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Thread: how old possible oldest civilization ?

  1. #1
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    how old possible oldest civilization ?

    just wondering...

    based on our understanding of the formation of the universe, how old (how long ago) could the first civilization of intelligent beings like or similar to us could have formed?

    curious as to a perspective of just how "young" we are (or could be)

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    Good question.

    The first limiting factor will be the availability of elements. The elements we understand to be required for life weren't produced until Population I stars were formed. That takes several billion years.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stella...lation_I_stars

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    We don't know all the factors. It may be that in order for intelligent life to come into existence, that not much is needed beyond a few heavy elements mixed in with the organic ones, and for the life to form in a galaxy that has stopped having frequent extinction events. So, a planet around a K or G star in a galaxy stripped of gas 2 billion years after the big bang could plausibly have had the requirements to get started. I don't know if it is possible to skip from first microbes to first multicell creatures in less than the 3 billion years it took on Earth, but let's say it could be done in a billion years... SO that would mean that there could have been intelligent life somewhere about 10 billion years ago. Please note, we still have no evidence for life anywhere by Earth, and really don't know how much we don't know about limitations on the creation and evolution of life, so this is a fairly open guess, and I won't spend much effort defending it.
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    It also seems that, since technological development seems to move at a sort-of exponential rate, even a slight age difference could make a huge change in technological capability. One could question whether or not a civilization 10 billion years older than us is possible (I agree with antoniseb that it probably is, if everything worked out just right, but that it's hard to say for sure), but there shouldn't be any problem with one a few tens of millions of years older. That's only a tiny fraction in terms of overall time to develop, but I'd imagine that a civilization millions of years older than us could have astonishing technology.
    Conserve energy. Commute with the Hamiltonian.

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    thanks for the replies. the information gives me lots to think about.
    the more I learn about astronomy and cosmology the more it fascinates me.

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    how old possible oldest civilization ?

    Or even just a thousand years.

    IIRC the absence of galaxy-spanning species is a key aspect of the Fermi paradox; given 13.5 billions years since the Big Bang, where is everybody? Even with sub-lightspeed travel a star-faring species could comfortably colonize thousands of worlds in as little as a million years.


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    Last edited by schlaugh; 2018-Jun-13 at 06:19 PM.

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    Then there's the Salzburg Cube. See:https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&sour...gmsSVlXgmCJ7hk

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    Quote Originally Posted by trinitree88 View Post
    Then there's the Salzburg Cube. See:https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&sour...gmsSVlXgmCJ7hk
    Don't post non-mainstream answers in Q&A, even more so when they are also close to off-topic
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    Multicellular life took a long time to get started on Earth, possibly due to extensive ice ages and global glaciations. Life itself appeared very early; 0.7 billion years after the planet formed. Once the sea-level rose and the temperature increased it only took 500 million years to get to advanced industrial civilisation. On a warmer world more conducive to life than ours that formed this means 1.2 billion years from first life to civilisation. If suitable worlds could appear 2 billion years after the start of the universe, then civilisations should be possible after 3.7 billion years. given the age of the universe, that is ten billion years before us.

    It may be that these civilisations are short-lived affairs, but the universe must have been a lot smaller and distances between stars quite a bit less back then, so the opportunity to move to other stars must have been more frequent than as the universe gets older, also dense stellar environments would have been more common, as open clusters would have been more frequently forming in the younger galaxy and these provide a lot of stars in close proximity.

    ...so we may be late to the party.

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    Quote Originally Posted by transreality View Post
    .... but the universe must have been a lot smaller and distances between stars quite a bit less back then, so the opportunity to move to other stars must have been more frequent ....
    So was the opportunity for life ending collision events. The fact that our solar system is on the fringe of the galaxy has allowed it 500 million years of relative stability. But even earth has suffered some severe extinction events.
    I know that I know nothing, so I question everything. - Socrates/Descartes

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    Quote Originally Posted by transreality View Post
    Multicellular life took a long time to get started on Earth, possibly due to extensive ice ages and global glaciations. Life itself appeared very early; 0.7 billion years after the planet formed. Once the sea-level rose and the temperature increased it only took 500 million years to get to advanced industrial civilisation. On a warmer world more conducive to life than ours that formed this means 1.2 billion years from first life to civilisation. If suitable worlds could appear 2 billion years after the start of the universe, then civilisations should be possible after 3.7 billion years. given the age of the universe, that is ten billion years before us.

    It may be that these civilisations are short-lived affairs, but the universe must have been a lot smaller and distances between stars quite a bit less back then, so the opportunity to move to other stars must have been more frequent than as the universe gets older, also dense stellar environments would have been more common, as open clusters would have been more frequently forming in the younger galaxy and these provide a lot of stars in close proximity.

