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Old January 4 2010, 06:08 PM   #1
neozeks
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Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

Aside from the occasional super-advanced aliens, all the major spacefaring races we've met over the years seem to be on roughly the same level of technological advancement, within say, a few thousand years of us Hewmons. Now, given how little a thousand years is on a cosmical and evolutionary scale, and how much a civilization can advance in a thousand years, you'd expect to see more races with say 30000 years of advantage (not to go into millions of years, since any civilization that old would probably look something like the Organians or Metrons and would be on a whole another plane of existence).

Instead (browsing through Memory Alpha for dates) we get:
-Klingons - only united under Kahless in our 9th century, and I suspect they didn't really attain warp-level technology until they liberated themselves from the Hurq (14th century) , taking over their technology
-Romulans, who are just an ofshoot of the Vulcans, probably from around the Vulcan Time of Awakening (4th century)
-Vulcans, probably the most ancient of the major races - the earliest we can say about their technology is that they had interstellar travel by 9th century BC (the P'Jem monastery) - not necessarilly even implying warp travel
-all the other important races (or at least their current incarnations) - Cardassians, Denobulans, Andorians, Tellarites, Ferengi seem to be tecnologically younger than the Vulcans
-now granted, it would seem Bajoran civilization is as old as 500 000 years, but again, by the 'modern' times they are no more advanced than the others; it even seems subwarp sail-ships were their best technology only a few centuries ago.

So, asside from dramatic neccessity, what gives?
A few things come to mind:
-after reaching a certain level of advancement, civilizations become stagnant, developing very slowly onwards
-highly advanced civilizations have a tendency to destroy themselves; we know exactly that happened to the Iconians and Tkons, both several hundred thousand years ago; possibly something similar happened to the super-ancient Bajorans
-some kind of 'leveling' event happened a few thousand years ago, happily coinciding with with us passing from prehistory to history, and bringing down all the other advanced civilizations down to roughly the same level with us

So, my theory goes something like this - sometime after the Iconians, another extremely advanced civilization spread through the entire known space, bringing under it's rule all the other advanced species (including possibly pre-Vulcans, pre-Andorians, etc). But a few thousand years ago it somehow collpased in ruin, pretty much dragging all the other previously advanced races back to the stone age and possibly erasing much of the memory and traces of itself and previous civilizations. Still, some of these other races, among them the Vulcans, soon managed to start their civilization again, eventually (again?) developing warp drive etc. Later they were followed by others.
What about us? Well either we were unlikely lucky that this collapse erased the advantage of most other civilizations at just the right time, or we were also under the rule of this race and were 'leveled' along with others (Atlantis?).
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Old January 4 2010, 06:27 PM   #2
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

outstanding question. i've often wondered about this myself. aliens don't just suddenly morph into perceived gods overnight, so where are all the hella old species.

how old are the borg btw?

edit: anyone got the link for the list of in order of how evolved/advanced they are?
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Old January 4 2010, 07:01 PM   #3
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

clever_username wrote: View Post
how old are the borg btw?
Well, Guinan says in 'Q Who' that they have been developing for thousands of centuries but we also know from VOY 'Dragon's Teeth' that by our 15th century they had only assimilated a few solar systems. So it seems they are also 'newcomers'. Interestingly, not even the Dominion is older than 10000 years. Perhaps the 'leveling' event was Galaxy-wide?
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Old January 4 2010, 07:34 PM   #4
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

Without doing a lot of research, I recall a story that the Orions have been around for maybe several tens of thousands of years. At some times they were a tyrannical empire, at other times in their history they were a benevolent society like the federation - with a star fleet. Eventual they contracted down to a few systems and evolved into the Orion pirate culture. Basically, while they were big and powerful (and not very nice) they suppressed the younger species. It's only with their withdrawl from the larger galaxy have the other warp drive peoples expanded.
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Old January 4 2010, 08:19 PM   #5
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

Well, Guinan says in 'Q Who' that they have been developing for thousands of centuries but we also know from VOY 'Dragon's Teeth' that by our 15th century they had only assimilated a few solar systems.
Only as far as the local players of that episode knew. And VOY also taught us that the Borg are secretive. So it would make sense for the locals to mistake them for newcomers even if they are hundreds of millennia old, as TNG in turn suggests.

