Civilization And Energy Consumption. Kardehev Scale and Levels of Civilization. Clarkes Three Laws, White’s Law And Evolution of Culture.

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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. “ Clarkes Third Law”

As a kid once I wondered how cool it would be to see the other person whom we were talking to on the phone ? In the Early eighties such a thought almost bordered to a sense of magical as pointed out by Clarks third Law. Fast Forward 3 decades later I watch my son almost taking it for granted seeing me on Face time. So at times just can’t help wondering what my son’s son will take for granted in terms of technological advancement? So true. Well both of them will see a type I civilization unfolding before their eyes as it is predicted by 2100 ours will be a type I Civilization.

Type I civilization ? Even before we go there the progress of our civilization can be measured how efficiently we utilize and harness our energy resources. It’s not me who is proposing this but an anthropologist Leslie White who postulated that other factors remaining constant, “culture evolves as the amount of energy harnessed per capita per year is increased. His theory, published in 1959 in The Evolution of Culture: The Development of Civilization to the Fall of Rome, rekindled the interest in social evolutionism. White differentiated between three components of culture: technological, sociological and ideological, and argued that it was the technological component which plays a primary role or is the primary determining factor responsible for the cultural evolution. For White “the primary function of culture” and the one that determines its level of advancement is its ability to “harness and control energy.”


White’s law states that the measure by which to judge the relative degree of evolvedness of culture was the amount of energy it could capture (energy consumption). White differentiates between five stages of human development. In the first, people use energy of their own muscles. In the second, they use energy of domesticated animals. In the third, they use the energy of plants (so White refers to agricultural revolution here). In the fourth, they learn to use the energy of natural resources: coal, oil, gas. In the fifth, they harness nuclear energy.

Although White stops short of promising that technology is the panacea for all the problems that affect mankind, like technological utopians do, his theory treats technological factor as the most important factor in the evolution of society. His work is similar to the theory of Kardeshevs scale. The Kardashev scale is a method of measuring a civilization’s level of technological advancement, based on the amount of energy a civilization is able to utilize. The scale has three designated categories called Type I, II, and III. A Type I civilization uses all available resources on its home planet, Type II harnesses all the energy of its star, and Type III of its galaxy. The scale is only hypothetical, but it puts energy consumption in a cosmic perspective. It was first proposed in 1964 by the Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev. Various extensions of the scale have been proposed since, from a wider range of power levels (types 0, IV and V) to the use of metrics other than pure power.


So it might seem ludicrous to point out in a few centuries we approach a level 3 civilization “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.

This puts the science fiction author Clarks laws into perspective when he pointed out

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right.
When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

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RS is a deep thinker. His hobby is to analyze and reanalyze. Out of a passion to analyze he started this blog

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