Saturday, March 12, 2011

Civilizations in the Goldilocks Zone

A "Goldilocks" planet is a one that would be neither too hot nor too cold to support life. This is the catchy term science has given to describe those hypothetical planets orbiting stars in the "comfort zone" that would permit liquid water and perhaps life such as we might recognize.

Perhaps one can talk of intelligent life and civilizations in an analogous fashion. Intelligent life would arise from creatures with the potential for intelligence as man arose from more primitive primates. In some of these cases, while creatures might arise with a degree of intelligence they would not progress far or they would evolve much more slowly. Perhaps their environment would be relatively undemanding with conditions allowing the species to flourish without elaborating itself into large civilizations that then enter a cultural/technological evolution of their own. These might be termed "Garden of Eden" species. They might never leave their own planet or solar system and could be stable for very long periods of time.

At the other extreme, there might be intelligent species that evolve very quickly - perhaps to keep up with a more dynamic environment or perhaps out of some dynamic internal to its unique cultural/intellectual makeup. These civilization would tend to be unstable and the most extreme of them would grow beyond the ability of their planet to support them. These civilizations would suffer catastrophic declines and perhaps extinction. They might never survive long enough to go beyond their own atmosphere.

In between these two ends of the spectrum, civilizations would evolve at a fair pace, perhaps suffering precipitous events but eventually settling down to a sustainable level of dynamic evolution and change. These civilizations would be the Goldilocks ones in which the rate of change is neither too slow nor too fast for their intellectual, social, cultural, economic and political systems to keep up with. They might be the ones to go as far afield into the universe as physics and their own culture allows.

It would be nice to think that the human species of Earth is in that Goldilocks zone. But it is too early to say and the 21st Century may decide the issue.


Marc said...

Interesting "rumination." One implication is that, despite the major odds that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe (because of the sheer number of "Goldilocks" planets), there may be considerably less of it than we think because not only do you need a "Goldilocks" planet, but a "Goldilocks" balance on that planet between comfort and challenge if intelligent life with a durable civilization is to evolve.

The other implication is that we as a species may in fact have evolved too quickly, acquiring intellectual and technological powers that have outpaced our emotional and social maturity and thus may in the end destroy us (or sharply reduce our numbers) through wars waged with weapons of mass destruction or through catastrophic human-induced climate change.

Gerard Gallucci said...