Without doing a lot of research, I recall a story that the Orions have been around for maybe several tens of thousands of years.
That one was used in several of the old-school TOS novels, but it never had direct roots in canon.

As for the original question, I don't think it is all that plausible for a recognizable "culture" to survive for more than a few thousand years before it indeed transcends into something unrecognizable. Perhaps not noncorporeal deities in every case - but something nonhumanoid anyway. We'll probably cyborgize ourselves out of classic biological existence in the real world within the next thousand years already...

Cultures like Ocampa or Zalkonians seemed to begin transcending when their technology was barely on par with the 24th century Federation. Perhaps that's something built into the humanoid psyche or biology, by the same folks who built everything else in ("The Chase"). Or perhaps there are important "threshold" laws of physics that just await discovery in the Trek universe, so that a culture can discover warp and suddenly become the full equal of the UFP, and then discover something else and suddenly undergo the transcendence thing.

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Old January 4 2010, 08:32 PM   #6
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

Time travel, perhaps? We know the Federation exists long enough to master it, but might evolve into something else early in the next millennium.

It is interesting that other than bizarre glowing balls of energy, there seem to be very few technological civilizations that are more advanced than the UFP, in an epochal sense of measurement. Even the mighty Borg are far less dominant than they were two decades earlier in the Trek canon.

As to less advanced civilizations, they run the whole gamut, of course, though there does seem to be a strange knot of them that are EXACTLY like the mid to late 20th Century Earth...
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Old January 4 2010, 08:59 PM   #7
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

As for the original question, I don't think it is all that plausible for a recognizable "culture" to survive for more than a few thousand years before it indeed transcends into something unrecognizable. Perhaps not noncorporeal deities in every case - but something nonhumanoid anyway.
I agree. But the question still is: If a culture can survive only a few thousand years before 'transcending', how likely is it that at the same point in time in the space of only a few dozen lightyears we have Earth, Vulcan, Andorians, Tellarites etc, all within that very short 'nontrascendent', recognizable period of their histories?
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Old January 4 2010, 09:02 PM   #8
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

neozeks wrote: View Post
I agree. But the question still is: If a culture can survive only a few thousand years before 'transcending', how likely is it that at the same point in time in the space of only a few dozen lightyears we have Earth, Vulcan, Andorians, Tellarites etc, all within that very short 'nontrascendent', recognizable period of their histories?
If we are trying to find a plausible reason beyond dramatic necessity, I think it has to be either a mass die-off several thousand years ago, or Third Party inference, from someone such as the Preservers.
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Old January 4 2010, 09:10 PM   #9
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

OTOH, if quick transcendence really is what happens to civilizations, then one would expect exactly this sort of synchronization.

After all, when a single culture gets to Federation level of tech, it's bound to conquer the lesser cultures around it, and/or force them to engage in an arms race that synchronizes the levels of technology. That means that all the surviving local players will be on the same technological level soon enough, and will reach transcendence simultaneously, too - leaving the playing field clear for the next bunch of newcomers.

The next bunch need not start out synchronized, since every iteration of this process can and will provide its own synchronization. But sooner or later, this relatively short cycle of mere thousands of years will start to affect the longer cycle where cultures rise from a feral lifestyle to a rudimentary technological level on a timescale of tens or hundreds of thousands of years - and finally even the biological cycle where species rise to sapience on a timescale of tens of millions of years.

A mass die-off is of course always also possible - and TAS "Slaver Weapon" states that such a thing happened one billion years ago, perhaps clearing the playing field of all other types of life save for the ones promoted by the TNG "The Chase" protohumanoids. Smaller-scale affairs such as local wars that clear the neighborhood are also likely events. But bloodshed isn't a necessary mechanism for synchronicity, since transcendence by itself will suffice as well.