    ...so we may be late to the party.
    In terms of the current age of the universe and that the general consensus seems that life (as we know it) could quite possibly be capable of emerging up to around 10 billion years ago, then yes we could be considered late to the party. On the other hand if we considered the possible age the observable could age to (based on current ideas of the fate of the universe) then we could be first at the party. If the universe were to last hundreds - thousands of billions of years then it is currently in its infancy. In which case it is quite conceivable for humans to be the first (or one of the first) technological life forms to emerge. After all if the universe had a beginning in time then there must be a first for everything, we could be it.

    Its a very interesting topic, I'm looking forward to when we have more data about the exo planets discovered so far and my are fingers crossed that they will reveal ET life in some form or another.

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    There are many variables in determining the right conditions for civilization emergence. Are we close to determining most of them? How long before we have a handle on the importance of each variable and the understanding needed to know how one affects another to get the right balance?

    It is fun seeing astronomers gain ground with this, along with, no doubt, astrobiologists. A few decades ago, we didn't know if planets were common beyond the Solar system. The thousands now found suggest that there may be about as many planets as stars. That helps the equation.

    Also, a strong magnetic field is looking like that it will be important to most would-be life circumstances. If so, how many planets will have a larger than normal iron core with enough spin to produce a strong mag. field? How critical will a Theia impact event be to life?

    Is there a cool, modified Drake equation that lists all the known and possible variables and the expected range of influence (coefficients)? If not, why not do it here?
    Last edited by George; 2018-Jun-14 at 02:19 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    There are many variables in determining the right conditions for civilization emergence. Are we close to determining most of them? How long before we have a handle on the importance of each variable and the understanding needed to know how one affects another to get the right balance?

    It is fun seeing astronomers gain ground with this, along with, no doubt, astrobiologists. A few decades ago, we didn't know if planets were common beyond the Solar system. The thousands now found suggest that there may be about as many planets as stars. That helps the equation.

    Also, a strong magnetic field is looking like that it will be important to most would-be life circumstances. If so, how many planets will have a larger than normal iron core with enough spin to produce a strong mag. field? How critical will a Theia impact event be to life?

    Is there a cool, modified Drake equation that lists all the known and possible variables and the expected range of influence (coefficients)? If not, why not do it here?
    Yes I believe we are heading towards exciting times for discovery beyond our own solar system.
    Would it be even possible to list all the variants to devise such an equation, if so how would we know if we have all the required variables?

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmocrazy View Post
    Would it be even possible to list all the variants to devise such an equation, if so how would we know if we have all the required variables?
    Sure, since it would be a testable model, so it would be scientific. I think it would look something like a climate model, which must address many variables, some still unknown on their impact.

    It would, no doubt, take quite a while to tweak the model and even longer to truly test it, unless we discover an "extranet" of communication between civilizations, which seems very unlikely.
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    There are many variables in determining the right conditions for civilization emergence. Are we close to determining most of them? How long before we have a handle on the importance of each variable and the understanding needed to know how one affects another to get the right balance?
    Quote Originally Posted by cosmocrazy View Post
    Would it be even possible to list all the variants to devise such an equation, if so how would we know if we have all the required variables?
    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    Sure, since it would be a testable model, so it would be scientific.
    Maybe I'm dumb, but I don't know how you could possibly create such a model, nor how it would be testable. We don't even know all the conditions needed for life to emerge, let alone intelligent life or civilizations.
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    Quote Originally Posted by transreality View Post
    If suitable worlds could appear 2 billion years after the start of the universe
    Suitable worlds, with suitable elements require Population I stars (metallicity 2-3%), which are the youngest stars in the universe.

    Pop II stars are too poor in any elements but H and He (~.1%). And PopIII stars were nothing but H and He (0%).

    So that puts an upper limit on the age of any lifeforms that require elements higher than Lithium. They can't be older than Pop I stars. And that's just to produce the elements needed for the potential for life.

    Here's a short article about the generations of stars:
    https://www.astro.umd.edu/resources/introastro/pop.html
    Last edited by DaveC426913; 2018-Jun-16 at 12:41 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    Maybe I'm dumb, but I don't know how you could possibly create such a model, nor how it would be testable. We don't even know all the conditions needed for life to emerge, let alone intelligent life or civilizations.
    Agreed, that’s why I compare it to the Drake equation, which is not a normal equation, but it does highlight the basic terms. Each term would stir discussion that would prove interesting.

