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Ser Scot A Ellison

Is it possible (not likely, possible) that humans aren't the only technologically advance civilization to have existed on Earth?

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Most of my life I have wondered about this possibility and recognized the difficulty of ever exploring such an idea.  The author of the article makes explicit that he doesn't believe this is true he's simply throwing out the possibility for examination.  As part of the "idea to chew on" he notes that the oldest continually exposed surface (not the oldest rock the oldest surface) on Earth is in the Negev Desert and is dated to about 1.8 million years old. That means the rest of the surface of the planet is more recent than that.  And Earth is approximately 4.5 Billion years old.

To be absolutely clear, this is incredibly unlikely and the author points out there are things we should be able to look for that a Technologically advanced, globe spanning civilization should create that we have never found.

But without further ado I present "The Atlantic" from April 2018:

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/are-we-earths-only-civilization/557180/

From the article:

When it comes to direct evidence of an industrial civilization—things like cities, factories, and roads—the geologic record doesn’t go back past what’s called the Quaternary period 2.6 million years ago. For example, the oldest large-scale stretch of ancient surface lies in the Negev Desert. It’s “just” 1.8 million years old—older surfaces are mostly visible in cross section via something like a cliff face or rock cuts. Go back much farther than the Quaternary and everything has been turned over and crushed to dust.

And, if we’re going back this far, we’re not talking about human civilizations anymore. Homo sapiens didn’t make their appearance on the planet until just 300,000 years or so ago. That means the question shifts to other species, which is why Gavin called the idea the Silurian hypothesis, after an old Dr. Who episode with intelligent reptiles.

 

So, could researchers find clear evidence that an ancient species built a relatively short-lived industrial civilization long before our own? Perhaps, for example, some early mammal rose briefly to civilization building during the Paleocene epoch about 60 million years ago. There are fossils, of course. But the fraction of life that gets fossilized is always minuscule and varies a lot depending on time and habitat. It would be easy, therefore, to miss an industrial civilization that only lasted 100,000 years—which would be 500 times longer than our industrial civilization has made it so far.

Given that all direct evidence would be long gone after many millions of years, what kinds of evidence might then still exist? The best way to answer this question is to figure out what evidence we’d leave behind if human civilization collapsed at its current stage of development.

...

When we burn fossil fuels, we’re releasing carbon back into the atmosphere that was once part of living tissues. This ancient carbon is depleted in one of that element’s three naturally occurring varieties, or isotopes. The more fossil fuels we burn, the more the balance of these carbon isotopes shifts. Atmospheric scientists call this shift the Suess effect, and the change in isotopic ratios of carbon due to fossil-fuel use is easy to see over the last century. Increases in temperature also leave isotopic signals. These shifts should be apparent to any future scientist who chemically analyzes exposed layers of rock from our era. Along with these spikes, this Anthropocene layer might also hold brief peaks in nitrogen, plastic nanoparticles, and even synthetic steroids. So if these are traces our civilization is bound to leave to the future, might the same “signals” exist right now in rocks just waiting to tell us of civilizations long gone?

 

Fifty-six million years ago, Earth passed through the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). During the PETM, the planet’s average temperature climbed as high as 15 degrees Fahrenheit above what we experience today. It was a world almost without ice, as typical summer temperatures at the poles reached close to a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Looking at the isotopic record from the PETM, scientists see both carbon and oxygen isotope ratios spiking in exactly the way we expect to see in the Anthropocene record. There are also other events like the PETM in the Earth’s history that show traces like our hypothetical Anthropocene signal. These include an event a few million years after the PETM dubbed the Eocene Layers of Mysterious Origin, and massive events in the Cretaceous that left the ocean without oxygen for many millennia (or even longer).

Are these events indications of previous nonhuman industrial civilizations? Almost certainly not.

...

But there is a conundrum here. If an earlier species’s industrial activity is short-lived, we might not be able to easily see it. The PETM’s spikes mostly show us the Earth’s timescales for responding to whatever caused it, not necessarily the timescale of the cause. So it might take both dedicated and novel detection methods to find evidence of a truly short-lived event in ancient sediments. In other words, if you’re not explicitly looking for it, you might not see it. That recognition was, perhaps, the most concrete conclusion of our study.

