I believe that all of you should know the Kardashev scale. The method that the Russian scientist created gave us a practical way - a marker, which allows us to assess the technological level of possible alien civilizations.

Regarding the first human contact with an alien civilization, there are several currents of thought about the interests of aliens for us. Some say it would be something close to the white man's arrival in America. Others say that these civilizations must be advanced both technologically and in terms of "conscience".

On this last term, I have a question.

Is it possible to determine a specific method or marker that assesses a civilization's level of intellectual development?

Which metrics/framework can be used to evaluate intellectual superiority/inferiority for aliens?

These are the same question, not multiple ones, but as I do not know what it is then it is not possible for me to word it in one question/way. I even do not know how to approach such assessment in general terms, so here I need your help.

Reasons to ask

Reason to ask the question, even if there is that Kardashev scale, it very loosely connected to the matter of knowledge, information processing of a civilisation as a whole or on the individual level of members of those civilisations - because it just an energy measuring stick/thing and not suitable for anything else. It just defines physical limits to do things, but not how things are done. We can have K1/K2 capacities in a few decades but it won't make us an advanced alien civilization in that time overnight.

Gauge everything in IQ units of human beings is not necessarily appropriate, as they are distribution deviation derived measuring units, specific to humans and their tasks. So as it too fine scale of classification, which is probably too excessive and hard to figure out for other unknown civilization's as intelligence is still ongoing research on its own.

So as that IQ thing does not address how good are interactions between members to boost their overall intelligence. How good they are as Borg collective.

But having only 2 classifiers, advanced and not advanced, is definitely rough and tells not so much in practical terms.

So as individual intelligence of members can be low, but their collective intelligence can be strong, as an example of such civilisation: How can I design spacesuits for Anthills?

So on the level of civilisations, how do we make up labels "advanced(ments) 1-10/10", some general scale? With some practical use by a chance?

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    $\begingroup$ I would like to propose a discussion This is not a discussion forum. It's a Q&A forum. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2021 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome Trombho! We use a question/answer style here. If you can rephrase your subject as a specific answerable question, you will probably get good answers. But if you are looking for a back-and-forth dialog to flesh out your idea, this really isn't the place. That having been said, I think what you are asking is fundamentally impossible given the currently unknown nature of future scientific discoveries. K-scale is about power consumption, so at every level, more is a pretty safe bet. Knowing what order future discoveries will be uncovered is not so easy. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2021 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ (1) Unless you explain what you mean by intellectual development, a discussion would not be productive. (2) In the Marxist view, technology is the fundamental aspect of intellectual development, as directly reflecting the economic base. Philosophy, literature, plastic arts etc. as secondary, as historically determined reflections of the superstructure. Nikolai Kardashev was a Soviet scientiest; from his point of view, his scale is a scale of intellectual development. (3) The phrase social conscience has a specific meaning in Marxist thought, and it's the only one I know... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 28, 2021 at 21:45
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    $\begingroup$ If a discussion is what you want, there's always Worldbuilding Chat. $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    May 29, 2021 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ I'm going to state an unqualified "no" because there are an infinite way of measuring such things, and the weighting of said measurements is entirely subjective, based on what you value. I'm also going to vote to close this, as it isn't actually about worldbuilding, is truly a matter of opinion, and could easily be the topic of a book. $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2022 at 20:57

3 Answers 3


I also don't think IQ is a nice assessment tool, because each environment develops its habitants in a way, but we can't build a functional one without using a comparison with our race.

My tip is to pretend the people in your world built a scale with two variables: cognition and technology, using as a parameter human standards.

For cognition, I indicate studying child development, analyzing the theory of mind, Piaget stages, Vygotsky,... so you can have an idea of what humans consider cognitive success so we can convey it in the scale.

If they don't have the notion that they have thoughts, abilities, and individuality (theory of mind), they are certainly going to score low on cognition.

Regarding technology, the scoring could be based on how rudimentary are the examples found.

They don't have wheels? So they are pretty late in technological development.

The scale could be 0 to 10, being 0 undeveloped to human standards and 10 hyperdeveloped to human standards.

I don't know if I answered your question, but I hope it was helpful in some way.


There are a few problems with measuring. You can not only have collective intelligence (well we're measuring it anyway) but also AI, designer babies, chips to brain and possibly castes. For sure for practical purposes we're looking at top notch individuals, what happens at bottom of society / AI governing microwave oven do not matter.

"Is it possible to determine a specific method or marker that assesses a civilization's level of intellectual development?"

  1. Simplest equivalent would be measuring their scientific output in relation to some benchmark of other civilization. They needed X years to move from orbital flight to landing an unmanned mission to next planet which is less 40% than median civilization - they are smart, let me look to table how smart.

