The route to complexity has been relentless since the Big Bang. As soon as the clock started ticking (literally) the four fundamental forces; gravitationalelectromagneticstrong nuclear, and weak nuclear have been enabling matter to form evermore complex entities. It seems that the direction of the formation of complexity is aligned with that of the arrow of time and that as matter is slower than light’s velocity (which internal clock stands still), those fundamental interactions start pulling matter together enabling interactions that eventually enable the formation of complexity.

This is our path, but perhaps there is another. Matter could have been accelerating from light’s velocity since the Big Bang instead of the deceleration that lead to complexity. Perhaps for every impulse that decelerated matter there is an equal and opposite impulse that accelerated other matter beyond the velocity of light. Moving faster than light, the arrow of time is now in reverse and the fundamental forces now react in a complete opposite fashion; mass now repels instead of attracts, as does the strong nuclear force and the other forces now operate backwards as well. With the arrow of time pointing in the other direction, these fundamental forces now interact to pull matter apart, the result is now not a continuous increase in complexity, but a simplification of this faster-than-light matter, I’ll call this matter enucleatus matter (from Greek, meaning simple) and I postulate that equal to the increase in complexity there is an equal and opposite tendency of enucleatus matter to simplify relentlessly.

From the Big Bang an equivalent amount of matter went beyond light's velocity as below.

From the Big Bang an equivalent amount of matter went beyond light’s velocity as below.

This matter would be extremely hard to detect; faster than light, even simpler than the simplest known particle and behaving oppositely to ordinary matter, although cumulatively, it would have a great influence in the universe. If there would indeed be the same amount of matter faster than light, as there is slower than light, which seems logical, vacuum across galaxies would be abundant with it. It would have mainly a gravitational push effect, since it would remain far away from conventional matter for any of the other forces to have effect.

This means it could be a candidate to explain the observations that lead to the prediction of dark matter and dark energy. Those observations include the rotational behavior of galaxies, where its galactic arms move around as fast as its inner core and much faster than theory would expect. Instead of envisioning extra gravitational forces from within the galaxy originating from dark matter, equally the enucleatus matter could work from outside the galaxy where this matter would reside in a halo around the galaxy, expulsed by its gravity, pushing the stars within the galactic arms to higher velocities.

Rotation curve of a spiral galaxy, where A would be the predicted and B the Observed rotational velocity away from the center. Dark matter has been used to explain this discrepancy.

Rotation curve of a spiral galaxy, where A would be the predicted and B the Observed rotational velocity away from the center. Dark matter has been used to explain this discrepancy.


 

Gravitational lensing, the deformation of light around galaxies, another observation attributed to dark matter, could similarly be explained by the halo of enucleatus matter. Finally, the observation that the universe is actually accelerating, and is not in fact decelerating as one would expect considering our current understanding of gravity, which is attributed to dark energy, could be because the enucleatus matter between galaxies is pushing them apart.

Hence, rather puzzling observations that have been attributed to dark matter and dark energy, could simply be attributed to negative time solutions of known fundamental forces propagating matter equivalent to the amount of known matter to faster than light velocities. Here it accelerates and simplifies continuously whilst pushing the universe apart, whilst its gravitational repulsion interacts with normal matter producing anomalous observations, such as the rotational velocities of galaxies and the halo below.

A galaxy and gravitational lensing, negative gravity effects (gravitational push) might just as well explain it as gravitational pull effects.

A galaxy and gravitational lensing, negative gravity effects (gravitational push) might just as well explain it as gravitational pull effects.

The search for extra-terrestrial life has a long and imaginative history and we have come a long way since we imagined alien civilizations building great channel systems on Mars. Nowadays, the Seti program (which actually just means the Search of Extra-Terretrial Intelligence) linking millions of computers, exemplifies how fascinated we as a civilization are with finding alien life, but for all our technological advances, we have yet to find any sign of extra-terrestrial life, let alone of extra-terrestrial intelligence.

This may be about to change.

Several methods are underway in attempting to discern whether planets hold life and/or if they hold intelligent life. Recently, Breakthrough Listen got a 100 million cash injection from a Russian billionaire, with it a 100 meter wide dish will observe the 1 million nearest stars, next to looking at the core and disc of the Milky Way as well as looking at a hundred other galaxies. When scanning, it will not scan for one radio channel, but some 10 billion simultaneously. It will be 50 times more sensitive than any previous effort.

Our vision of space is simultaneously a vision back in time, a place we observe one hundred light-years away, would be an observation of that place one hundred years ago. I’ll call that virtual sphere of our vision our space horizon.

If my hypothesis to explain the Fermi paradox holds true, that is, life elsewhere is maximally just as advanced as it is here, how big would our space horizon than be with different detection methods?

The Breakthrough Listen project aims to detect deliberately sent signals, something we have been capable of some 50 years, so I predict a space horizon for this method of ~50 light-years in which we will find intelligence life.

We might also be able to detect leaking radiomagnetic signals, the sort we have been producing since say the start of the last century. If we get this technology right, which we might not be able to for a while, I predict that we will detect civilization within a space horizon of about a 120 light-years, plus all the additional years before we master the technology that enables us to catch those signals.

Much detection is focused on atmosphere. Most molecules are not indicative of life per se, O2-O2 is reckoned to be a sure sign of photosynthetic life. For this method I predict it to be able to find life within a 3.4 billion light-year space horizon (when photosynthetic life evolved on Earth), meaning that if our detection capability would be sensitive enough, we could detect life in other galaxies.

A more out of the box method attempts to determine the spectral signature of CFC’s from the planets’ atmosphere. CFC’s rose to infamy due to their detrimental effects on our atmosphere. Its artificial nature, together with its extremely long half-live decay time of a 100,000 years, make it a reasonably sure sign of an advanced civilization. Measurements should be sensitive enough to be able to detect concentrations that are tenfold our current concentration, estimated to be a 1000 years more advanced than we are. I predict then that this method in its current form will not find any signs of intelligent life, since no civilization would be ahead of us by a 1000 years.

Dyson spheres, the theoretical setting of solar panels fully encapsulating a star to capture all its sunlight, a feat envisioned to be able by a so-called Kardashev type II civilization and detectable due to a lack of light combined with an excess of infrared, I predict we will not find anywhere.

Finally, I predict we will find no physical evidence within our solar system of aliens that came here.

Thanks to spectacular advances in astronomy it has become more and more clear how ubiquitous planets and how abundant habitable (Goldilocks) planets are. With many planets now determined, extrapolations can be made to estimate the total amount of planets in our galaxy and these estimates range anywhere from ~100 million to 50 billion of total number of planets and from several million to 1 billion Earth-like planets.. basically, a lot.