    It’s certainly clear that we can’t possibly produce an accurate model today, but it’s reasonable to assume that in the future, say 200 years, we might have one. Much of past science didn’t wait, however, for all the wrinkles to get ironed-out before positing ideas or formulas. In the 1730s, Swedenborg said stars formed from clouds; Kepler gave an inverse relationship for the Sun’s effect on planets (due to magnetism); from his amazing diurnal parallax work, Tycho held, at times, that Mars is closer than the Sun, debunking Ptolemy (his waffling, choosing his erroneous refraction table, and others would have trouble verifying were 3 strikes against him). The list is long.

    The equation would embody in the most succinct way all the issues that require discussion and understanding. That’s the beauty of the Drake equation. I’m fine with inaccuracy, but I’d like to see the beauty form from those with the beautiful minds. Some are members here.
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by transreality View Post
    Multicellular life took a long time to get started on Earth, possibly due to extensive ice ages and global glaciations. Life itself appeared very early; 0.7 billion years after the planet formed. Once the sea-level rose and the temperature increased it only took 500 million years to get to advanced industrial civilisation. On a warmer world more conducive to life than ours that formed this means 1.2 billion years from first life to civilisation. If suitable worlds could appear 2 billion years after the start of the universe, then civilisations should be possible after 3.7 billion years. given the age of the universe, that is ten billion years before us.

    It may be that these civilisations are short-lived affairs, but the universe must have been a lot smaller and distances between stars quite a bit less back then, so the opportunity to move to other stars must have been more frequent than as the universe gets older, also dense stellar environments would have been more common, as open clusters would have been more frequently forming in the younger galaxy and these provide a lot of stars in close proximity.

    ...so we may be late to the party.
    There are of course additional factors. The environment of a star system is crucial for the development of a small planet like our own. Large planets like Jupiter for instance, takes most of the blows from asteroids and scientists tend to think it has played a large role in helping life develop relatively unhinged, despite there being evidence of five mass extinctions. But now, we have measured hundreds of planets, close by even, all within the Goldilock zone. It's becoming evident, we cannot be a special case in this regard. The moon of course, has also played a role in the evolution of our planet and we rely on it greatly.

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    Life on Earth, actually appeared very quickly. Some of the oldest galaxies started to form only 400,000 years after the big bang. The universe, I believe, would have still been too chaotic and at least four billion years would have to pass before life would start to appear, I'd wager. Even then, if any of those civilizations exist today, they will have become fully space dwelling beings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dubbelosix View Post
    Life on Earth, actually appeared very quickly. Some of the oldest galaxies started to form only 400,000 years after the big bang. The universe, I believe, would have still been too chaotic and at least four billion years would have to pass before life would start to appear, I'd wager. Even then, if any of those civilizations exist today, they will have become fully space dwelling beings.
    They must have because their original stars would long have expanded into their red giant phases or gone nova and the original planets would have their oceans frozen or evaporated, depending on the fate of their star.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dubbelosix View Post
    Even then, if any of those civilizations exist today, they will have become fully space dwelling beings.
    I realize I wonít get a quick response since the poster is suspended. But I think itís a common claim, so I just wanted to argue that we canít take that for granted. I think itís possible, but perhaps the technical and energy challenges to becoming a space dwelling species are so high that perhaps nobody does it.


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    There have been publications which argued the first civilisations in our galaxy should have arisen about 4 billion years ago.

    Also that the average age of civilisations should be about 1 billion years.

    These estimates are based on the evolution of the Galactic Habitable Zone. This is an annular ring in the galaxy disc where the metallicity is within the correct range and the star density is not too great.

    The star density towards the centre is too high, on the other hand the metallcity of the outer regions is too low.

    As the galaxy has evolved, the GHZ has extended outwards and has got larger with time. So the 4-billion year old civilisations are quite rare because there was only a small GHZ at that time. Three billion years later and the GHZ has grown to encompass more stellar systems, so there are a lot more of them.

    That is the theory anyway.

