Sunday, January 16, 2005

How Long is a Long Time?

Time is of course subjective, it flows fast when you are having a good time and slow when you are waiting for something or having a not so good time. But what is a really long time? We are starting to put some long time frame events in a definitive timetable.

One long-term way of thinking is in terms of Russian astronomer Kardashev's Type I, II & II societies. Type I societies have fully harnessed all forms of their planetary energy including volcanoes, earthquakes, weather, hydrothermal vents, etc. We are currently a Type 0.7 society. Michio Kaku, talking about his new book, Parallel Worlds, thinks we are about 100 years from becoming a Type I society, as compared with Freeman Dyson suggesting a few years ago that we are 200 years away. No doubt the 2004 tsunami may help hasten the speed to a Type I society.

Other long-dated events on the horizon include:
-5 billion years to the engulfment of Earth by the sun
-10 billion years to the Andromeda galaxy collision w/ the Milky Way
-x billion/trillion+(?) years to the heat death of the universe when the accelerated expansion of the universe has driven all of the heat out

These events imply that human intelligence must take action to survive, first to get off Earth, then to get out of the galaxy and finally to get out of this universe. Or we could learn to control these events or manage around them such as by learning to live without heat/make heat unconventionally w/ dark matter/energy, better understand and manipulate physics, etc.

It seems likely that science will lead us to achieve these survival outcomes as a byproduct of other goals and imperatives occurring first.

One or more singularities may also supersede the timetable.