This ubiquity lends fresh weight to the question first raised by Enrico Fermi and Micheal Hart: if life is so common and the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations so likely, where is everybody? Many hypothetical solutions to this paradox have been proposed, from a tendency of complex life to self-destruct to simply an extreme rarity of planet Earth (a full list is found here). I would like to propose a new explanation, namely, if life is found elsewhere, it will be maximally exactly as complex as we are and thus has only just recently began looking beyond their home planet. This seems an unlikely solution, but if the constrains specified below hold true, this is a genuine possibility.

First, I want to look at man’s position among other life here on Earth.

Before Darwin and the scientific method, man was seen as the center of creation; God’s chosen one, created in his image, other plants and animals were mere props in mankind’s play. Nowadays, mankind is viewed as merely one integral piece of the ecological machinery, slightly brighter perhaps, severely influential probably, but well within the Gaussian distribution of faunal attributes, in other words, nothing special.

I would like to rehabilitate our role as center of creation of sorts, since in a very fundamental way we really are the pinnacle of the animal kingdom and so does our evolution differ fundamentally from that of other beings. Namely, in terms of complexity, it is quite possible that the human brain is the most complex object in the known universe. Although complexity is a mere conceptual concept and not quantifiable, the following facts lend credit to why this claim has so often been made: The human brain has around 100 billion nerve cells or neurons, more than the number of stars in the Milky Way. Between them they have about a 100 trillion nerve connections. If each neuron of a single human brain were laid end to end they could be wrapped around the Earth twice over.

It is this brain that has enabled us to dominate as a species, rising above nature’s inter- and intraspecies continuous squabble over limited resources onto a new playing field where we stand uncontested by other species. It is our complexity itself which enables us to evolve differently from other species, quite possibly our technology will continue man’s lead into ever more complex ‘beings’. Quite unlikely that we will ever be surpassed in complexity by any other being (no Planet of the Apes seems likely).

Don’t worry, it’s not going to happen.

Don’t worry, it’s not going to happen.

Richard Dawkins wrote an interesting book on our ancestors, in as many chapters he traces 40 steps of evolutionary ancestors branching off. All steps seem to be an increase in complexity. (Look at the splendid http://www.onezoom.org/ for an extensive depiction of the tree of life.) In many steps these newly complex beings seem to have evolved into new playing fields, fresh niches, which were previously unexploited, e.g. when the first land animal evolved, or the first animal came to be that used oxygen, or the first mammal arose, whose warm-bloodedness and hair enabled it to live on a wider range of latitudes and its milk production enabled their offspring to develop more sophisticated brains.

The number of different cell types seem to be rising with time, suggesting an increase in complexity

The number of different cell types seem to be rising with time, suggesting an increase in complexity

Evolution is viewed as the natural selection of favorable traits, which depending on evolutionary pressure, might be to become larger or smaller, darker or lighter, faster or slower or more complex or simpler. But, what if for the most complex being, this leads to novel evolutionary possibilities, expanding there enables the most complex being to advance its lead, to build upon its winning complexity and accelerate it. Such a being would adhere to the Law of Accelerating returns (as per Ray Kurzweil).

Ray Kurzweil's milestones

Ray Kurzweil’s milestones

What’s more, such a being and all his ancestors would in any time in history have been the most complex being. This being is us.

After each breakthrough to a new playing field, a fan of newly evolved beings compete, interact and interbreed, before establishing one or more optima, e.g. with all species of Homo with which Homo Sapiens competed, or the Cambrian explosion, when first multi-cellular enabled much more complexity, or perhaps the existence of viruses, which according to one theory co-evolved with RNA.

The following schematic overview I have created illustrating this concept. Mankind’s path towards higher complexity is straight (on a log scale), others more random, like that of the horse with which we share a common ancestor a little over a hundred million years ago, or like that of Neanderthal man which branched of about 400,000 years ago and went extinct roughly 30,000 years ago at which time they displayed some cultural traits.

Schematic depiction of complexity growth of man's evolution and that of some additional entities conceptually.

Schematic depiction of complexity growth of man’s evolution and that of some additional entities conceptually.

I have contemplated if there might be a rate with which this exponential rise in complexity might occur, something I describe in this blog post. I do think this progress is robust, as robust as Moore’s law and events considered catastrophic such as the meteor that ‘wiped out’ the dinosaurs, other mass extinctions, the two World Wars and perhaps even the forming of planet Earth (meaning the exact time of it) were from the perspective of the evolution of complexity, in effect non-events.

Many facts of contemporary civilization point to such robustness, e.g. the fact that many technological advances were developed separately and independently such as in agriculture, in pyramid building (for an elaborate examination of this look at Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants), but also in the domestication of dogs and horses. These facts have been so wondrous to many, that they have been incorporated in elaborate conspiracy theories e.g. of alien ancestry, whilst this is solely an expression of the robustness with which mankind has been progressing.

In the universe the arrow of complexity is aligned with the arrow of time.

If complexity growth is both unperturbed by random events and governed by some universal constant, as I believe it is, we can then take this to its ultimate conclusion and provide for an alternative for Fermi’s paradox.

We can use the concept of Uniformitarianism which is the scientific observation that the same natural laws and processes that operate now have always been operational in the past and apply everywhere in the universe. So if the evolution of complexity was robust and continuously towards ever more complexity and is governed even by a certain constant, here, on planet Earth, it is logical to assume that this applies elsewhere in our galaxy as well. And that if our personal history started with the Big Bang followed by the creation of protons and neutrons and the creation of heavy elements, this would be a shared history in other places of the galaxy, and that if the formation of life followed logically from this, it would’ve followed logically from this elsewhere where a Goldilocks planet was available as well. Similarly, if life became more complex here continuously, uninfluenced by random events, like mass extinctions, it would do so elsewhere in the galaxy as well.

Computer vs Nature

Computer vs Nature

Into the future our path would be as follows, just like in the past more complex parts interlink to form ever more complexity, now, we are at the onset of the interlinking of the human brain with technology, the rising computing power and the internet are the first glimpse of this. Elsewhere in our Galaxy, other civilizations are doing the same. Ultimately, man will link with other civilizations in order to create even more complex entities, these complexities might even rival the Universe’s natural tendency to increase its entropy indefinitely.

Abstract

 

Big History, the study of the entire time span of the universe in an integrated way, is essentially a study of increasing complexity. Complexity grows exponentially with the Golden Ratio, Phi, and has done so unabruptly since the beginning of time, and will continue to do so until the end of time.

  

Introduction

Complexity is a notoriously difficult concept to define. Its linguistical origin lies in the Latin word complexus, meaning entwined or twisted together, suggesting that what we consider to be complex are entities that consist of components that operate together, inseparately. Furthermore, these inseparable components have unique properties that the components themselves do not exhibit.

I like to relate entropy to complexity. In the universe entropy is set to increase, because more chaotic, or high entropic configurations, are more likely. Complexity then, can be defined as what happens when entities travel the opposite direction, they export entropy to keep there own entropy low.

