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I'm considering creating a world which take place on earth after all humans are dead/gone (we don't care actually). In this situation another/some other species develop enough to be a civilization.

As I'm far from an expert in animals, I actually don't know what could realistically be the "next human". So hear I am with my question:

"What species has the most chance of becoming the next civilised species?"

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  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, i'm not a native english speaker. That not the good orthograph? $\endgroup$
    – Rorp
    Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ I have high hopes of humans becoming civilised in the future! $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ FYI, it is generally considered a good idea to wait at least a day before accepting an answer. The posters on thie site are from around the world, and many will be at work or asleep. Waiting gives them a chance to see the question and answer it. Not everyone will bother answering a question which already has an accepted answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ There is a channel called TierZoo on Youtube. It contains some interestingly similar ideas. $\endgroup$
    – xax
    Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime ok, I revert to the "no answer" and i'll wait a little bit $\endgroup$
    – Rorp
    Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 15:45

5 Answers 5

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In short term (millions of years), most likely already long living, somewhat intelligent and social species with free hand-like manipulators. In longer term (hundred of millions years), pretty much anything can change.

So, in order of decreasing probability:

  • Genetically engineered (uplifted) animals with hands. Monkeys, apes, maybe hamsters, ferrets, mutant polydactyl cats... Or ab initio created animals. If your scenario allows this.
  • Naturally evolved hominids, or perhaps even lesser apes (orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas might be already in an evolutionary cul-de-sac, intelligent, but too specialized and rigid).
  • In longer terms, evolved bipedal rats (they are pretty intelligent and social already), other rodents. Dogs, dolphins, elephants and some corvidae are quite intelligent but do not have hands (and no clear evolutionary way to get them).
  • Some aquatic non-mammal species (octopoda) are intelligent and possess manipulators, but they are rather antisocial and of course their civilization would have enormous problems to get to any reasonably high technological level.
  • Insects etc. have rather low probability to become intelligent, they are quite static and limited by missing lungs. Hive minds are sci-fi.
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  • $\begingroup$ Spoiler alert, but Splatoon went with octopoda. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ Primates already evolved into a civilized species once, so they seem like pretty clear frontrunners to do it again. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ Octopus has the gnarly disadvantage of being in the ocean. So it's tough for it to discover fire. It would probably need to come on land first. And not having a good skeleton it is tough to see how it can do that effectively. $\endgroup$
    – puppetsock
    Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ Crows managed to figure out tool making with their beaks. They've also been shown to manipulate cats into fighting each-other by yanking on their tails and sneaking away, which might point to some level of metacognition (I know this cat won't know who pulled it's tail if I do it and get away before it turns around). Also, the ability to invent new types of noises to represent different things is pretty rare among mammals (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocal_learning) but pretty widespread in Avians. IMO they deserve to be above rats in your list, at least. $\endgroup$
    – Zwuwdz
    Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 20:37
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I think next pretender would be some ape, orangutan maybe. They some of necessary things to create something of civilization. Apes have dexterous hands, quite big brain, can use tools, have social lives.

On Earth we have also other smart and/or social animals, but most of them lack something essential. For example dolphins are very smart, but their fins and environment doesn't promote using tools or especially fire. Other example are any collective bugs, like ants or termites, they have very well organized society, that can achieve astonishing feats, but they are more then hundreds of millions years around, so if there would be any chance to evolve to some civilization, they've had already done it.

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Some type of monkey, likely an ape (since they're better on the brain front).

But it's not just brains that you need. I don't think it's possible to overestimate how important hands are for our civilization. Boiled down far enough, any tangible result of science is just advanced tool use, and our hands are unmissable for how we are doing that.

Almost as important as that is the use of fire. If fire hadn't been as important, than octopi might have as good or better a shot than apes do. Dolphins would also be a candidate in that case.

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Since your query specifies a civilised species, rather than a species possessing intelligence, awareness, soul, imagination and the like, I'd posit that such species already exist.

Or are very close to it.

A civilised species should have, according to human definition, a highly developed society or culture; refinement in taste and manners; or evidence of moral and intellectual advancement: humane, reasonable, ethical. I'd argue that humans are pretty consistent with the first definition, okay with the second and rather spottier with the third.

A random sampling of "hallmarks of civilisation" reveals certain characteristics:

  • Advanced Cities
  • Organized Central Government
  • Complex Religions
  • Job Specialization
  • Social Classes
  • Writing
  • Art and Architecture
  • Public Works

Let me introduce you to the humble termite! Already (and for millions of years), termites have built advanced cities containing housing, gardens, central air conditioning, roadways & public infrastructure. They have an organised central government of the strict monarchical model. They have job specialisation and a social caste system. Their cities are wonders of architecture and design that younger species are beginning to learn from.

We do not understand their communications or their minds, so we can't say for certain about things like art and religion and writing. Clearly, even without these elements, two of which even uncivilised humans possess, termites are actually pretty civilised.

For a look into what fully civilised termites might be like, I'd suggest The Termite Queen.

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  • $\begingroup$ You can counter-argue that termites' (and many other hive-minded creatures - that may even include Reddit) actions are not cognitive. Sure, we don't know all the details, but scientists think the cognition in them, if exists at all, is at the larger group size rather than at the individuals. There's no single termite who 'plans' how to build the mound; instead each class of workers have inbuilt set of instructions which tells them to just blindly follow a certain set of actions. When it all comes together, we have a termite mound. Same with most of their other activities. $\endgroup$
    – Sach
    Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 23:16
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Among mammal species, there are a small percentage with bodies large enough to support large brains. Among mammal species with bodies large enough to support large brains, a minority do have large brains, brain comparable to human brains in size.

That leaves about a hundred or so species of mammals on Earth with brains, and possibly intelligence levels, comparable to that of humans. they include at least four, and possibly more, ape species, three surviving species of proboscideans, and about 90 species of cetaceans.

So it is possible that between zero and all of those species are advanced enough to count as people. But none of them are civilized.

All of the ape and elephant species use and even make tools, since they have good manipulation appendages, but the cetacean species have only their tails, flippers, and mouths to hold tools, which some of them have been observed to do.

The cetacean species also have the disadvantage of their aquatic environment to hinder developing civilization.

So if humans become extinct, any surviving species of apes or elephants, that might possibly already be intelligent enough to be considered people, would seem to have the best chances among mammals of developing a civilization soonest.

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