Survival of the Species

I tried for quite a while to come up with a title that encompassed my thoughts and ideas in a particular avenue of thinking about possibilities. This seems to broadly cover a lot of the areas, but isn’t exclusive to what my thought experiment consisted of. To start with we need to try to define the context in which our current level of society exists, and what assumptions we are currently using.

In western culture we consider ourselves able, advanced and intelligent. This is based on the current version of ‘truths’ that is particular to our society. But it isn’t as simple as mathematics, as these truths change with the age in which you are in, and the system you use to look at them. The Liberal idea of what is right isn’t necessarily the correct one. If there is such thing a correct way of looking at things, or a self evident truth it may be vastly different than modern people currently have decided it is. 1+1 will rarely make 3 even if people are prepared to go to war, imprison or torture you, and the whole of society will shout you down and demand your destruction for doubting it.

To try and work out what is necessary for the future, we need to know what has happened in the past. We have only real knowledge of one planet, and a vague impression of others by remote devices in our one solar system, based on we think one sun in one galaxy travelling at some velocity, in roughly thataway direction. Nobody has measured close up of any other sun and most ideas are based on a general theory of what is happening to our sun, and building complex theoretical structures based on that. The assumption that all other areas of the universe conform exactly to our know laws of physics is an assumption that may not turn out to be true. So we have a best guess based on what we guess is right. We have not touched the sun, or gone anywhere near it, but we think we have a rough idea what is happening. When you see reported any events happening elsewhere in our solar system or universe that is unexpected and a surprise, it is because the theoretical structure was somewhere between slightly wrong and totally wrong, so didn’t predict it and probably needs altering. Science is about trying to get the guess right more times than wrong. The better the science hopefully the less wrong guesses. But we have a poor record on a lot of definitive and exact structured theory based on guesswork,

The other problem is that we know very little that has happened in the past 100 years, and have hearsay for most of that, some of it probably incorrect, so any history, apart from maybe general recorded physical events is usually speculation and simply made up, quite often to fit a romantic idea. Unless you perform your own experiments to confirm this most information is hearsay and based on the status of the reporter. Even in recent times information is modified. I was speaking to my daughter about an event that was recorded on the internet, where she stated a particular event happened and how it was viewed. Because I was there I said’ not really’, but she still believed it happened that way, as the internet has a better credibility than witnesses. The way historical events are portrayed gives an indication more of the psychology of the reporter than the event.

The first thing we need to cover is intelligence. Intelligence is one of those things that in our modern age we claim to possess. We have undertaken and produced many things to give this impression, so we’ll take it as self-evident for now. But at what time did this intelligence reach a level at which we would call productive in a modern sense. We can look at chimpanzees or orang-utans, but do we marvel at their civilizations? If they are exposed to current devices and stimuli they seem to portray a standard of understanding and use that is getting close to our own, but not quite to the level of the least able mentally of our race. Dolphins, whales and elephants show similar comparable intelligences, dogs even with a lower level than those, by close association with humans can work out things quite well, but are mainly akin to things that are trained close to their wild counterparts instincts.

This sets a maximum base point for our line of species, about when chimpanzees, gorillas, and orang-utans diverged from us, probably about 1.8 million years ago. But the oldest stone tools have been discovered which date from about 2.8 million years. No other primate has shown any real ability in this area unless they are first shown by us, and there hasn’t been a single case of another primate fashioning such a thing, in all the times they have been observed.

Neanderthals seem to have developed around 400,000 years ago and had brain sizes of comparable size to modern humans, but we have no knowledge of complexity, but there has been recently been found signs of complex activity, so we could probably take that an able form of human has existed for at least 300,000 years, maybe as far as a million years. There are still some remote tribes is existence and there have been many in the past that showed no higher level of complex behaviour above what seem to be implicated there.

We now come to ‘what have they been doing all this time’? The first real stonework dates from about 12,000 years ago and could not have been just ‘thrown’ together.  The construction needed quite a considerable society around it to be able to produce it, so these were what could be classed as primitive root grubbing hunter-gatherers, with sharpened sticks. This was the sophistication of an ordered society. Did this just instantly come about from nowhere, highly unlikely? This would need a lot of generations of working together for a common goal, culminating in the stonework building, so you are probably looking at thousands of years of prior social shuffling. It is still though assuming that there are sudden jumps in behaviours and characteristics, a thing not found in nature, which unusually favours long term gradual changes. Things can happen very quickly if there is a major environment change, but it usually leaves other signs that this has happened, such as large boulders where they shouldn’t be, inch thick carbon layers, 10 feet of pumice, or seashells on the top of a mountain. Bit of a giveaway. Such prompts suggest a warped sense of humour.