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    after taking account of the development of suitable planets there are other interesting speculations. It is one hypothesis that the neural system that leads to brains is driven by the need to be mobile. Plants basically stay where they start and while having many sophistications they do not form the starting point for what the poster calls intelligent life, meaning us. Some movement in oceans would lead to intelligence then, and we know mammals and octopus are pretty smart but there is not much incentive to evolve as we have. So you need land and sea perhaps and then enough brain to form social groups, language and memory. Our evolution if measured in millions of years is rather short in comparison with the early stages that seem to have taken billions of years and we know there were setbacks that maybe turned out to be evolution's opportunities.
    While that is not a numerical answer it does lead to speculation that there could be multiple complex life forms on a planet without taking off in our direction as big brain apes. Intelligent human style life is not inevitable and alas not necessarily permanent once evolved.
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    Again, I want to say thank for all the many replies. That's lots of (more) information for me to think about. I've had this question/thought in my mind for many years now once I learned how old the universe is and how "young" we are.
    Thanks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by paulel View Post
    Again, I want to say thank for all the many replies. That's lots of (more) information for me to think about. I've had this question/thought in my mind for many years now once I learned how old the universe is and how "young" we are.
    Thanks.
    Somewhere there is a publication about the number of highly advanced civilisations you'd have to fly past to reach the nearest civilisation with a similar level of advancement to ourselves.

    it's thousands. If the reasoning chain is at all true, we should be amongst the very youngest civilisations in the galaxy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kzb View Post
    Somewhere there is a publication about the number of highly advanced civilisations you'd have to fly past to reach the nearest civilisation with a similar level of advancement to ourselves.

    it's thousands. If the reasoning chain is at all true, we should be amongst the very youngest civilisations in the galaxy.
    So where are they all? If there are thousands then I'd thought we would have happened upon some evidence by now, a radio signal or something...?
    I fully aware there are many factors to consider even when just trying to look for ET life, but it just bugs me to imagine our galaxy teaming with technological life and we are not invited to the party.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmocrazy View Post
    So where are they all? If there are thousands then I'd thought we would have happened upon some evidence by now, a radio signal or something...?
    I fully aware there are many factors to consider even when just trying to look for ET life, but it just bugs me to imagine our galaxy teaming with technological life and we are not invited to the party.
    That is exactly the paradox.

    We've been round this circle many times on here before as I'm sure you know. I was sticking to answering the original question from a "Newbie", which was:

    based on our understanding of the formation of the universe, how old (how long ago) could the first civilization of intelligent beings like or similar to us could have formed?

    The answer is, based on our understanding of galactic evolution, and the evolution of life, the first civilisations in our galaxy should have arisen roughly 4 billion years ago.

    The fact that we (apparently) don't detect them is a whole different ball game.

    Here is one of the classic articles on the subject. There have been others, but most of them come to the conclusion there should be civilisations way older than us:

    The Galactic Habitable Zone and the Age Distribution of Complex Life in the Milky Way

    https://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0401024

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    I should add that there are other ideas gaining ground. Based on the idea that the previous ideas on the GHZ are incorrect, and that the galaxy has only recently become suitable to evolve complex life.

    In that way the lack of detected civilisation detected is explicable.

    The reason the galaxy has only become suitable recently in its history is theorised to be the frequency of GRBs (Gamma Ray Bursts), which decreases as a galaxy ages.

    So the idea is, any complex life that managed to get started in the deep past was quickly erased by a GRB event. That reset the evolutionary clock on the planet back to primitive life and evolution had to start all over again.

    It's only in the last few billion years that a planet in our galactic locality would be left alone long enough for evolution to proceed beyond simple lifeforms.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kzb View Post
    That is exactly the paradox.

    We've been round this circle many times on here before as I'm sure you know. I was sticking to answering the original question from a "Newbie", which was:

    based on our understanding of the formation of the universe, how old (how long ago) could the first civilization of intelligent beings like or similar to us could have formed?

    The answer is, based on our understanding of galactic evolution, and the evolution of life, the first civilisations in our galaxy should have arisen roughly 4 billion years ago.

    The fact that we (apparently) don't detect them is a whole different ball game.

    Here is one of the classic articles on the subject. There have been others, but most of them come to the conclusion there should be civilisations way older than us:

    The Galactic Habitable Zone and the Age Distribution of Complex Life in the Milky Way

    https://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0401024
    I agree with you, I meant no criticism of your answer, I was pointing out the paradox, apologies if it came across as a criticism to you.

    The way I see it is:
    1. Our current reasoning is missing something vital throwing the conclusion way off
    2. Our current reasoning is correct and we just haven't detected anything yet
    3. Our current reasoning is correct but timings are out due to the distances and our relatively extremely short period of technological existence.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmocrazy View Post
    I agree with you, I meant no criticism of your answer, I was pointing out the paradox, apologies if it came across as a criticism to you.

    The way I see it is:
    1. Our current reasoning is missing something vital throwing the conclusion way off
    2. Our current reasoning is correct and we just haven't detected anything yet
    3. Our current reasoning is correct but timings are out due to the distances and our relatively extremely short period of technological existence.
    No criticism taken my friend ! I was just a bit wary about setting off the whole debate again

    Having said that there are new members all the time and they might want to debate it.

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