Friday, 16 December 2011

Deep thought Friday

I read John Lambshead's essay at the Baen site today and it got me wondering again how certain we can really be that civilisations didn't develop on Earth even many millions of years before us.

If exchange of ideas and transmission of cultural and technological records were communicated in movement or song, by tail and neck in sauropods say, and maybe constantly within and between large groups, rather like a more complex Occupy megaphone, and landscapes were transformed through cultivation only, would we have any more evidence than we do that we were not the first?
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4 comments:

Jedediah said...

Considering how quickly ever trace of civilisation disappears, I find the thought of others before us entirely possible. Terry Pratchett, Ian Cohen and Jack Stewart discuss this in the first Science of Discworld novel, with crab and lizard civilisations for example. The wizards come to the conclusion that the Roundworld is simply to unstable for proper civilisations, every time something develops, the sky burns, the seas boil or some meteor wipes it all out.

Porky said...

That's more or less the general conclusion of the essay, although the argument there is built up using the Mediocrity Principle; I'd disagree a little with it, just for the principle being what it is, and argue there could be all kinds of variations close in around that ordinariness that would produce opportunities to beat the clock.

It's difficult to argue with Discworld though, and the more time goes by the smaller I feel is the gulf between that world and ours, the more laughable our science and the less the Discworld's.

You've also got me remembering that series on the world after us, which drives home the potential for a vanishing act by even the most solid-seeming things.

Jedediah said...

I was more thinking of The World Without Us, a book I really loved. I found it comforting that in a surprisingly short time, all we have done to the planet will heal once we're gone (no reason not to grow up and start behaving like the intelligent beings we are supposed to be, though).

Discworld is very, very good at holding a mirror to our world. Not only when it comes to science, but also concerning such topics as war and racism. Which is probably why it's just about the only fantasy series I read.

Porky said...

That's the series I was thinking of - I had no idea it was based on a book. I saw it quite recently and was struck most by the potential impacts on other species and new niches that could be created, but also that incredible speed and the possibility there really could be nothing left. Of course, the concept does assume we all just disappear one day without a trace, and that seems rather unlikely; whatever causes us to do that would surely bring in new factors to consider. I found it quite refreshing too with all the ancient ruins we see in fiction, and like you, also rather comforting.