The average mammalian species lifespan is a million years. But Homo sapiens only evolved about 100 thousand years ago. So we've got a long road ahead of us. The chart below explores where we've been, and where we might be headed.
We can use quantum mechanics to create an entirely new way of viewing and operating inside of the world, which would require a drastic philosophical and ideological change of epic proportion. Epic change, perhaps, is a concept that we may need to start entertaining.
Evidence of a community of unknown prehistoric artists and craftspeople who “invented” ceramics during the last Ice Age – thousands of years before pottery became commonplace – has been found in modern-day Croatia.
The finds consist of 36 fragments, most of them apparently the broken-off remnants of modelled animals, and come from a site called Vela Spila on the Adriatic coast. Archaeologists believe that they were the products of an artistic culture which sprang up in the region about 17,500 years ago. Their ceramic art flourished for about 2,500 years, but then disappeared.
Most histories of the technology begin with the more settled cultures of the Neolithic era, which began about 10,000 years ago. Now it is becoming clear that the story is much more complex. Over thousands of years, ceramics were invented, lost, reinvented and lost again. The earliest producers did not make crockery, but seem to have had more artistic inclinations.
Scientists as eminent as Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan have long believed that humans will one day colonise the universe. But how easy would it be, why would we want to, and why haven't we seen any evidence of other life forms making their own bids for universal domination?
A new paper by Dr. Stuart Armstrong and Dr. Anders Sandberg from Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) attempts to answer these questions. To be published in the August/September edition of the journal Acta Astronautica, the paper takes as its starting point the Fermi paradox – the discrepancy between the likelihood of intelligent alien life existing and the absence of observational evidence for such an existence.
Dr. Sandberg explains: 'Almost any answer to the Fermi paradox gives rise to something uncomfortable. There is also the theory that a lot of planets are at roughly at the same stage – what we call synchronized – in terms of their ability to explore the universe, but personally I don't think that's likely. There are Earth-like planets much older than the Earth – in fact most of them are, in many cases by billions of years.'
Dr. Sandberg adds: 'In the early 1990s we thought that perhaps there weren't many planets out there, but now we know that the universe is teeming with planets. We have more planets than we would ever have expected.'
The Acta Astronautica paper looks at just how far and wide a civilisation like humanity could theoretically spread across the universe. Past studies of the Fermi paradox have mainly looked at spreading inside the Milky Way. However, this paper looks at more ambitious expansion.
Dr. Sandberg says: 'If we wanted to go to a really remote galaxy to colonize one of these planets, under normal circumstances we would have to send rockets able to decelerate on arrival. But with the universe constantly expanding, the galaxies are moving further and further away, which makes the calculations rather tricky. What we did in the paper was combine a number of mathematical and physical tools to address this issue.'
Dr. Armstrong and Dr. Sandberg show in the paper that, given certain technological assumptions (such as advanced automation or basic artificial intelligence, capable of self-replication), it would be feasible to construct a Dyson sphere, which would capture the energy of the sun and power a wave of intergalactic colonisation. The process could be initiated on a surprisingly short timescale.
But why would a civilisation want to expand its horizons to other galaxies? Dr. Armstrong says: 'One reason for expansion could be that a sub-group wants to do it because it is being oppressed or it is ideologically committed to expansion. In that case you have the problem of the central civilisation, which may want to prevent this type of expansion. The best way of doing that get there first. Pre-emption is perhaps the best reason for expansion.'
Dr. Sandberg adds: 'Say a race of slimy space aliens wants to turn the universe into parking lots or advertising space – other species might want to stop that. There could be lots of good reasons for any species to want to expand, even if they don't actually care about colonising or owning the universe.'
He concludes: 'Our key point is that if any civilisation anywhere in the past had wanted to expand, they would have been able to reach an enormous portion of the universe in a very short amount of time. That makes the Fermi question tougher – by a factor of billions. If intelligent life is rare, it needs to be much rarer than just one civilisation per galaxy. If advanced civilisations all refrain from colonizing, this trend must be so strong that not a single one across billions of galaxies and billions of years chose to do it. And so on.
'We still don't know what the answer is, but we know it's more radical than previously expected.'
The diversity of life on Earth, and its ever-growing complexity, leads many people to think that there must be a purpose to its existence. Commentator Marcelo Gleiser argues that, quite the contrary, the only purpose of life is to preserve itself.
There is a fundamental chasm in our understanding of ourselves, the universe, and everything. To solve this, Sir Martin takes us on a mind-boggling journey through multiple universes to post-biological life. On the way we learn of the disturbing possibility that we could be the product of someone elses experiment.
The largest-ever experiment in space has reported the collection of some 18 billion "cosmic ray" events that may help unravel the Universe's mysteries.The data haul is far greater than the total number of cosmic rays recorded in a full century of looking to date. Run from a centre at Cern, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) aims to spot dark matter and exotic antimatter.
At the heart of the seven-tonne, $2bn machine is a giant, specially designed magnet which bends the paths of extraordinarily high-energy charged particles called cosmic rays onto a series of detectors, giving hints of what the particles are. A series of ever-larger particle accelerators built here on Earth aim to drive particles to ever-higher energies, smashing them into one another to simulate the same processes that create them elsewhere in the cosmos. No Earth-bound experiment can match nature's power as a particle accelerator - and Earth's atmosphere absorbs incoming cosmic rays - so the AMS will catch some of these high-energy particles "from the source", as a kind of complement to the likes of the Large Hadron Collider.
The Costa Rica NewsInquiry: The Glacier WithinThe Costa Rica NewsQuestioner one: Is the darkness and deadness in human consciousness, which can fairly be said to be human consciousness now, increasing, or being dispelled?