It is of course, a relative concept, e.g. when the first molecules formed, they were the most complex, but they are simple, in comparison with multicellar life. It is also impossible to measure, difficult to quantify and often a mere qualitative concept in use. That hasn’t deterred people from making the credible claim that the human brain is the most complex structure in the known universe (1), where signals can travel over a combined 176,000 km of axons or roughly half the distance from here to the moon and neurons are able to make more interactions than there are atoms in the universe. It is also the most complex structure in known history, but it will possibly be usurped in complexity by the worldwide web in the near future. This bar the fact, that we still have no mathematical way to tell if a Boeing 767 or a cucumber is the more complex of the two (after Kevin Kelly (2)).

The rise of complexity is the story behind the Big History, it is the red thread to it and I would like to take it a step further, and call it the driving force behind it; a driving force with a deterministic and constant exponential value.

Every increase in complexity will allow an even faster increase of complexity from there on. The creation of atoms, allowed the creation of the more complex molecule, which in turn allowed the construction of cellular life, which all occurred at an ever faster pace. It is subject to the Law of Accelerating Returns, as proposed by Ray Kurzeil, which states that future increases will be greater than those of the past, because growth is dependent on your starting point (3). I will rewrite this definition, and claim that future growth is just as dependent on your starting point now, as past growth was dependent on your starting point then. In other words, the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one, which than is the definition of the Golden Ratio, or Phi (see figure 1).

Where the universe can be defined as a system that is in a constant process of increasing its entropy or its amount of randomness. Complexity and life, travel the complete opposite road, they have negentropy or negative entropy, which is the entropy that it exports to keep its own entropy low. It seems that it is these two forces that are shaping the “Big Future”.

Phi, the Golden Ratio

The rate with which complexity grows is the only rate that ensures exponential growth on equal terms at any point in time; the Golden Ratio, or Phi, which is 1.6180339887. Phi is observed in many objects that exhibit growth and are unrestricted by resource limits; such as plants, trees, celestial bodies and human bodies (e.g. a children’s illness can hamper growth and cause deviations from phi, which are perceived as malformations).

This is because Phi is the only number that allows equal growth independent of scale. No matter where you are in time, future C, will always be equal to starting point B + past complexity A, in the same way that the starting complexity B was obtained from past complexity A + the complexity before it.

  1   

Figure 1: Future complexity A+B is to starting complexity A, as starting complexity A was to past complexity B or mathematically:

 

 Where we to mark each transition in discrete intervals n, one could describe the length of each colored line below as Phi to the power n, which leads to another interesting mathematical ability of Phi, namely 

  

Hypothesis

The greater complexities of today will cause an increase in complexities of tomorrow at a same rate as the complexities of yesterday caused those of today.

To investigate the rate of complexity growth, I turn to an idea by Ray Kurzweil, to select several key events in our existence, and see how much time it takes to the next, from which an idea of accelerating pace of complexity growth can be obtained. To the left I posted a table with what were in my opinion key events that pointed to an increase in complexity. Subsequently I plotted those on a graph (figure 2). A trendline was added. In red one can find the logarithmic function of the Golden Ratio, Phi, its trendline is x/Phi (or x/1.61803 = 0.6180x).

Because of the subjective nature of the so-called landmark events, I plotted the data accumulated by several sources, listed in the addendum. Projected are several key events in the history of man, from the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, to the origin of life, 3.8 billion years ago and the rise of Homo Sapiens a couple of thousands years ago (data and idea by Ray Kurzweil). Plotted are how many years ago the event took place on one hand, and on the other, how much time it took to the next event. The axes are logarithmic, meaning that the increasing occurrences of landmark events are in fact governed by exponential growth. I also plotted several exponential power functions, with in red f(x) = Phi to the power of x, with Phi =1.61803 (Golden Ratio) and in black to compare a power function 1.25 to the power x  and 3 to the power x.

There is the illusion that the graph will hit zero in a few years, marking the onset of the technical singularity. I dispute that and state that the graph will always have looked as if the singularity was near and it always will look as such. This is the nature of exponential complexity growth; it will look impressively steep in comparison with the past, but drudgingly slow compared with the future (4). The Golden Ratio ensures that this comparison between the past, the present and the future is always in the same ratio (see figure 1).

I further propose that on any point in time our ancestor was the most complex object in the known universe. From the near infinite possibilities of change of all the different matter in the universe, there always will be a significant chunk of that getting as fast as possible more complex. Our ancestor, as far as you can speak of it, was the first atom, the first heavy element, the first molecule, the first cellular life, the first sexual reproduced being, the first oxygen using organism, the first mammal, etc. As is the case with the many different genera of Homo that lived from 2 millions ago to up to a couple of thousands years ago, such as Homo Neanderthalis and Homo Erectus, there would be trial and error to decide of several more or less equally complex beings, before this process determined a optimum form; with parts incorporated from other genera, such as Neanderthal genes in ours (similarly there is a theory that viruses are in essence co-evolved with the first RNA, perhaps as an alternative to it, and finally incorporated into the more successful RNA structures).

Here the principle of uniformitarianism can be applied; the present is the key to the past, the same rules and reasonings that are at play now, would have been in place in the past. Any future complex entity can only be imagined to come from us. It is inconceivable that we will be surpassed by any other species we know in complexity. Similarly, it would have been so in the past, and so it will be in the future, as well.

The faith of the Universe, and other implications of a deterministic complexity increase

 

Asking us to understand the complexity of the future is the equivalent theoretical exercise as to ask the first primates to describe the internet. But I will attempt nonetheless.

Complexity growth seem to be unperturbed by either major paradigm shifts, as the beginning of life, nor by major catastrophic events, such as the end Cretaceous mass extinction, as is evidenced by the remarkable straight line through all events. Also in recent times events such as the Plague, or World War 1 and 2, seem to not have halted technological and economic progress in the long run.

Figure 3: Imagine an increasing complex entity underpinning all biodiversity, enabling the creation of an ever wider range of different genera with time (5).

Figure 4: Major catastrophic historic events are not visible on GDP per capita growth, implying an underlying robustness to progress.

A second point to make is on the existence of extraterrestrial life. On many places you would expect life of lower complexity (perhaps even on other bodies in our own solar system), but on planets that have similar goldilocks conditions as ours has had, that would also have had uninterrupted complexity growth, life would have had the exact same path towards complexity as we had, exactly as fast, and at this point in time, would be exactly as complex as we are now.

Taking these assumptions, one can take them to their ultimate conclusions.

Complexity will grow indefinitely; ever complexer entities will interlink ever more to form even greater complexity. We are at the onset of the great interlinking of our brains, the internet is the first glimpse of that trend. Billions of equally complex brains will merge to form a single complex entity. This entity will than merge with billions of entities of equal complexity across the galaxy, which in the end will merge with all other complex entities in all galaxies until its complexity will rival the Universe. It will encompass all.