It’s not often that you write a paper proposing a hypothesis that you don’t support. Gavin and I don’t believe the Earth once hosted a 50-million-year-old Paleocene civilization. But by asking if we could “see” truly ancient industrial civilizations, we were forced to ask about the generic kinds of impacts any civilization might have on a planet. That’s exactly what the astrobiological perspective on climate change is all about. Civilization building means harvesting energy from the planet to do work (i.e., the work of civilization building). Once the civilization reaches truly planetary scales, there has to be some feedback on the coupled planetary systems that gave it birth (air, water, rock). This will be particularly true for young civilizations like ours still climbing up the ladder of technological capacity. There is, in other words, no free lunch. While some energy sources will have lower impact—say solar vs. fossil fuels—you can’t power a global civilization without some degree of impact on the planet.

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Probably the place to look for evidence of a previous technological civilisation on Earth is actually the moon. As it is airless and tectonically dead, any artifacts left there will remain for a very long time. Of course this requires the civilisation to have reached the moon, but we have ...

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42 minutes ago, A wilding said:

Probably the place to look for evidence of a previous technological civilisation on Earth is actually the moon. As it is airless and tectonically dead, any artifacts left there will remain for a very long time. Of course this requires the civilisation to have reached the moon, but we have ...

If by some miracle we did find a non-human artifact on Luna we’d be left with a very interesting conundrum in determining its origin, wouldn’t we? :)

Edited by Ser Scot A Ellison

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Star Trek Voyager did an episode on this premise of a pre-homo sapient technology driven society on earth. 

I legitimately found the prospect laughable.

I mean sure I guess it’s technically possible. The same way it’s possible that Aliens have personally visited earth, brought the rodent that would be Humanity’s ancestor. 

Though I think the question really being asked is if there has been an species we’d be comfortable deeming ”intelligent” or fully cognizant. I personally think that’s a more interesting question to ponder, especially given humans to to move the goal post on what makes humans exceptionally unique. 

From culture, to self-awareness, to displays of empathy, etc. 

Is a species ability to manufacture technology the only criteria for being dubbed truly intelligent? Even if their physiology simply doesn’t allow it? I don’t know. I don’t think so at the very least.

I also wonder if/when Humanity discovers intelligent Alien life, or just alien life how many people will chalk it up to having purely demonic origins, and say we should kill it.

 

Edited by Varysblackfyre321

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36 minutes ago, Varysblackfyre321 said:

Star Trek Voyager did an episode on this premise of a pre-homo sapient technology driven society on earth. 

I legitimately found the prospect laughable.

I mean sure I guess it’s technically possible. The same way it’s possible that Aliens have personally visited earth, brought the rodent that would be Humanity’s ancestor. 

Though I think the question really being asked is if there has been an species we’d be comfortable deeming ”intelligent” or fully cognizant. I personally think that’s a more interesting question to ponder, especially given humans to to move the goal post on what makes humans exceptionally unique. 

From culture, to self-awareness, to displays of empathy, etc. 

Is a species ability to manufacture technology the only criteria for being dubbed truly intelligent? Even if their physiology simply doesn’t allow it? I don’t know. I don’t think so at the very least.

I also wonder if/when Humanity discovers intelligent Alien life, or just alien life how many people will chalk it up to having purely demonic origins, and say we should kill it.

 

The most likely method of discovering intelligent life is detecting their radio emissions.  How do you propose to “kill” and intelligent species light years from Sol?

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I don’t understand the argument that evidence of civilization would disappear in a couple of million years. We have mines that go down 3km below the surface, digging into rock layers billions of years old. That evidence will be around for hundreds of millions of years, if not more.

And linked to that, the depletion of non-renewable natural resources like metals and other minerals would not be erased even in a billion years. If there had been a civilization lasting tens of thousands of years, we would not have had any easily accessible ores or minerals left by the time our civilization started.

That’s one of the reasons why the next hundred years is likely our only window to escape this gravity well and expand our civilization into space. Because if something happens to push us back to a pre-industrial level, we probably won’t have accessible resources left to reach this level of technology again. So we will be stuck here forever.

To me the interesting question is whether there was a technological civilization on Venus before it became a runaway greenhouse gas hellhole. Current thinking is that it was a comfortable world with surface oceans as recently as hundreds of millions of years ago. 

