What If Humanity Was a Type 0 Civilization?
It’s human nature to want to look ahead, into the unknowable future, and to contemplate what might unfold for us. And it’s partly thanks to this innate sense of wonder that concepts like the Kardashev Scale strike such a chord. But, alongside that, we also have a tendency to want to look back. To gaze with interest and sometimes trepidation at where we’ve come from… and at what we once were. So, could it ever be possible that society itself would one day regress back to a former level?
This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; what if humanity was a type zero civilization?
In all the Kardashev Scale content on our channel, we’re forever looking forwards. Imagining future worlds (or current but technologically advanced, extraterrestrial groups) at Kardashev types two, three, four, or more. And we always (somewhat depressingly) footnote these vast cosmic explorations with the fact that we, humans, still rank at only around 0.7 on the scale. We’ve still got a long way to go (perhaps hundreds of years) before breaching even type one and becoming a true planetary civilization. But at least we can dream! And at least we can, in many ways, see the path toward type one emerging before us. However, is there also an unspoken danger afoot? Might we one day err away from that path and, in so doing, fall back?
A type zero civilization is the bottom-most rung of the Kardashev ladder. The base layer for any hypothesized group, consisting of a kind of starter pack of tools to get things done and a sequence of first steps that are needed. Exactly where it begins is somewhat up for debate. With humankind, some consider it to be when the first mass migrations of ancient hominids took place, around two to three million years ago… organized groups were starting to form, and the route from there to civilization can be pieced together. But perhaps, in our case, it’s simpler to focus in on the emergence and rise of homo sapiens specifically, around 300,000 years ago. From there, we can think of Kardashev’s first stage as being subdivided into multiple smaller stages. At 0.1, it’s the early stone age, with primitive tools consisting of refashioned rocks, and with the recent discovery of fire pushing us forwards. At perhaps late 0.2, the wheel is invented, plus other complex devices like early levers and pulleys, which leads to settled groups, farming, territorial disputes and, unfortunately, the first infighting and war.
As we rise from there to our current level of 0.7, we incorporate things like an increased astronomical knowledge; an increased awareness of our place in the universe; and an increased technological knowhow. We more broadly contemplate deeper, metaphysical topics like life itself, death, consciousness, and the fabric of reality. The big questions like “why are we here?”, “what happens when we die?”, and “is any of this really real?” start to formulate in our minds… spurring us ever on, further up the Kardashev ladder. And, naturally, at the heart of it all, is our need and use of energy. Right now, we still have a long way to go on that front before humankind can be considered efficient… but, even so, were we to drop back down to the bottom of type zero tomorrow, the world would be a very different place. For a low type zero, they haven’t yet realized that energy can be taken from what we now call fossil fuels, at all. The wonders of coal, for example, as a means to make things work, haven’t yet revealed themselves… while the realization that burning through coal is actually no good for the planet as a whole is still thousands of years away. For a flat type zero, at the very beginning, things like heat, wind, the sun, the stars, Earth itself, are still largely a mystery. And the idea of using them for our own gain hasn’t even begun to form yet.
One civilization trait that often appears as we move further up the Kardashev Scale is some form of social cohesion. For example, in some versions of type three, a group will have mastered wormhole physics and built a wormhole network, and so any one being in that group can be at any one place at any time they please. Meanwhile, in some versions of type five and above, a civilization should have mastered the hive mind, a kind of collective consciousness that means that all type five lifeforms instantly know everything about everything, all the time – like they’ve memorized the internet, only now the internet is the entire universe. And that’s all pretty impressive… but suffice to say that at type zero we’d have nothing like it. The plain old-fashioned internet would be no more, as would any form of communications other than speaking face-to-face. Even a traditional postal service is beyond the means of the lowest subdivisions of a zero, given the logistics and organization required to make it work. And the need for some kind of written language or standard symbolism, which likely won’t have developed yet.
While, again, the subgroups of type zero aren’t universally agreed upon, it generally isn’t until at least 0.3 or 0.4 that any form of wider organization is implemented. Before then, type zeros are more a collection of hunter-gather style groups, crossing paths at random, surviving thanks to their own individual nous, and developing tools, views, and strategies for life quite independently from one another. Once the key inventions like the wheel (at around 0.2) take place, however, and settled groups form as a result, there also comes social structure, hierarchies, leaders, and innovators. Yes, the downside here is that disagreements strike up, and conflict can break out… but the upsides are that knowledge is increasingly pooled. Members of the growing civilization learn from each other, and breakthroughs are made at an increasingly rapid rate. And nowhere more so than with travel, as a mid-type zero breaks out of their local region to explore their wider world, as humans did just a few centuries ago. Vehicles are created to make this task easier across water, over land, and in the skies. And, before long, those isolated groups of the past are now all connected… which impacts everything from food to technology, from the growing group’s understanding of history to its focus for the future. And, naturally, that group begins to look even further afield, away from its own planet and toward the surrounding moons and alien worlds that by now it has gained a better understanding of. The advent of space travel is generally thought to be a key milestone for a mid-to-late type zero society, bringing us up to our own current level.
So, with this in mind, is it possible to go backwards through all those subgroups? It’s a favorite plotline for dystopia fiction, centring on human characters that have somehow forgotten the level of civilization that we today take for granted. And perhaps a ruthless enough extinction event could strip humanity of all our knowledge until this point. Were a planet-wide disaster to strike, for example, and were it to kill off all but a small percentage of the population; and were that population to survive under extreme conditions for thousands (perhaps millions) of years… then it figures that, over the many generations, memories of the past would dissolve. The cars, skyscrapers, computers, and rocket ships of our contemporary, Kardashev 0.7 lives might transform into topics of myth and legend for a future type zero human.
But, on the other hand, thanks to physical structures like the Svalbard Seed Vault, the various “frozen zoo” projects aiming to preserve the genetics of the entire natural world, the countless human-made monuments across the surface of Earth, and the digitalisation of knowledge in general, we have made it so that at least imprints of our civilization (as it is) should last for a long time. We’re certainly still at the mercy of space, and one large enough asteroid (for instance) could quickly end us… but unless that asteroid were to also smash the Earth into nothingness, then there would be traces left behind. Traces that an imagined type zero might one day be able to piece together, to map their way back to the here and now. If, of course, that’s the direction that they’d choose to take. And that’s what would happen if humanity was a type zero civilization.