References:

(1) http://www.economist.com/node/21537050

(2) What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly

(3) http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns

(4) http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2006/02/the_singularity.php

(5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Phanerozoic_Biodiversity.png

Addendum:

Paradigm Shifts for 15 Lists of Key Events, Time to Next Event (Years), Logarithmic Plot
Paradigm Shifts
Source (List)
Event
Time Before Present (Years)
Time to Next Event (Years)
Carl Sagan
Big Bang
15000000000
5000000000
Carl Sagan
Origin of Milky Way Galaxy
10000000000
5400000000
Carl Sagan
Origin of the Solar System
4600000000
200000000
Carl Sagan
Formation of the Earth
4400000000
400000000
Carl Sagan
Origin of life on Earth
4000000000
300000000
Carl Sagan
Formation of the oldest rocks known on Earth
3700000000
300000000
Carl Sagan
Date of oldest fossils (bacteria and blue-green algae)
3400000000
900000000
Carl Sagan
Invention of sex (by microorganisms)
2500000000
500000000
Carl Sagan
Oldest fossil photosynthetic plants
2000000000
100000000
Carl Sagan
Eukaryotes (first cells with nuclei) flourish
1900000000
700000000
Carl Sagan
Significant oxygen atmosphere begins to develop on Earth
1200000000
200000000
Carl Sagan
Extensive volcanism and channel formation on Mars
1000000000
380000000
Carl Sagan
First worms
620000000
50000000
Carl Sagan
Precambrian ends. Paleozoic Era and Cambrian Period begin. Invertebrates flourish
570000000
40000000
Carl Sagan
First oceanic plankton. Trilobites flourish.
530000000
40000000
Carl Sagan
Ordovician Period. First fish, first vertebrates.
490000000
40000000
Carl Sagan
Silurian Period. First vascular plants. Plants begin colonization of land
450000000
40000000
Carl Sagan
Devonian Period begins. First insects. Animals begin colonization of land
410000000
40000000
Carl Sagan
First amphibians. First winged insects.
370000000
40000000
Carl Sagan
Carboniferous Period. First trees. First reptiles.
330000000
40000000
Carl Sagan
Permian Period begins. First dinosaurs.
290000000
40000000
Carl Sagan
Paleozoic Era ends. Mesozoic Era Begins.
250000000
40000000
Carl Sagan
Triassic Period. First mammals.
210000000
50000000
Carl Sagan
Jurassic Period. First birds.
160000000
40000000
Carl Sagan
Cretaceous Period. First flowers. Dinosaurs become extinct.
120000000
38000000
Carl Sagan
Mesozoic Era ends. Cenozoic Era Tertiary Period begins. First cetaceans. First primates.
82000000
41000000
Carl Sagan
First evolution of frontal lobes in the brain of primates. First hominids. Giant mammals flourish.
41000000
23000000
Carl Sagan
Origin of Proconsul and Ramapithecus, probable ancestors of apes and men
18000000
15400000
Carl Sagan
First humans
2600000
900000
Carl Sagan
Widespread use of stone tools
1700000
1290000
Carl Sagan
Domestication of fire by Peking man
410000
290000
Carl Sagan
Beginning of most recent glacial period
120000
62000
Carl Sagan
Seafarers settle Australia
58000
29000
Carl Sagan
Extensive cave painting in Europe
29000
10000
Carl Sagan
Invention of agriculture
19000
7000
Carl Sagan
Neolithic civilization; first cities
12000
7200
Carl Sagan
First dynasties in Summer, Ebla, and Egypt; development of astronomy
4800
500
Carl Sagan
Invention of the alphabet; Akkadian Empire
4300
500
Carl Sagan
Hammurabic legal codes in Babylon; Middle Kingdom in Egypt
3800
400
Carl Sagan
Bronze metallurgy; Mycenaean culture; Trojan War; Olmec culture; invention of the compass
3400
500
Carl Sagan
Iron metallurgy; First Assyrian Empire; Kingdom of Israel; founding of Carthage by Phoenicia
2900
500
Carl Sagan
Asokan India; Ch’in Dynasty China; Periclean Athens; birth of Buddha
2400
500
Carl Sagan
Euclidian geometry; Archimedean physics; Ptolemaic astronomy; Roman Empire; Christ
1900
500
Carl Sagan
Zero and decimals invented in Indian arithmetic; Rome falls; Moslem conquests
1400
400
Carl Sagan
Mayan civilization; Sung Dynasty China; Byzantine empire; Mongol invasion; crusades
1000
500
Carl Sagan
Renaissance in Europe; voyages of discovery from Europe and from Ming Dynasty China; emergence of the experimental method in science
500
499
Carl Sagan
Widespread development of science and technology; emergence of global culture; acquisition of the means of self-destruction of the human species; first steps in space craft planetary exploration and the search of extraterrestrial intelligence
1
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Big Bang
13000000000
3000000000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Milky Way forms
10000000000
5500000000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Sun and planets form
4500000000
700000000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Oldest known life (single cell)
3800000000
2800000000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
First multicellular organisms
1000000000
450000000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Cambrian Explosion (burst of new life forms)
550000000
70000000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Emergence of first vertebrates
480000000
40000000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Early land plants
440000000
50000000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Variety of insects begin to flourish
390000000
160000000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
First dinosaurs appear
230000000
40000000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
First mammalian ancestors appear
190000000
50000000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
First known birds
140000000
75000000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Dinosaurs wiped out by asteroid or comet
65000000
49000000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Apes appear
16000000
12100000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
First human ancestors to walk upright
3900000
2100000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Homo erectus appears
1800000
1785000
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Anatomically modern humans appear
15000
8700
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Invention of writing
6300
1700
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Pyramids built in Egypt
4600
4092
AmericanMuseum of Natural History
Voyage of Christopher Columbus
508
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Oldest prokaryotic fossils
3500000000
1000000000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Oxygen begins to accumulate in atmosphere
2500000000
400000000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Oldest eukaryotic fossils
2100000000
1400000000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Simple multicellular organisms evolve
700000000
280000000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Plants colonize land
420000000
50000000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Amphibians appear
370000000
10000000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
First insects
360000000
20000000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Reptiles appear
340000000
60000000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Mass extinction
280000000
50000000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
First dinosaurs and mammals
230000000
30000000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Birds evolve from reptiles
200000000
60000000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
First flowering plants
140000000
74000000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Mass extinction
66000000
63600000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Ice age
2400000
2300000
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Advent of modern humans
100000
99999
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Present
1
ERAPS at University of Arizona
No life; shallow seas
4000000000
200000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Origin of simple cells
3800000000
300000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Origin of cyanobacteria
3500000000
1000000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Oxygen accumulates in atmosphere
2500000000
800000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Protists and green algae
1700000000
700000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Simple multicellular life (sponges, seaweeds)