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5 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

The most likely method of discovering intelligent life is detecting their radio emissions.  How do you propose to “kill” and intelligent species light years from Sol?

With a big ass nuke.

Kidding.

I understand if that is the only evidence of detecting life killing it won't be the immediate call from much of anyone. 

Because that would be impossible. 

I was thinking more on the lines of if we (humanity) manage to be able to get close enough to said Alien life. 

But, just discovering them over radio-emissions? I think there's a fair chance it'll still be decried having demonic origins by many. 

Because Alien life does not fit in many many people’s religious ideology.

 

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16 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Most of my life I have wondered about this possibility and recognized the difficulty of ever exploring such an idea.  The author of the article makes explicit that he doesn't believe this is true he's simply throwing out the possibility for examination.  As part of the "idea to chew on" he notes that the oldest continually exposed surface (not the oldest rock the oldest surface) on Earth is in the Negev Desert and is dated to about 1.8 million years old. That means the rest of the surface of the planet is more recent than that.  And Earth is approximately 4.5 Billion years old.

To be absolutely clear, this is incredibly unlikely and the author points out there are things we should be able to look for that a Technologically advanced, globe spanning civilization should create that we have never found.

But without further ado I present "The Atlantic" from April 2018:

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/are-we-earths-only-civilization/557180/

From the article:

 

Interesting premise, Scot. I have been thinking about this for a few years now also. If it did happen, glaciation alone would have scraped a lot of it away numerous times, without getting into plate tectonics. Energy use would be the signature of any advance species and one would have to look in core samples of the ocean floor or old rocks to find it. As far as I know no anomalous results have ever showed up. 

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7 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

I don’t understand the argument that evidence of civilization would disappear in a couple of million years. We have mines that go down 3km below the surface, digging into rock layers billions of years old. That evidence will be around for hundreds of millions of years, if not more.

And linked to that, the depletion of non-renewable natural resources like metals and other minerals would not be erased even in a billion years. If there had been a civilization lasting tens of thousands of years, we would not have had any easily accessible ores or minerals left by the time our civilization started.

That’s one of the reasons why the next hundred years is likely our only window to escape this gravity well and expand our civilization into space. Because if something happens to push us back to a pre-industrial level, we probably won’t have accessible resources left to reach this level of technology again. So we will be stuck here forever.

To me the interesting question is whether there was a technological civilization on Venus before it became a runaway greenhouse gas hellhole. Current thinking is that it was a comfortable world with surface oceans as recently as hundreds of millions of years ago. 

Explicit evidence.  Structures, artifacts, the large detritus of civilization.  That is what the author says wouldn't survive deep time.  He does say that there would be indirect evidence of civilization, a spike in COemissions.  An unusually high presence of rare earth minerals in the strata for that period of time reflecting the use of such minerals in technology.  He also points out that depending on the level of industrialization and the length of time it existed it could be nearly impossible to spot this conclusively because the shorter the time span and the cleaner the civilization decides to live the harder it will be to spot in deep time.

The Venutian question is interesting.  Given the difficulty of exploring Venus due to its extreme climate make it even more intriguing.  What could survive there that we could find?

Edited by Ser Scot A Ellison

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The only workable premise involves post-dino/crab/whatever AIs cleaning up after getting rid of their makers before buggering off to hide in deep space or committing suicide imo.

Edited by Luzifer's right hand

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8 minutes ago, Luzifer's right hand said:

The only workable premise involves post-dino/crab/whatever AIs cleaning up after getting rid of their makers before buggering off to hide in deep space or committing suicide imo.

I'm not so sure.  If Oil forms from oceanic organisms over millions of years and we've had oceanic organisms for billions of years is it not possible (again not likely, but possible) that an earlier technological civilization lived off the fossil fuels of an earlier epoch and we are living off the production of a later epoch?

https://www.reference.com/science/long-oil-form-naturally-f516e26897aef0e

From the article:

Oil and gas takes between tens of millions and hundreds of millions of years to form naturally. About 70 percent of current oil deposits derived from the Mesozoic period, which lasted from 65 million years to 150 million years ago.

