output of a Type II civilization, and about 100,000 to 1 million years more advanced than we are currently). These galactic traversers will have colonized the galaxy itself, extracting energy from hundreds of billions of stars, traveling across interstellar space, and populating innumerable worlds.

In terms of humans, hundreds of thousands of years of evolution – both biological and mechanical – may result in the inhabitants of this Type III civilization being incredibly different from the human race as we currently know it. Ever seen the Borg from Star Trek? What about the Empire from Star Wars? This civilization could resemble either of them (but hopefully, something a little friendlier).

Kardashev Scale: What It’ll Be Like When We Harness the Power of an Entire GalaxyThese may be cyborgs (or cybernetic organism, beings both biological and robotic), with the descendants of today’s “regular” humans being a sub-species among these now-highly advanced future cyborg humans. These wholly biological humans would likely be seen as being “disabled”— inferior or unevolved— by their cybernetic counterparts.

Challenges Abound

At this stage, inhabitants of a Type III civilization would likely have developed colonies of robots that are capable of ‘self replication;’ their population may increase into the billions (or trillions) as they spread out across the galaxy, colonizing planet after planet. And these beings might build Dyson Spheres to encapsulate each star, creating a huge network that would carry energy back to the home planet.

What about other ways of gathering energy? It has been theorized that the inhabitants could tap into energy released from supermassive black holes, which are believed to exist at the center of most galaxies. White holes, if they exist, could potentially provide a ton of energy from collecting the matter propelling outwards. Another theory involves capturing the energy of gamma-ray bursts, or the emissions from quasars.

Kardashev Scale: What It’ll Be Like When We Harness the Power of an Entire Galaxy
NASA

But, energy sources aside, stretching over the galaxy in such a manner comes with several problems; namely, the species would be constrained by the laws of physics. Particularly, light-speed travel. That is, unless they develop a working warp drive, or use that immaculate energy cache to master wormhole teleportation (two things that remain theoretical for the time being), they can only get so far…and traveling about the galaxy would still be an amazingly time-consuming process. It would take decades, or even hundreds of years, to travel between the stars.

However, cryogenic preservation could make such feats possible for biological organisms, while biosynthetic organisms will likely live far, far longer than we can possibly imagine—so such timescales may very well be the blink of and eye to them.

Or maybe we’ll break the laws of physics 100,000 million years into the future and invent warp drive. Who knows?

TYPE 4: HARNESSING THE POWER OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE

IN BRIEF
  • A Type IV civilization is a society that has managed to harness the energy of the entire universe.
  • To get here, we would need to tap into energy sources unknown to us using strange laws of physics (laws that may or may not exist).

An Intergalactic Culture

To measure the level of a civilization’s advancement, the Kardashev scale focuses on the amount of energy that a civilization is able to harness. Obviously, the amount of power available to a civilization is linked to how widespread the civilization is (you can’t harness the power of a star if you are confined to your home planet, and you certainly can’t harness the power of a galaxy if you can’t even get out of your solar system).

In short, according to the Kardashev scale, Interstellar Travelers = Advanced society.

In a previous article, we offered an overview of the various civilization types: Subglobal Cultures, Galactic Cultures, Multiverse Cultures, etc.  We’ve already discussed a Subglobal Culture, a Planetary Culture, a Stellar Culture, and a Galactic Culture. Today, we want to talk about what it would be like to live in a Type V Civilization—a culture that can harness the energy of the cosmos.

The Kardashev Scale: Are We Advanced Yet? [Comic]
Click to View Full Infographic

Beyond Kardashev

Complete disclosure here: Kardashev believed a Type IV civilization was too advanced—that no species could ever reach that level—so he didn’t go beyond Type III on his scale. So we can all go home, right? This whole Kardashev scale thing is all over?

Not quite.

Aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin weighed in on what could exist beyond Kardashev’s initial scale. Zubrin proposed metrics other than pure energy use that could help species excel beyond what a Type III civilization would be capable of. One classification he suggested is simply the ‘mastery’ of a planet, system, galaxy, galactic group, etc. Similarly, Carl Sagan suggested adding another dimension in addition to pure energy usage: the information available to the civilization. And in his book, Parallel WorldsMichio Kaku discussed a Type IV civilization that could harness “extragalactic” energy sources, such as dark energy.

The first two are rather self-explanatory, but let’s dive a little deeper into what it would mean to truly harness the power of the cosmos, as Kaku suggests.

Unknown Laws of Physics

As previously noted (several times now), Type IV Civilizations are able to harness the energy content of the entire universe. This means that Type IV societies would be capable of undertaking projects of gargantuan, superhuman proportions, such as changing the structure of spacetime itself or the deliberate slowing of entropy. Since they can manipulate spacetime, advanced races like this could traverse the accelerating expansion of space to get to the other side of the cosmos faster than light can travel (something that our own species can only dream about, as a trip to just the next star would currently take us thousands of years).

Kardashev Scale: This Is What Life Will Look Like When We Harness the Energy of the Entire Universe
Bella Cielo

Such peoples (aliens?) would likely span the whole of the universe. They would have colonized numerous star systems and entire galaxies. Such a society would be able to use planets like building blocks, moving them about in order to create the exact kind of star systems that they want to live in and merging them together in order to create the exact kinds of planets that they want to live on. They would be able to harness all the energy output of stars…and even create them.

This seems impossible to civilizations like ours, as this type of advanced civilization would need to tap into energy sources unknown to us, and they would have to do so using strange (and currently unknown) laws of physics.