The problem here is that it requires some standardized milestones and only single way to move forward. It's a risky assumption. And to make such list one would need a huge sample of civilizations.

  1. Assuming that civilizations go AI and - presumably we measure their scientific output in something like FLOPS multiplied by ten raised to some big power. If you follow Soviet style reasoning bigger is better (and proves superiority of your sociopolitical system), then high computational power is evidence of intellectual prowess.

Kardashev scale, for measuring civilizations isn't bad per se, it better to say it is incomplete. So as it often misunderstood, because of the absence of examples or depiction of how we in near future can have such capacities, so people usually think it an inseparable attribute of highly advanced civilization.

Kardashev scale establishes some theoretical idealistic limits for possible activity, so we just need to introduce some synthetic coefficient, of efficiency of energy used. Synthetic as some average of civilization activities.

it sure isn't a direct measure/comparison of intelligence of civilization or members of civilization, however, it has the potential to give some practical measuring stick, because if we say Mr.X is two times smarter than an average person - what does it even mean, what consequences are, the size or significance of those consequences - we do not know, we can't tell, we have no idea. Saying Mr.X IQ is two times the average, also means nothing. It same stuff with civilizations.

The thing has to be reflected in some substantial reality, which makes some practical sense. which exists at the moment of the description of the civilization, because if we try to introduce the matter of how fast they get from one technological or development stage to another and compare to ourselves, such comparison can have a place, but past achievements are not indications of future performance or current performance. Sometimes things are discovered by accident, sometimes things are done out of necessity in a less sophisticated or efficient way because of necessity, etc.

This technology comparison also may go sidewise, because we may have different technologies not necessarily directly comparable. if we compare information size, then a million or random monkey why try to recreate some meaningful work, and are department of the library of babel, can produce a lot of information they attach a significance but it has no practical application, for the most part.

if we take all drawings of existing equipment, all technological know-how and make some digital representation of it, compress and compare then it may be, or may no, one of the ways to do that, but what if they have one technology which capable to be a universal tool, like nanomachines son - they can have greatly simplified technological cycles, trashing all old/outdated equipment because they do not need it anymore.

  • this way what makes sense to compare is what is being done, what evaluate is activity at the moment of evaluation.

So efficiency coefficient maybe not such a bad idea, as we can compare what they(or we) do with the way it can be done with 100% efficiency. it more like an idea, as it not necessarily that easy to tell in each case what is the most efficient way to do something, technology-wise. (let's stay more on the technology side of things).

But in enough cases it possible, an example theoretical energy of desalination of typical seawater is around 0.84kwh, but we spend 5-10 times of that, capital investments not accounted, but should be in a general sense - so not very efficient. Any technology which does it better is qualified to be called more advanced.

it also allows to compare existing technologies with their better theoretical self, so if there are no matching technologies, or if there are no aliens, such measuring is still applicable. We apply that to technologies available and average it and get an index of efficiency.

  • such indexes aren't unheard of, as an example, Big Mac Index is one of such synthetic indexes, as in the production of those are involved half or more of our technological capacities, which share production power with other activities as well, but starting from car manufacturing to home appliances are indirectly involved in making possible to recreate big mac in different countries. There are other indexes of similar nature, they are used to compare countries economies and such, based on money, based on energy(money earned per kWh spent to make some production) etc

So we can pick some areas of interest, which involve a significant portion of technological capacities, and present in both states and then compare those energy-wise.

  • let's modify the scale a little bit, those 1,2,3 yeah sounds cool, but let's go with a simple log(P). So a single human then is a civilization K2, a billion of humans K11

And let's compare stone age time(idk some random number of million people), with modern-day, and common denominator meat production.

Stone age then K8, Today K13.24

  • today probably should be more like K15.34 as 5 billion hectares are under agricultural land, food production - it free energy kindly provided by the sun, which we use.

idk, how much energy was spent on meat catching back in the days, but let's say a day of hunting on average(someday there is a catch someday there is no) yields 10kg, and is mostly energy produced by the human body (few hundred wats up to 0.5kw top), soo let's take 1kWh/kg. Modern-day is more like 100kWh/kg. Yep, we are a backward civilization, what can I say, but we have more energy at our disposal, soooo maybe we should divide something by something, hm not sure. But we indeed are less efficient at meat production, because of a set of reasons, including providing resources to nonfood producing activities, which we do need for our technologies to work ad develop further, so not a big surprise here.

  • theoretical minimum for beef, is about 5000 kCal or about 5-6kWh/kg

We have technologies the stone age didn't have, like rockets as an example, so probably there is not one index but many indexes required as we do with countries comparisons. industrial index, purchase power, payload to orbit delivery, payload to another star system delivery.

I had more examples in mind, but waiting for q being open, forgot them. But the general direction of thinking seems to be present, even if I feel like the answer lacks some sparks, but oh well, so be it.


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