Playing God


Imagine you are God and you decide to create a universe.  When you create this universe you set it up as a game with three broad conditions.  To “Win” the game two intelligent species have to meet each other and communicate.

Broad Condition number 1:  Entropy

The Universe begins with a huge injection of energy.  You have this big bang which creates all these galaxies, stars, planets and moons.  From the point of origin they will all drift outwards.  As they drift outwards the energy of the creation will eventually dissipate.  The end state for this creation is death.  Cold dead pieces of rock drifting ever outwards away from each other.

Broad Condition number 2:  Evolutionary time

In order for these intelligent species to meet each other the species must firstly evolve.  You cannot put icing on a hot cake straight out of the oven.  It has to cool down.  The steam has to evaporate.  The conditions need to be right.  So in this universe it takes time for life to develop from primordial chemical soup.

A couple of billion years for development of photosynthesis so that oxygen can be produced.

A billion years to the development of Eukaryotes  and another billion to develop into multi-cellular organisms.  And all this time those galaxies are drifting apart, drifting apart.

Then things can speed up.  From the first multi-cellular organisms it only took another billion years to see the arrival of hominids.  From the arrival of early hominids it only took a million years to the arrival of civilization.  Then it only took 7,000 years for us to leave our planet and reach the moon.

We reached the moon in 1969.  With a bit of luck it may take only 100 years from there to put a man on Mars.  But even then we will not have reached Level 1 on the Kardashev scale and if we are to “Win” the game we will need to become a Level 3 Kardashev civilization. We need to become a Galactic civilization.

Broad Condition Number 3:  Resource Constraints

Here is a sting in the tail.  Each origin planet for a species is given a delicately balanced resource package.  If those resources are not managed sensibly there is a strong possibility that a developing civilization will implode before they make the great leap into space.  Civilizations rise and fall, rise and fall over time.  But few of them have ever tested planetary resources in any meaningful way, except ours.

At the rate mankind is destroying this planet we will have poisoned our environment long before we reach Kardashev level 1.

That Fateful Meeting

And let us pretend we somehow achieved that meeting with another civilization in space.  How many humans would suggest a shoot first approach to communication?  We have a poor record of engagement with newly discovered tribes and peoples of men.  How would we fare with an alien species?


Missing Link


Nov 24th is a very significant day in the history of mankind for two reasons.  Firstly it was on this day in the year 1859 that Charles Darwin published his groundbreaking work, On the Origin of Species.

Darwin’s work was mostly concerned with his findings on Finches, Tortoises and other species he studied on the Voyage of the Beagle.  Darwin was rushed into publication because a fellow naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace published “On the Introduction of Species” in 1855 and came very close to many elements of Darwin’s theories.

Darwin avoided the explosive conclusions in relation to mankind, except for a hint of the possibility in the final chapter.  But it was this hint that drove the book to become one of the most famous scientific works ever published.  Darwin gave us the language of evolution, with terms such as survival of the fittest and the eponymous evolutionary theory we now call “Darwinism”.

Then, on this day in 1974 two anthropologists discovered the bones of an Australopithecus Afarensis.  Donald Johanson and Tom Gray had a party that night to celebrate the find of the Century, a 40% complete hominid skeleton.  They played the Beatles all night long and eventually named their missing link “Lucy” after Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Lucy demonstrated that bipedalism came before increased brain size.

In a field of study which advanced by decades on the finding of a jawbone or a couple of teeth the impact of such a large portion of a skeleton was phenomenal.  Lucy became one of the best selling books in the world, another crossover from the world of science to the popular zeitgeist.

There are now many theories that focus on the move from small to large brain size.  Radiator theory (bipeds can cool their brains by being taller so standing up allows the brain to grow).  There is the theory that freeing the hands for manipulation rather than locomotion stimulates the brain to new heights and hence sizes.  There are theories that the changed head position supported the development of the voice box, verbal communication, cooperation and society.  There are many many theories.  But Lucy permitted these theories by showing that walking came before a big brain.



Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone

Lucy in the sky with diamonds