1000000000
300000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
More invertebrates (flatworms, jellyfish)
700000000
180000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Early animals with hard parts in oceans
520000000
110000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Planets invade land
410000000
60000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Vertebrates invade land
350000000
50000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Coal forming forests, amphibians, BIG insects
300000000
70000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Mass extinction (trilobites)
230000000
30000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Pangaea, first mammals, first reptiles
200000000
135000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Mass extinction (including dinosaurs)
65000000
35000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Small mammals, humanoids
30000000
28000000
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Early Humans
2000000
1999999
ERAPS at University of Arizona
Us
1
Paul Boyer
Big bang
15000000000
10200000000
Paul Boyer
Solar system forms
4800000000
200000000
Paul Boyer
Earth forms
4600000000
600000000
Paul Boyer
Nitrogen atmosphere (for winds) is present or acquired
4000000000
100000000
Paul Boyer
Abundant water is present or acquired, Organic precursors for life forms accumulate, Primitive living organisms arise or (less likely) come from space
3900000000
400000000
Paul Boyer
Land temperature stabilizes so that most of the water is liquid
3500000000
300000000
Paul Boyer
Some life forms get energy from oxidationreduction reactions
3200000000
200000000
Paul Boyer
Organisms evolve to gain many present biochemical characteristics
3000000000
300000000
Paul Boyer
Photosynthetic capacity is acquired, and oxygen evolution begins
2700000000
100000000
Paul Boyer
Land surfaces form and plate tectonics established
2600000000
200000000
Paul Boyer
Evolution produces organisms that can use oxygen to make ATP
2400000000
300000000
Paul Boyer
Abundant microorganisms colonize the entire earth.
2100000000
1400000000
Paul Boyer
Multicellular organisms arise with increased capacity for structural differentiation
700000000
300000000
Paul Boyer
Primitive plant forms begin to evolve stems, roots, and leaves
400000000
397400000
Paul Boyer
First humans
2600000
900000
Paul Boyer
Widespread use of stone tools
1700000
700000
Paul Boyer
Acquisition of spoken language
1000000
995000
Paul Boyer
Acquisition of written language
5000
4500
Paul Boyer
They learn that knowledge comes from observation and experiment (scientific method)
500
300
Paul Boyer
Ability to control nature gives rise to a human population explosion
200
100
Paul Boyer
The above abilities give rise to a remarkable understanding of nature
100
Barrow and Silk
Big Bang
20000000000
1500000000
Barrow and Silk
Galaxies begin to form
18500000000
1500000000
Barrow and Silk
Galaxies begin to cluster
17000000000
1000000000
Barrow and Silk
Our protogalaxy collapses; first stars form
16000000000
1000000000
Barrow and Silk
Quasars are born; Population II stars form
15000000000
5000000000
Barrow and Silk
Population I stars form
10000000000
5200000000
Barrow and Silk
Our parent interstellar cloud forms
4800000000
100000000
Barrow and Silk
Collapse of protosolar nebula
4700000000
100000000
Barrow and Silk
Planets form; rock solidifies
4600000000
300000000
Barrow and Silk
Intense cratering of planets
4300000000
400000000
Barrow and Silk
Oldest terrestrial rocks form
3900000000
900000000
Barrow and Silk
Microscopic life forms
3000000000
1000000000
Barrow and Silk
Oxygen rich atmosphere develops
2000000000
1000000000
Barrow and Silk
Macroscopic life forms
1000000000
400000000
Barrow and Silk
Earliest fossil record
600000000
150000000
Barrow and Silk
First fishes
450000000
50000000
Barrow and Silk
Early land plants
400000000
100000000
Barrow and Silk
Ferns, conifers
300000000
100000000
Barrow and Silk
First mammals
200000000
50000000
Barrow and Silk
First birds
150000000
90000000
Barrow and Silk
First primates
60000000
10000000
Barrow and Silk
Mammals increase
50000000
49900000
Barrow and Silk
Homo sapiens
100000
Jean Heidmann
Big Bang, etc.
15000000000
7000000000
Jean Heidmann
Age of most distant galaxies
8000000000
3500000000
Jean Heidmann
Formation of the Sun and the Earth
4500000000
1000000000
Jean Heidmann
First bacteria
3500000000
2000000000
Jean Heidmann
First eucaryotic organisms
1500000000
1000000000
Jean Heidmann
Explosion of life in the Cambria era
500000000
496500000
Jean Heidmann
The dawn of Australopithecus
3500000
1000000
Jean Heidmann
Homo habili uses tools
2500000
1500000
Jean Heidmann
Homo erectus masters the use of fire
1000000
960000
Jean Heidmann
Invention of writing
40000
38000
Jean Heidmann
Eratosthenes measures the size of the Earth
2000
1600
Jean Heidmann
Copernicus, Galileo
400
IGPP Symposium
Formation of the Earth
4600000000
600000000
IGPP Symposium
Origin of Life on Earth
4000000000
200000000
IGPP Symposium
Formation of the oldest rocks known on Earth
3800000000
300000000
IGPP Symposium
Date of oldest fossils and stromatolites
3500000000
700000000
IGPP Symposium
Abundant cyanobacteria and stromatolites
2800000000
300000000
IGPP Symposium
Abundant iron formations
2500000000
400000000
IGPP Symposium
Latest detrital uraninite/pyrite
2100000000
200000000
IGPP Symposium
Atmospheric oxygen
1900000000
100000000
IGPP Symposium
Nucleated cells (phytoplankton)
1800000000
700000000
IGPP Symposium
Complex (sexual) phytoplankton
1100000000
250000000
IGPP Symposium
Seaweeds and protozoans
850000000
250000000
IGPP Symposium
Animals without backbones
600000000
100000000
IGPP Symposium
Fish
500000000
100000000
IGPP Symposium
Land plants and animals
400000000
100000000
IGPP Symposium
Coal swamps
300000000
100000000
IGPP Symposium
Dinosaurs and birds
200000000
100000000
IGPP Symposium
Flowering plants
100000000
98000000
IGPP Symposium
Humans
2000000
Phillip Tobias
Divergence of orangutan lineage from Hominoidea
16000000
8500000
Phillip Tobias
Divergence of gorilla from other African hominoids
7500000
1500000
Phillip Tobias
Uplift, cooling, and aridification of Africa
6000000
300000
Phillip Tobias
Chimpanzee hominid divergence, inferred appearance of Hominidae
5700000
200000
Phillip Tobias
“Messinian crisis”, the drying up of the Mediterranean / Spread of African savannah / etc.
5500000
700000
Phillip Tobias
Earliest known fossils identifiable as probable hominid
4800000
1000000
Phillip Tobias
Earliest fossil evidence of hominid bipedalism
3800000
1000000
Phillip Tobias
Hominid fossils known
2800000
100000
Phillip Tobias
Differentiation of postulated “derived A. africanus”
2700000
100000
Phillip Tobias
One or more splittings of hominid lineage; earliest known Australopithecus boisei fossils;      earliest known stone cultural remains.
2600000
300000
Phillip Tobias
Acquisition of spoken language (as here inferred); many changes in mammalian fauna of   Africa (baboons, elephants, pigs, bovids, hippopotami, sabertoothed cats, rodents)
2300000
200000
Phillip Tobias
Earliest known Homo habilis fossils
2100000
100000
Phillip Tobias
Earliest modern human brain form; earliest signs of marked brain enlargement in hominids.
2000000
200000
Phillip Tobias
Movement of hominids from Africa to Asia and Europe
1800000
100000
Phillip Tobias
Emergence of Homo erectus
1700000
400000
Phillip Tobias
Acquisition of fire by H. erectus
1300000
100000
Phillip Tobias
Extinction of robust and hyperrobust australopithecines
1200000
700000
Phillip Tobias
Emergence of Homo sapiens
500000
390000
Phillip Tobias
Earliest known “anatomically modern Homo sapiens”
110000
10000
Phillip Tobias
Earliest burial of the dead
100000
60000
Phillip Tobias
Emergence of “modern human culture)
40000
5000
Phillip Tobias
Earliest rock art; earliest protowriting
35000
30000
Phillip Tobias
Earliest writing
5000
David Nelson
Planet earth forms
4500000000
500000000
David Nelson
Planet surface cools and bombardment from space slows, so life has the possibility      of existing on the planet.  Oldest earth rocks dated by radioactivity.
4000000000
100000000
David Nelson
Evidence for life seen in Greenland rocks enriched in C12 isotope. Prokaryotes diverge  from archaea. Chlorophyll and photosynthesis evolve in the bacterial lineage.
3900000000
200000000