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Old January 5 2010, 04:35 AM   #10
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

neozeks wrote: View Post
-Vulcans, probably the most ancient of the major races - the earliest we can say about their technology is that they had interstellar travel by 9th century BC (the P'Jem monastery) - not necessarilly even implying warp travel
On the issue of Vulcans and warp drive, it would seem they would have had to develop it between 1947 and 1953. They probably didn't have warp in 1947 since in DS9's Little Green Men Quark plans to give warp technology to the 20th century Ferengi, so that they could have warp before it was developed by the Vulcans. However, as we saw in Enterprise's Carbon Creek the Vulcans definately had warp technology in 1953.
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Old January 5 2010, 11:20 AM   #11
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

Some nitpicking, to show the full extent of "canonical limitations":

We saw a person who fancied himself warp engineer in "Carbon Creek". We saw no ships explicitly capable of FTL travel in "Carbon Creek". It would probably make no sense to have a warp engineer aboard the survey ship if said ship weren't warp-capable, but we can never tell... In theory, Vulcan warp could have been a glimmer in the eyes of a few engineers in 1957, some of whom doubled as space explorers.

(On a separate note, neither of the ship types seen in the episode featured what we have learned to know as the Vulcan warp engine: a glowing ring, either partial or whole. In theory, both could have been mere sublight shuttlecraft deployed by a larger warp-capable vessel - in the latter case, by the mentioned D'Vahl - just like the lander in ST:FC could have been a shuttle from the T'plana-Hath.)

In turn, "Little Green Men" deals with time travel. Quark is a shrewd businessman who is not afraid of taking risks in order to get an edge on the competition. If he could sell warp to humans in 1947, he could very well be considering selling warp to the Ferengi in 2934 BC, simply by telling Rom to do a bit more time travel.

The idea that Vulcans wouldn't have had warp yet in 1947 isn't really plausible. Quark wouldn't really consider 1947 "earlier" than 1957 when getting all excited about selling the secret. And the 1957 survey mission to observe Sputnik 1 would have to be preceded by another warp mission in the early 1950s, or else Vulcan couldn't know to expect the launch and couldn't send the survey mission. Hell, they probably wouldn't know when to launch that mission unless they had surveys ongoing for the whole 1950s, and instantaneous reporting of results back to Vulcan.

That sort of extensive FTL flow of information doesn't bespeak of a recently acquired warp capability at all, but of lots of experience in warp ops. And Vulcans wouldn't be the only ones with warp drive in the neighborhood, as "Carbon Creek" also mentions a Tellarite freighter.

We don't know when the other local players got their warp, but in the 2150s we see everybody else has better warp and more experience than Earth does. Apparently, they are roughly on par with each other, though, thus allowing for such conflicts as the Vulcan-Andorian one. So they have had time to synchronize.

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Old January 5 2010, 12:41 PM   #12
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

T'Girl wrote: View Post
Without doing a lot of research, I recall a story that the Orions have been around for maybe several tens of thousands of years. At some times they were a tyrannical empire, at other times in their history they were a benevolent society like the federation - with a star fleet. Eventual they contracted down to a few systems and evolved into the Orion pirate culture. Basically, while they were big and powerful (and not very nice) they suppressed the younger species. It's only with their withdrawl from the larger galaxy have the other warp drive peoples expanded.
The Orions are kind of weird. They're definitely a middling power in the 22d century, seem to be independent operators in the 23d century, but by the 24th it's not apparent that they're anything but an underground criminal organization--the implication from the DS9 episodes is that the Syndicate is all of that's left, not that Bigby's gang is an externally-controlled group of fifth columnists. heck, the whole species seems to have hidden itself. I suspect Starfleet General Order 24. Bye-bye, Pi Orionis.