Sadly, due to the fundamental constraints of our physical reality—due to the physics of being human—such accomplishments could be forever beyond our reach. This level of advancement may be achievable only by incorporeal beings, such as members of Star Trek’s Q Continuum, or the Gallifreyans from Doctor Who.

But who knows. Someday, we may figure out how to use cybernetic technologies to evolve into such beings, or maybe new physics will unveil itself, and we could command the power of a billion trillion suns.

…or maybe the immutable laws of physics will forever forbid it.

 

TYPE 5: HARNESSING THE POWER OF THE MULTIVERSE

THE END OF THE SCALE

IN BRIEF
  • The last culture on the Kardashev scale is capable of jumping between multiverses that contain varied forms of physics and space-time.
  • Someday, we could achieve this level of advancement – but it will likely take tens of thousands of years (or more).

To measure the level of a civilization’s advancement, the Kardashev scale focuses on the amount of energy that a civilization is able to harness. Obviously, the amount of power available to a civilization is linked to how widespread the civilization is (you can’t harness the power of a star if you are confined to your home planet, and you certainly can’t harness the power of a galaxy if you can’t even get out of your solar system).

In short, according to the Kardashev scale, interstellar travelers = advanced society.

In previous articles, we offered an overview of the various civilization types: Subglobal Cultures, Galactic Cultures, Multiverse Cultures, etc.  We’ve already discussed a Subglobal Culture, a Planetary Culture, a Stellar Culture, a Galactic Culture, and an Intergalactic Culture.

Today, we’ve reached the end of the scale. We want to talk about what it would be like to live in a Type V Civilization—a culture that can harness the powers of, well…everything.

Way Beyond Kardashev

At this point, we’re way beyond anything Kardashev ever envisioned. He didn’t even add a Type IV civilization to his scale because he thought it was too advanced—that no society could ever hope to reach this level of progress. Therefore, he obviously didn’t acknowledge a Type V civilization. Kardashev thought that, surely, Type III would be the extent of any species’ ability.

However, a few theorists disagree. Aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin weighed in on what could exist beyond Kardashev’s initial scale. Zubrin proposed metrics other than pure energy use that could help species excel beyond what a Type III civilization would be capable of. One classification he suggested is the ‘mastery’ of a planet, system, galaxy, galactic group, etc. Similarly, Carl Sagan suggested adding another dimension in addition to pure energy usage: The information available to the civilization. And in his book, Parallel WorldsMichio Kaku discussed a Type IV civilization that could harness “extragalactic” energy sources, such as dark energy. But we can go beyond event that.

So, let’s visit the most extreme on the scale, shall we?

Beings Like Gods

Imagine the most advanced civilization ever. Then go even further (by a lot). That’s a Type V civilization – a Multiverse Culture.

Such a society would have an advanced understanding of physics. In fact, it would be so advanced that they would understand literally everything about the physics of the universe. This would allow them to manipulate matter in unimaginable ways—they may even be able to create matter from the fabric of the cosmos. They would also have such an intricate understanding of genetics that they would be able to create life from non-living matter.

If that’s not enough, according to Kaku, this culture will have transcended their universe of origin. Yes, their universe. These hypothetical beings would be capable of universe-scale manipulation (jumping between multiverses that contain varied forms of matter, physics, and space-time). Imagine being able to enter a universe where there are two dimensions of time or no time at all, where space has 6 dimensions or maybe just one, where light (or maybe even space itself) doesn’t exist.

That would be possible for Type V civilizations. In short, they would be beings of unimaginable power and ability. Essentially, the beings would be akin to gods.

Kardashev Scale: What It’ll Be Like When We Harness the Power of…Everything

A Long Road to Travel

As we pointed out in the first article, humans are a very, very, long way from ever reaching anything like this. Sagan noted we weren’t even at a Type I civilization yet. And Kaku points out that many experts assert that we are some ways from reaching even that: “Physicist Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study estimates that, within 200 years or so, we should attain Type I status. In fact, growing at a modest rate of 1% per year, Kardashev estimated that it would take only 3,200 years to reach Type II status, and 5,800 years to reach Type III status.”

But it’s not to say that Type V it cannot be achieved, as long as we take care of Earth and each other (nuclear war would set us back some ways). To get beyond our Type 0 status, the first step is to preserve our tiny home and continue to support scientific advances and discoveries.

Maybe someday, we’ll be multiverse hopping.

How Will This Affect Life?

So, what would this much energy mean for a species? Well, we would have clear skies, as fossil fuels would be a thing of the past. No more anthropogenic global warming. And with virtually unlimited energy, traveling around the globe (or the solar system) would be a breeze. It would be amazingly inexpensive to power rockets and ground transport, bringing our fellow planets (and citizens) closer than ever.

People would take a quick jaunt to the Moon like people today take a trip to the beach.

It’s likely that no natural catastrophe could wipe out such a species. Just as they control their star, they control their planet (including all its weather patterns…so goodbye, hurricanes!). Moreover, if humans survived long enough to reach this level of civilization, and a moon-sized asteroid entered our solar system on a collision course with our little blue planet–our technology would have advanced to a point were we’d have the ability to vaporize it out of existence. Or if we had time, we could move our planet out of the way, completely dodging it.

But let’s say we didn’t want to move Earth… are there any other options?

Well yes, because we’d have the ability to move Jupiter, or another planet of our choice, into the path of the asteroid – pretty cool, right? A better choice, of course, would probably be to just move the asteroid (though that’s not so impressive sounding).

In any case, that’s what it means to literally control planets and stars.

We are a LONG way from all this though. It’s estimated that getting to a Type II civilization will take between 1,000 and 2,000 years. Right now, we’re probably closer to a 0.72.

It’ll be a while until we can use Jupiter as a shield. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

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