David Nelson
First banded iron formation seen. Implies oxygen made by photosynthesis
3700000000
200000000
David Nelson
First stromatolites seen.
3500000000
1400000000
David Nelson
First tentative evidence of a eukaryotic microfossil
2100000000
100000000
David Nelson
Oxygen begins to rise in the atmosphere after oxygen sinks saturated.
2000000000
500000000
David Nelson
Oxygen level in the atmosphere reaches present day level and stabilizes. More convincing evidence of eukaryotic microfossils.  Chloroplasts and mitochondria present.
1500000000
300000000
David Nelson
Major eukaryotic phyla diverge. Plants branched before animals/fungi
1200000000
600000000
David Nelson
Invertebrates and vertebrates diverge. Hox gene cluster exists.
600000000
70000000
David Nelson
Cambrian explosion of fossil record.
530000000
130000000
David Nelson
Fish and other vertebrates diverge. Plants and fungi invade the land
400000000
20000000
David Nelson
Vertebrates move onto land
380000000
20000000
David Nelson
Gymnosperms (naked seed plants) diverge from angiosperms (flowering plants)
360000000
60000000
David Nelson
Birds and other vertebrates diverge.
300000000
120000000
David Nelson
Monocots diverge from dicots
180000000
40000000
David Nelson
Oldest angiosperm fossil
140000000
80000000
David Nelson
Last common ancestor of all polymorphism sequences
60000000
55000000
David Nelson
Chimpanzees and humans diverge
5000000
3300000
David Nelson
Homo sapiens
1700000
1500000
David Nelson
Last common ancestor of all human mitochondrial DNA types
200000
141000
David Nelson
Modern humans
59000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Purgatorius
60000000
5000000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Petrolemuridae
55000000
10000000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Adapiformes, omomylformes
45000000
5000000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Aegyptopithecus, Propliapithecus, Oligopithecus, Catopithecus
40000000
2000000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Afrotarsius
38000000
11000000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Omomylformes, Branisella
27000000
9000000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Prohylobates, Micropithecus, Afropithecus Proconsul
18000000
3000000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Kenyopithecus, Dryopithecus
15000000
4000000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Krishnapithecus
11000000
1000000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Sivapithecus
10000000
500000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Ouranopithecus
9500000
3000000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Samburu maxilla
6500000
1500000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Gigantopithecus
5000000
3200000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Orangutans, emergence of stone tools
1800000
300000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Appearance of the erectines
1500000
870000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Acheulian technology
630000
80000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Homo erectus
550000
200000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Homo heidelbergensis
350000
120000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Control of fire
230000
30000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Homo sapiens, modern humans
200000
70000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Neanderthalis
130000
60000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Mousterian technology
70000
35000
Goran Burenhult (ed.)
Art
35000
Johanson and Edgar
Ardipithecus ramidus
4400000
200000
Johanson and Edgar
Australopithecus anamensis
4200000
300000
Johanson and Edgar
Australopithecus afarensis
3900000
1100000
Johanson and Edgar
Australopithecus africanus
2800000
100000
Johanson and Edgar
Australopithecus aethiopicus
2700000
200000
Johanson and Edgar
Homo sp?
2500000
100000
Johanson and Edgar
Homo rudolfensis
2400000
100000
Johanson and Edgar
Australopithecus boisei
2300000
400000
Johanson and Edgar
Homo habilis / Australopithecus habilis
1900000
100000
Johanson and Edgar
Homo ergaster
1800000
600000
Johanson and Edgar
Homo erectus
1200000
600000
Johanson and Edgar
Homo heldelbergensis
600000
300000
Johanson and Edgar
Homo neanderthalensis
300000
200000
Johanson and Edgar
Homo sapiens
100000
Modis 2002
Big Bang / quarks / protons & neutrons / atoms of elements
15000000000
3000000000
Modis 2002
First stars
12000000000
7400000000
Modis 2002
First planets / rock solidification / solar system
4600000000
800000000
Modis 2002
First life / cooling of Earth / formation of first rocks / water forms
3800000000
2800000000
Modis 2002
First multicellular life (sponges, seaweeds)
1000000000
470000000
Modis 2002
Cambrian explosion / invertebrates / vertebrates
530000000
330000000
Modis 2002
First mammals
200000000
135000000
Modis 2002
First primates / asteroid collision
65000000
48000000
Modis 2002
First orangutan
17000000
11000000
Modis 2002
First hominids
6000000
3400000
Modis 2002
First stone tools
2600000
1600000
Modis 2002
Development of speech / Homo sapiens
1000000
500000
Modis 2002
Discovery of fire / hunting gathering society
500000
400000
Modis 2002
Emergence of “modern humans” / earliest burial of the dead / agrarian pastoral   / sociocultural systems
100000
65000
Modis 2002
Rock art / protowriting
35000
25000
Modis 2002
Agriculture / prehistoric nomadic bands / techniques for starting fire
10000
5000
Modis 2002
Discovery of the wheel / writing / archaic empires / large civilizations / Egypt     / Mesopotamia
5000
2500
Modis 2002
Democracy / city states / Greeks / Buddha
2500
500
Modis 2002
Christianity
2000
1325
Modis 2002
Gunpowder
675
175
Modis 2002
Renaissance (printing press) / discovery of new world / the scientific method
500
275
Modis 2002
Industrial revolution (steam engine) / political revolutions (French, USA)
225
125
Modis 2002
Modern physics / radio / electricity / automobile / airplane / capitalism & colonialism
100
50
Modis 2002
DNA / transistor / nuclear energy / W.W.II / cold war / sputnik
50
45
Modis 2002
Internet / human genome sequenced
5
Richard Coren
Big Bang
15000000000
11500000000
Richard Coren
Solidification of Earth Prokaryotic life
3500000000
2750000000
Richard Coren
Eukaryotic radiation
750000000
575000000
Richard Coren
Appearance of class Mammalia
175000000
142500000
Richard Coren
Appearance of superfamily Hominoidea
32500000
25500000
Richard Coren
Appearance of family Hominidae
7000000
5250000
Richard Coren
Appearance of genus Homo
1750000
1500000
Richard Coren
Appearance of archaic Homo sapiens
250000
180000
Richard Coren
Appearance of H. sapiens sapiens
70000
55000
Richard Coren
Development of communal villages
15000
11000
Richard Coren
Development of writing
4000
3441
Richard Coren
Development of printing
559
500
Richard Coren
Development of digital electronics and computing
59
Modis 2003
Big Bang
15500000000
5500000000
Modis 2003
Origin of Milky Way
10000000000
6000000000
Modis 2003
Origin of life on Earth
4000000000
2000000000
Modis 2003
First eukaryotes
2000000000
1000000000
Modis 2003
First multicellular life
1000000000
570000000
Modis 2003
Cambrian explosion
430000000
220000000
Modis 2003
First mammals
210000000
71000000
Modis 2003
First flowering plants
139000000
84400000
Modis 2003
Asteroid collision
54600000
26100000
Modis 2003
First hominids
28500000
12000000
Modis 2003
First orangutan
16500000
11400000
Modis 2003
Chimpanzees and humans diverge
5100000
2900000
Modis 2003
First stone tools
2200000
1645000
Modis 2003
Emergence of Homo Sapiens
555000
230000
Modis 2003
Domestication of fire
325000
125000
Modis 2003
Differentiation of human DNA types
200000
94300
Modis 2003
Emergence of “modern humans”
105700
69900
Modis 2003
Rock art, protowriting
35800
16600
Modis 2003
Invention of agriculture
19200
8200
Modis 2003
Techniques for starting fire
11000
6093
Modis 2003
Development of the wheel, writing
4907
2470
Modis 2003
Democracy
2437
997
Modis 2003
Zero and decimals invented in Indian arithmetic
1440
901
Modis 2003
Renaissance (printing press)
539
314
Modis 2003
Industrial Revolution (steam engine)
225
125
Modis 2003
Modern physics
100
50
Modis 2003
DNA structure described, transistor invented, nuclear energy
50
45
Modis 2003
Internet, human genome sequenced
5

