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).
Essentially, to measure a civilization’s advancement (awesomeness), 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).
In 1964, Nicolai Kardashev, a Russian astrophysicist 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. In recent years, scientists have expanded this scale to measure hypothetical civilizations—civilizations that are galactic, intergalactic, and even multiverse in nature.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
So if we want to advance beyond a Type 0 civilization, we’re going to need to play nice with one another.
Note-Just in case you are wondering why we published this, it is because thehindu ran a news about it in September 2016.