As for the OP, I've always figured that the average lifetime of a warp civilization is maybe 500-1500 years. After that, as noted, they go the way of the Organians.

Any other solution is absolutely batty. Obviously it's ludicrously unlikely that several dozen species just happen to have independently fallen in near technological lockstep--given the cosmic amounts of time we have to deal with for biological and cultural evolution.

Likewise, I find it impossible to accept that any great leveling could occur to an interstellar civilization. Take the Tkon--they were wiped out by a supernova. While supernovae are extraordinarily destructive, I will word the situation given in "Last Outpost" in a way that will make its unlikelihood patent: a superluminal civilization was destroyed by a luminal danger.At any rate, any celestial event capable of damaging the infrastructure of an interstellar civilization so badly they just called it quits is likely to have sterilized any nascent society--like the stone-wielding humanity of 200,000 years ago.

I am interested in the notion of multiple species evolving in series on one world, however. "Atlantis" doesn't work for us at all--lots of evidence against--but what kind of effect would it have, on an intelligent if primitive people, that knew for a fact that they walk on the bones of a hundred million year old alien civilization?
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Old January 5 2010, 01:32 PM   #13
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

It could be that Vulcans first developed warp drive--or some kind of FTL engine--two thousand years ago or so (arbitrary number on my part) and they simply weren't interested in exploring as much as Humans were.

Whereas Humans want to hurry up, get out there, and see all there is to see, the Vulcans may have taken a considerably more leisurely approach and spent many centuries minding their own business in their own neck of the woods. Other civilizations may have done similar things or only ventured out to specific points of interest to them.

It might paint the picture of Humans being the oddball race that wants to go everywhere and see everything...
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Old January 5 2010, 01:51 PM   #14
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

Obviously it's ludicrously unlikely that several dozen species just happen to have independently fallen in near technological lockstep
"Independently lockstepped" is a needless paradox: lockstepping would be the result of these cultures rubbing against each other. Either you synchronize, or you die.

any celestial event capable of damaging the infrastructure of an interstellar civilization so badly they just called it quits is likely to have sterilized any nascent society
I'd rather interpret this so that the loss of the hubworld weakens any civilization so much that the neighbors almost immediately take over. That's what has been consistently suggested in Trek: homeworlds are important politically, culturally, symbolically, and their loss exposes a civilization to an early death.

Whereas Humans want to hurry up, get out there, and see all there is to see, the Vulcans may have taken a considerably more leisurely approach and spent many centuries minding their own business in their own neck of the woods.
Or then they ran into the Klingons (the first contact mentioned in the TNG ep "First Contact") and got their noses bloodied, so their attempts at expanding in that direction were thwarted. In another direction, the Cardassians stopped them; in yet another, the Andorians.

Just because you are an early bird doesn't mean you get the whole galaxy. It merely means you'll be the one the others synch themselves with, as they start to oppose your expansion.

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Old January 5 2010, 02:54 PM   #15
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Re: Alien history, technological parity and other stuff

Timo wrote: View Post
Whereas Humans want to hurry up, get out there, and see all there is to see, the Vulcans may have taken a considerably more leisurely approach and spent many centuries minding their own business in their own neck of the woods.
Or then they ran into the Klingons (the first contact mentioned in the TNG ep "First Contact") and got their noses bloodied, so their attempts at expanding in that direction were thwarted. In another direction, the Cardassians stopped them; in yet another, the Andorians.
I tend to think that the Vulcans had a better first contact with the Klingons than Humans did--after all, they were originally going to serve as an intermediary in "Broken Bow." That doesn't mean that Vulcans and Klingons were friends in the 22nd-Century, but at least they had some sort of diplomatic relations. I think the Vulcans were more conservative space explorers, and did things at a much slower pace.

And then, of course, there was the frequent line in ENT about Humans moving faster than the Vulcans liked. I think one later episode in the series even came flatout with a line of dialogue about Humans achieving something very quickly that it took the Vulcans a long time to do.
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