There is no such thing as limited resources, there is only unlimited resourcefulness.

People often claim that infinite economic growth is impossible in a closed system. Besides the fact that planet Earth is not a closed system, a thousand tons of cosmic material falls onto Earth each year, it is not the confines of this system that constraints our growth, yet. Growth is by all practical scales and timeframes regulated by an open system, namely our brains. Its creativity and ingenuity knows no theoretical bounds and can be considered infinite. The cumulative knowledge it has been building has been growing for ever and continues to do so at a mindboggling pace of yearly doublings. It is this growth that has been paramount to our economic development.

When rivers flowed idly, its energy preserved in the flow, it was the knowledge of the waterwheel that enabled us to use part of that energy. The windmill provided means to tap into the energy of moving air. Coal was used in Roman times as jewelry, an increase in knowledge enabled its energetic potential and kickstarted the Industrial Revolution. Oil was a nuisance for many farmers in the 19th century, until technologic progress unlocked its energy, and it powered the Oil age. Uranium knew practically no use, until science cracked nuclear fission.

 The basic flaw of the impossible infinite economic growth claim above is that it fails to recognize what our fundamental resource is. Because our fundamental resource is not oil or gas, nor had it been coal, wood, water or wind, our fundamental resource is our brains. When people were struggling in the Middle Ages to obtain food to not die of hunger, it was not due to lack of resources, but due to the lack of knowledge how to make use of these resources. The difference between the economy now and the economy a thousand years ago is not that there are more resources now, but that we have more knowledge to extract and effectively use resources. And when people in Africa are in danger of starvation, it is not due lack of (physical) resources, because its lands are bountiful, but again, a lack of knowledge and knowhow how to extract, obtain and use these resources effectively.

Of course our infinite creativity operates within the finite boundaries of our planet, but on system Earth so much energy circulates, that the impending end of the Oil Age, need not to be seen as the impending end of energetic and economic growth.

Look at the following graphic depiction of energy availability. The finite resources are in total amounts of energy, the renewables in yearly numbers, with a small reference for yearly energy consumption. The potential for solar is immense.

  

The practice of extracting this enormous potential of the suns energy, has begun rather recently, but it has grown explosively since. 

 

Solar power generating capacity grew by 73.3% in 2011. Total capacity grew by 29.3 GW to reach 63.4 GW. Capacity has grown almost ten-fold over the past 5 years and had been growing for an exponential rate for 35 years already, doubling every 2 years. Below I plotted the cumulative solar output up to 2009 and extrapolated it onwards and a rough estimate of the world energy use is also shown, in a logarithmic scale. Bar the fact that cumulative output over the years can not be simply added up to provide a grant total, it does give a feel of the enormous strides being made in the field of solar production.

And solar is not the only renewable that is growing, other renewables show similar trends.

  

The potential of solar is big, but when we would talk fusion, the energy potential of planet Earth takes on an incomprehensible size. Below I plotted the yearly contribution of the sun of the energy of system Earth again, now together with a circle representing nuclear fusion. Where the sun is about a mm in diameter, the diameter of the energy available from fusion is 6 meter, and only a fraction can be shown. In fact, given current energy use and taking it as constant, fusion from deuterium from sea water only, would be enough to provide us with 75 billion years of energy supply or roughly 5 times the age of the universe. Again, it is not the physical boundaries that are constraining us, but the lack of knowledge to perform fusion effectively is holding us back.

For fusion it is always said that it is 30 years away and always will be. I believe this not to be so, but let’s take a look at energy supply now, its growth and direction, and bring the discussion back to understandable and practical dimensions.

We talked solar, and solar is poised to become big. Already growing exponentially for 35 years straight, it will soon become a significant part of our energy supply. But not only solar has been growing, in fact, practically all sources of energy have seen increased production also those with finite reserves. If resources become ever more scarce the more we mine them, how come we produce more of it now than ever before?