Say we have15,000 years for stone construction, that still leaves between 385,000 and 2,785,000 years unaccounted for. Recent evidence suggests that Neanderthals and possibly early Sapiens were not the knuckle dragging primitive ape level species that is often portrayed, and it would be probably very likely that if they were born into todays society they would have an active technological ability not much different to us. So at minimum we are left with creatures that could go from a simple nomadic life to landing men on the moon 25 times over, maximum 180 times over.

Next we come to the dinosaurs. Again, the current view is that they were all simply primitive lizards hunting and being hunted with no intelligence or abilities apart from being able to attack and eat things. They first came out about 230 million years ago, and probably reached a substantial level 140 million years ago. At that time there were dinosaurs that had brains that were larger than our ancestors at the time. We assume they did not evolve past this stage, while mammal brains and bodies developing into us they stayed the same. If intelligence is not just a fluke, then it would be logical to deduce that other creatures, such as those around 140 million years ago could develop to a suitable level within 40 million years. This would give a guess at an intelligent species of dinosaur around 100 million years ago. Given the 15,000 year from bottom to top for our species this would suggest somewhere near a timescale allowing for similar civilizations to evolve from hunter gathers to space age 6000 times over.

If neither of these are true, then is suggests that technology is very hard to develop (at least 1:25, maybe 1:180) and intelligence is just a fluke (at least 1:6000). These two figures combined alone suggest a civilization Drake equation reduction by a factor of something like 150,000. If you add the other factor there has only been one form of life developed on a ‘perfect’ planet, with a perfect combination of elements, in a perfect orbit, around a perfect sun, in the perfect area of the galaxy, statistical chance should give millions upon millions of different bases. The fact that there isn’t suggests that the odds against life occurring may be as high as 1,000,000,000,000:1, or maybe as much as 150,000,000,000,000,000:1. We would be very surprising, as multiplying by the number of stars might suggest it should not be enough for us to exist, or if there is another civilization out there we may have to scour the universe for about the length of its existence to find it. It would be just our luck to be invaded by aliens who are intent on wiping us out, or we find aliens to wipe out and the universe ends. We would have to concede a draw in advance. Or they may have a massive inferiority complex and rather than the line ‘Take us to your leader’, may in fact say ‘take us to your stupidest person’, so they won’t feel so bad. You never can tell with aliens. It could be that their species was one of devolution where they devolved from higher forms and worked their way down to a second trombone.

Back to survival. It is extremely rare to find a creature other than humans who will willingly give their life to save others. Also it is extremely rare for a creature other than a human to not to try to fight to the last, or try as much as they can to escape death. Even creatures that are mortally wounded will try to get away and will not just resign themselves, so there is an inbuilt imperative to survive. It is also extremely rare to find a creature other than a human who will refuse to carry on the species, again an inbuilt imperative. A lot of these things go against our built in nature and it’s interesting that much of the actions that are considered noblest and admirable are based on the opposite of our built in instincts. It is considered what separates us from the mere beasts of the jungle, but this is not true for all things, human species survival for as long as possible is still considered our primary goal, although a lot of famous leaders seem to be fixated on the idea of making us extinct.

The opposite side to there being massive probabilities that a species or multiple species of saurian descendants of the dinosaurs, or previous human like civilizations existed in the past, is that something keeps on resetting the dominant species back to primitive levels on a regular basis. This is even more cause for concern as it would suggests a short periodic reset that could only be a short time period away. Not taking advantage of a time of progress and allowing a global disaster to reset everything as before, could mean that eventual extinction faces all. Scientific and social procrastination may in fact be making sure our set of species also falls by the wayside. We cannot assume we will have unlimited tries before history decides Humans as an entire species were a waste of space and this may be it, our chance.

The current score as we know it is:

Independent civilizations – 1 small planet

Independent outposts in nearby space – 0

Independent outposts on moons – 0

Independent outposts on other planets – 0

Independent outposts on moons around other planets – 0

Independent outposts at other stars – 0

Independent outposts at other galaxies – 0

Chance of long-term survival – 0.

Effective percentage difference in survival chances over past 2.8 million years – 0.

Maybe I am being a little pessimistic, the figure could be as high as a possible 0.000025%, which is vastly much better than it was 100 years ago.

We are doing our best to save the planet, a task that is impossible, and we are beginning to have an effect. At the current rate at least we can be comfortable with a safe clean environment when it disappears completely and all known life dies. Shame we couldn’t save any of it when we had a chance, including ourselves, spending more time looking at our mobile phones.