Edited by Ser Scot A Ellison

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9 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Explicit evidence.  Structures, artifacts, the large detritus of civilization.  That is what the author says wouldn't survive deep time.  He does say that there would be indirect evidence of civilization, a spike in COemissions.  An unusually high presence of rare earth minerals in the strata for that period of time reflecting the use of such minerals in technology.  He also points out that depending on the level of industrialization and the length of time it existed it could be nearly impossible to spot this conclusively because the shorter the time span and the cleaner the civilization decides to live the harder it will be to spot in deep time.

The Venutian question is interesting.  Given the difficulty of exploring Venus due to its extreme climate make it even more intriguing.  What could survive there that we could find?

Blue goo :)

 

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Frankly, the only major geological layer that I can think of is the famous iridium layer, the one dating from the end of the dinosaurs. Not saying T-Rex suddenly got sapient, ate up the others and then nuked each other, mind you. Surely not, honest ;)

 

I'm with Free Northman, though. Any previous civilization would've mined plenty of resources and would've used them. Oil is renewable in the very long term (hundres of millions of years for sure), but iron, gold and others would be trickier.

That's also why I'm totally of his opinion about space exploration. Whatever cleaning, whatever efforts we need to do here right now to stop the destruction of our environment and to ensure our short-term survival, we have to put aside a considerable amount of resources to go and mine asteroids and to be able to take from outer space some resources that will soon be depleted here around. If we don't do it, we're not just condemning mankind to be stuck forever on Earth, we condemn the whole of earthly life to be stuck on this rock for the next billions of years, until the Sun has enough of us.

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On 1/5/2020 at 4:50 AM, Clueless Northman said:

That's also why I'm totally of his opinion about space exploration. Whatever cleaning, whatever efforts we need to do here right now to stop the destruction of our environment and to ensure our short-term survival, we have to put aside a considerable amount of resources to go and mine asteroids and to be able to take from outer space some resources that will soon be depleted here around. If we don't do it, we're not just condemning mankind to be stuck forever on Earth, we condemn the whole of earthly life to be stuck on this rock for the next billions of years, until the Sun has enough of us.

Pretty basic Starcraft strategy imho: you always plant base 2 before you exhaust the resources at base 1.

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Unlike fossil fuel, minerals don't disappear as we use them. All the metal that has ever  been mined is still around. We may run out of ore at some point, be we can always recycle the stuff we have. Whatever mining an ancient civilisation might have done wouldn't have removed the minerals from Earth either (unless they used them to build starships). As for fossil fuels, we obviously need to stop using them long before they run out because of the greenhouse effect. That would have been true for an ancient civilisation as well.

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I don't know about any technological civilizations that may have existed on Earth before us. But I do have a great idea for a prank to play on our decedents however many tens of million years into the future.

Here's what we do:

We get the technology to send human colonists on their way to the Andromeda galaxy. They arrive and settle down, but we purposely do not try to stay in contact at all, and we send no one else after. Humans in both galaxies are divided for so long, that they forget that the other exists. And after millennia they evolve into separate species.

I think I remember reading that a loooooong time from now the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies will collide.

So when they get close, if we're lucky both new sentient species will come in contact with each other. And once they do and start blood tests they find out "HOLY SHIT WE HAVE A COMMON ANCESTOR!"

 

How much of a mindfuck would that be for them? I think we should go for it.

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Scot, what if your hypothetical civilization used biotech strictly developed from some physical capability and didn't go what we think of as industrial or technological at all?  It could have left no trace quite easily if it was only working with DNA.  I'm thinking something between the Expanse's protomolecule and Mieville's Hosts from Embassytown.

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1 hour ago, larrytheimp said:

Scot, what if your hypothetical civilization used biotech strictly developed from some physical capability and didn't go what we think of as industrial or technological at all?  It could have left no trace quite easily if it was only working with DNA.  I'm thinking something between the Expanse's protomolecule and Mieville's Hosts from Embassytown.

Oh, that is clearly an interesting permutation of the original premise.  The article posits that all technology civilizations would have to use technology the way we do.  That’s what the hypothetical search is looking for the remnants of.  If their technology was fully biological I doubt we could find traces.

 

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7 hours ago, A True Kaniggit said:

We get the technology to send human colonists on their way to the Andromeda galaxy. They arrive and settle down, but we purposely do not try to stay in contact at all, and we send no one else after. Humans in both galaxies are divided for so long, that they forget that the other exists. And after millennia they evolve into separate species.

Isn't this basically the premise of Prometheus, just in the other direction?

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