One way of looking at resource extraction is as if it were a pyramid. The oil on top is of prime quality, achieved through unlikely and lengthy purification processes; it is both very pure and highly accessible, think of the oil that surfaced in Texas beginning of the 20th century. Going downwards in the pyramid, oils of lesser quality and/or lesser accessibility are found, but these are also more plentiful, e.g. deep sea oil drilling. Further down oil has had practically no purification and remains within the so-called source rock, e.g. the Canadian tarsands.
Our ability to extract oil will then be related to two variables: the physical reality of how oil is present within Earth; the pyramid, versus our improving skills to find and extract oil. If our knowledge increases faster than that the pyramid empties, we will continuously increase our output. And judging our production of oil, which reached a new high in 2011, this is exactly what is happening.

 

Our ability to produce oil increases so fast, that every year the amount of proven reserves is actually increasing. And the years that we have oil left has risen from an estimated 30 years of proven reserves left in 1980, to 45 years left, 30 years later in 2010.

 

Natural gas can also be presented as a pyramid, here one with the reserves the lower 48 states of the US.

Also here productivity is foremost related to ingenuity, and ingenuity recently opened up new possibilities; fracking  and horizontal drilling enabled small pockets of gas within shales to be extracted that previously remained out of reach. So gas production has been sharply rising as well.

 

Coal use is growing as well, in fact all sources of energy show growth except for nuclear, which suffers from social backlash and safety concerns.

Picture our energy production as the mind’s competition with the physical, the mind over matter. In this system Earth we can get our energy from many different places. Solar might be cheapest in sunny areas, coal in areas where externalities are neglected, hydro electricity where rivers have might and gas where reserves are plenty. Many resources can substitute each other, some are mobile and all can produce electricity.

 Our energy use is not and never has been a function of the actual physical availability of resources, it has always been a function of increasing knowledge. The enormous amounts of energy available, its great variety in appearances, together with the exponentially increasing cumulative knowledge, leads to an ever increasing accessibility of energy for us humans. That’s why total energy use and even the energy per capita have been increasing as far back as we can measure them.

All things come to an end, especially bubbles.
Below the schematic representation of the way bubbles develop and deflate and what phases they go through. Below  it, a graph showing the rise and rise of silver during the last 8 years in a weekly graph of the price of the stuff in dollars per troy ounce. And for those who did not put two and two together, the graphs combined in the bottom graph.

The top we have had, denial we have heard and the bull trap ran its course. We are now returning to “normal”, meaning going back to the new “paradigm” we’ve established, that is: “Silver is not overpriced, it should be this expensive, the world has changed, this time it is different, we will never go back to the era of cheap silver, etc.”
But during the next slump this certainty will turn to fear, fear to capitulation, capitulation to despair.
I am sharpening my knives to ride this snake..  (That’s a disclaimer, I am not holding a position in silver at the moment.)

Mockingly did Homo Economicus (“Rational man”) take notice of the somewhat overenthusiastic predictions done by Harold Camping. The End of Times, originally planned on September 1994, was, after careful recalculation, shifted to the 21st of May, a day that passed like every other. Now we can look forward to the 21st of October as the actual date, I can’t wait… Of course, this is nothing new, predictions about the end of time have been made for centuries already and all have been proved false. One would not blame us for not taking the next claim by a self styled prophet that seriously.

But Homo Economicus is also not always that rational and in a somewhat other branch of doomsaying there are practically as many wrong predictions, but new predictions are treated with reverence and respect and the long list of failed predictions does not diminish the perceived importance of the new ones. I am talking about this so called Peak Everything; Peak Oil, Peak Coal, Peak Copper, Peak Gold, Peak Food, etc. and how it will be the end of our progress. These predictions are in line with our intuition (probably just like the predictions of mr. Camping are in line with the intuition of religious zealots) and we hold them as inevitable truths, no matter how many predictions fail to materialize.

The site http://rayharvey.org/index.php/2010/01/peak-oil/  lists some of those predictions on Peak Oil. Lines like:

“Reserves to last only thirteen years” (1939, Department of the Interior).

“Reserves to last thirteen years” (1951, Department of the Interior, Oil and Gas Division).

“We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade” (President Jimmy Carter speaking in 1978 to the entire world).

Are in hindsight quite amusing, but were seen as genuinely valid and dire predictions at the time. In the meanwhile the production of oil has increased almost continuously, right through all predictions of Peak Oil. Just like Harold Camping the date of Peak “Resource of Choice” is moved ever further into the future, but it would be more honest for most people to admit that frankly they don’t have a clue what is going on. The book Peak Everything by Richard Heinberg is a good example of the commonly held view, it shows many graphs of different resources which have become more abundantly available until now and will show a decline in the near future. In other words, all reality (the past) points towards increase and all subjective predictions (the future) points towards decrease. President Carter probably made his above statement based on an exactly similar looking graph, with the peak placed in 1978.

The problem with all these false predictions is the concept called paradigm. A paradigm can be defined as a point of reference with which the reality is experienced. When in 1900 oil flowed from the shallow earth, that was your reality. That oil could be extracted five thousand meters beneath the ocean floor, would’ve been impossible to realize. We are, in fact, constantly trapped within our paradigm, in which it is by definition impossible to see the solutions of tomorrow for the problems of today. Constantly we see the boundaries, the end of growth, and constantly we apparently do not see our historic ability to overcome those boundaries would we ever threaten to reach them. Because that is what has always happen, approach the boundary, market mechanisms explode the price of resources, remarkable creativity and ingenuity is used to overcome those boundaries, the paradigm is shifted and we see a new boundary on the horizon again.

This process is what gives us our intuition of Peak Resource and what makes it impossible to ever fully determine the absolute limits of resources of Earth, because the estimate is based on the limited knowledge of the now.

What does this all mean for the future? Technological progress improves faster than resource reserves diminish. This was the case when coal was our primary energy source, when wood was it and when flint was it. That is why the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones and the Oil Age will not end because we run out of oil. Through all paradigm shifts, electricity becomes ever cheaper, e.g. the price per kWh taking in account inflation, decreased by 95% in the 20th century. Metals have been cheapening for centuries and the commodity price index is down to 30% since 1845.

We have been underestimating human ingenuity and our problem solving abilities since the beginning of time and many voices can be heard today that problems appear insolvable. Now resource prices are anomalously high, due to the fact that Asia has linked up with the global market, sparking fears that resources will be too few. But also Asians will prove to be more problem solvers, than problem creators, just like the Western world and electricity and metals will become ever cheaper in the 21st century. Earth can provide ample, it is only lack of imagination and an acceptance of the reigning boundaries that blinds us.

Only one resource truly matters and that is the human mind.

Goklany, Indur M. The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives On a Cleaner Planet (2007)

 

The Economist, Feb 10th 2005

 

Richard Heinberg, Peak Everything

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