The Cycle of Civilization

Ours will not be the last human civilization. This presumed fact is both optimistic and pessimistic and should inspire equal parts dread and hope.


On the down side, inherent in the idea is that our civilization will, in fact, end. At some point, the world and cultures we have created will cease to be and very likely be forgotten for all time. How this will occur is a mystery, as is when, but there are many potential ends awaiting us or our descendents. We might, for example, simply fade away — no catastrophe, no great revelation, just the irresistible force of time’s arrow withering the body of our civilization as surely as it withers all things. Even mountains crumble under its power; what makes us believe we can outlast it? In this possible end, we are obscured by our own descendents. Like the dinosaurs becoming the birds, one day what we are will have evolved out of existence and a new thing will stand in our place, only a vague semblance of us. Of course, the end for our civilization might come hard and fast, instigated by an apocalyptic event like an asteroid collision or mega-eruption. In this case, the change and challenges wrought by this catastrophe would be too much for our civilization to accommodate or adapt to and collapse would come like a bleak dawn. Not so long ago, it was not difficult to imagine doom by our own hands, by the very tools that have made our civilization possible. We have built weapons of war that dwarf all weapons ever created put together. Even our plowshares have the potential to destroy us as we manipulate forces we do not fully comprehend and unleash them in hopes of enriching our lives and expanding our civilization.


No matter what the end, two things are near certainties: it will come, and some people will survive. Perhaps they will live in fortified bunkers beneath the surface of the earth. Perhaps they will be the people far removed from civilization as we know it now. Perhaps it will be a tiny, isolated population or perhaps a smattering of enclaves will endure the world over, none large enough to continue civilization alone. A force that could completely wipe out the human race is almost incomprehensible. Even the great mass extinctions of the past took centuries or millenia to do their grim work, so though our civilization is surely doomed our species will very likely thrive.


And herein lies the hope. Human are by their nature social and creative. Those two aspects virtually guarantee that even the smallest viable population eeking out an existence in the post-apocalyptic wilderness will create culture. With that culture will come diversity of ideas and expansion. With diversity of ideas and expansion will come trade. Just as our ancestors did after the apocalyptic era of the ice age, at the end of the next apocalyptic age our survivors will create civilization anew. Perhaps they will not be forced to start from scratch as our ancestors did; perhaps some remnant of knowledge will remain so they have a leg up. Perhaps we will be wise enough now to leave our descendents knowledge and skills they can access to make the rise to civilization easier and faster. Or perhaps it will take many more thousands of years than it did our ancestors. Perhaps our descendents will have genetic memory of the collapse of civilization and fear concrete towers and weapons that rend the sky and purposefully avoid building a civilization of their own. Even so, no such fear could last forever or infect all future people. Inevitably, one tribe or nation would rise to prominence and civilization would rise again. It is even possible that human civilization will not be reborn on Earth but another world. Should our civilization last long enough and reach high enough, we may spread among the worlds of our solar system or beyond and be reborn there.


Whatever civilization rises from the ashes of our own, it, too, is doomed. Its own end will loom before it, and also the rise of the civilization that follows it. How long can this cycle last? How many deaths and rebirths can human civilization endure before it either reaches Nirvana or is consumed into the Void? What would the civilization with no end look like? Or the one with no hope?


Finally, one other question emerges: are we truly the first? Our civilization has existed ten thousand years, from the first walled towns of the Middle East, through the millenia long lives of Egypt and China, through to the relatively short lived but unquestionably powerful modern Western civilization we have. A continuous line of people and knowledge can be traced from the first sowed fields to the Mars rovers. I presume above, and our anthropologists and archeologists and historians believe too, that we are the first such human civilization on earth. This, despite somewhere on the order of one hundred thousand years — ten lifetimes of our civilization — of mist shrouded time of human existence. If some civilization had risen before ours took root in the Levant, would we know of it? Would its artifacts or structures survive the grinding force of the glacial advance and retreat? Would we have any genetic memory of its language, art or religion? And if not, how can we know we are the first?


Dear People of Tomorrow

First of all, Congratulations. Not only did you, or your ancestors anyway, manage to survive the catastrophe that eradicated human civilization, but you also pulled yourselves up out of the muck of barbarism. You reading this inscription means that civilization’s rebirth is complete and scientific progress has advanced to the point of rediscovery of at least both scanning tunneling microscopy and pulsed inductive thrust. Since it is impossible to know from our perspective whether you are reading this days or centuries after it was retrieved, or whether it were robotic or human hands to pluck it out of its orbit, we will make no such presumptions and simply assume the reader is sitting comfortably in a soft chair with a warm cup of tea. If you are the scientist who is first to break the translation code accompanying this inscription, prepare to be astounded by the hidden history about to be revealed. If you are a student forced to read this as part of an overview of ancient historical texts, prepare to be equivalently bored.

Following this introductory inscription is the sum total of human knowledge. All the art, science, culture and history is contained in this quantum data construct. It is designed to be accessible to anyone with the knowledge and technology capable of accessing and reading this introduction, so do not be alarmed: you will have access to that trove of information. Of course, given the millenia that must have passed, it is likely to be little more than trivia to you and your civilization. Perhaps, though, hidden in all the esoterica of an age long in your past you can find some nugget of wisdom to make the mining worth the effort. At the very least, there are tens of thousands of recipes recorded herein. Something should satisfy.

Because all of that specific knowledge is found within, this introduction will not delve into the specifics of what came before the end. Instead, we decided to provide this introduction to prepare you in a more general sense for what you are about to discover. In short, it is this: humans are a messy, contradictory and ultimately fallible species that despite all our advances are still bound and limited by a collection of a few inescapable evolutionary adaptations. Equally, however, we are thoughtful and creative and loving and we are constantly striving to go beyond the limits with which we were created. Occasionally we overreach, though, which is of course how we got ourselves in our current predicament and why it is you are reading this at all. Don’t worry, we will not spoil the surprise here; you will have to read the entire story of our civilization to find out how it ends.

What we wish you — all of you, whoever reads this through the perpetuity of your own civilization — to know is the you were not the first. And what we — all of us here and now tasked with preparing this record — wish to believe is that we were not the last. Civilizations may rise and fall, brought to heel by cosmic impacts and man’s hubris, but unlike the previous masters of this Earth like the dinosaurs, we can see our doom and prepare in some small way to survive it. And if it should be that you, too, see the doom of your civilization coming, we ask you preserve this record along with your own.


The Council for the Preservation of the History of World Civilization

Council Chair-nations Atlantis, Lemuria and Mu


P.S. In the case that this record was discovered by a non-human civilization, please return it to its proper orbit after having copied the data.