I think yes. Here’s why.
The laws of physics are the same everywhere in the universe. There are no forms of energy useful on a human scale that we do not already know about.
The laws of biological evolution are likely the same everywhere in the universe. Life’s form and chemistry may differ, but its foundation of evolution by natural selection of replicators is probably universal.
Any life with advanced technology requires two things. First, a powerful brain with an extended theory of mind capable of collaborating on the invention of advanced technology, and second, sufficient energy to allow the specialization of skills, extraction and production of materials, and construction of infrastructure necessary to develop the technology.
Varki explains that a brain with an extended theory of mind initially requires denial of reality behavior.
The only form of energy with the utility, density, portability, and extractability necessary to boot strap the creation of advanced technology is liquid hydrocarbons (oil). The biological and geological processes that create oil remove carbon from the atmosphere, bury it under ground, and release oxygen into the atmosphere. The creation of oil therefore changes the environment, and the burning of oil, which reverses the process, also changes the environment.
If a planet has life with advanced technology then it likely began by denying reality and burning oil. The energy from oil will increase food production which in turn will cause the population and pollution it produces to increase unchecked due to universal reproduction behaviors coupled with denial of reality.
Depletion of the non-renewable oil, disruption to the climate from burning the oil, and other associated negative impacts on habitat make it probable that the life will overshoot its environment and collapse before it has time to evolve the awareness of reality necessary to reduce its population and develop a high density non-carbon form of energy such a fusion, if indeed fusion on a human scale is even possible given the temperatures and pressures involved.
This may explain why we have not detected life in the universe despite trillions of planets.
We should be grateful for being alive to witness the peak of what may be possible in the universe.
4 thoughts on “Are We Experiencing the Peak of What is Possible In the Universe?”
Here is Paul Chefurka’s excellent take on the same topic.
“Burning carbon and using the released energy of combustion is easy and obvious. It will be done fairly early in the life of the presumed intelligent species, well before they accumulate enough scientific knowledge to detect the long-term planetary danger of the carbon dioxide exhaust gases. In our case we have been doing it for over a million years, but figured out the problem of global warming less than a hundred years ago.
By the time the danger is realized, the species will be carbon-dependent – locked into the burning of carbon for energy – trapped in a vicious spiral of thermodynamically-driven self-organization, energy-dependent maintenance of existing physical and social structures, increasing energy dependence, increasing CO₂ production – and increasing planetary heating from the “greenhouse effect”.
If there is enough carbon available, the species will become technologically advanced, will send out signals for a short while and will then go extinct due to an inability to adapt to the planet’s changing climate. The species will not climb out of its gravity well and fly to the stars, because the energy required will all be soaked up in its own growth, and extinction will happen well before it gets to the Dyson Sphere stage.”
That seems a plausible take by Chefurka. However, I feel though it’s somewhat marred by an Anthropomorphic viewpoint. It assumes for example, that ET would think/behave like us and would possibly also adopt economic systems like our own (Capitalism).
Homo Sapiens are a chance event in our Planet’s evolution. Our behaviour itself a direct result of our own Ape/Hominid evolutionary path. In reality, we absolutely have no clue as to how intelligent life would evolve on other planets. It’s possible we may be the only species to have chosen the technological pathway to self destruction, and hence the apparent lack (to us) of other civilisations in the universe. Maybe we’re just freaks after all.
You might be right but I think it more likely that all life in the universe obeys the Maximum Power Principle (MPP). Degrading energy gradients is the purpose of life. Capitalism is simply a manifestation of the MPP. Since MPP can lead to the self-destruction of a species, an interesting question is why is human (and probably alien) intelligence unable to override these destructive behaviors? I think the answer is that denial is evolution’s solution for permitting intelligence to coexist with the earlier (and more powerful) forms of intelligence (aka instinctual) that implement MPP based decision making. Another way to think of this is that replicators (genes) evolve to maximize replication and it is therefore impossible for something to evolve that blocks this. Denial permitted us to evolve a brain capable of exploiting fossil energy while blocking it from seeing the implications. The improbability of a simultaneous mutation for denial and an extended theory of mind explains why there is only one species on this planet that builds atomic bombs and believes in life after death.
“The only form of energy with the utility, density, portability, and extractability necessary to boot strap the creation of advanced technology is liquid hydrocarbons (oil).” seems like an assumption that may not be accurate. It presumes proof of the non-existence anywhere in the universe of something we cannot imagine. Actually, two somethings: that advanced technology requires a form of energy with the listed qualities, and that no other form of energy exists that can provide those qualities. The claim (“the only…”) could certainly be true (and appears to be true on Earth), but has it been proven?