There's a Kardashev scale in which Earth civilisation is at 0 (the lowest) level with all following levels being purely hypothetical and describing civilisations more advanced than human.

Is there any known anti-Kardashev scale, that describes civilisations in lesser stage of development than the current Earth one? An example could be the one that in Star Trek falls into Prime Directive. But is it described in such detail level, as in the original Kardashev scale (with established certain factors, precisely describing, when a particular civilisation will reach a particular level)?

Or do I have to discover such scale a myself, for my world, that consists of many civilisations at lower levels of development than our current one?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This question appears to be off-topic because I am not sure if a question about Kardashev-type scales is related to world-building or not. The question seems not to be about any particular about creating any world at all. $\endgroup$
    – Envite
    Sep 18 '14 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Envite This question is about development of civilisation, so for me it is perfectly on-topic as worldbuilding is primarily oriented on civilisations that lives in that created worlds, right? $\endgroup$
    – trejder
    Sep 18 '14 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Envite I'd argue that it's on topic since the terminology will be very useful for describing worlds that are being built. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Sep 18 '14 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ I had one, think I modified it from space master (or maybe The Primal Order). I'll see if I can find it or at least a reference when I get home. $\endgroup$
    – thurizas
    Sep 18 '14 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ What would be the difference between this scale and the "traditional" division of Earth history by technological level -- Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and so on? $\endgroup$
    – gilgamec
    Sep 18 '14 at 22:49

As mentioned in the article, Kardashev does not have to be discrete. Sagan provided a formula so that the Kardashev Scale is continuously defined. On that scale, present-day Earth comes out as a 0.7 civilization.

Sagan also proposed pairing that numerical value with a letter to indicate the cumulative information content of a civilization. If I remember correctly, an A or a B civilization would have about as much knowledge as the ancient Greeks, and a Z civilization would have knowledge of the entire universe.

It sounds like what you want, though, is a discrete scale tied to cultural achievements. I can think of three examples.

  1. "Omnitrends Universe" scale. I saw this listed on the Atomic Rocket "Future History" page, in the "Cyclical History" section. It's apparently from a computer game named "Omnitrends Universe".

    • 0 - Pre-Cultural - Clans, tribes, no politics. A chaos of primitive expression.
    • 1 - Feudalism - Rural art, naturally shaped. Warriors and Priests in power.
    • 2 - Breakdown of Feudalism - Exhaustion of early art forms, the Reformation.
    • 3 - Formation of Aristocratic States - Mature art, new forms of math, philosophical world views and puritanical religions opposed to growing absolutism.
    • ...
    • 9 - Final Political Form - The world as a spoil. Primitive human conditions thrusting up into the highly civilized mode of living.
  2. "Spore" scale: the stages in the video game Spore. It covers a larger range than you're looking for.

    • Cell
    • Creature
    • Tribal
    • Civilization
    • Space
  3. "9 Stages of Civilization". Often misattributed to Alexander Tytler on the internet.

    1. Bondage
    2. Spiritual faith
    3. Great courage
    4. Liberty
    5. Abundance
    6. Selfishness
    7. Complacency
    8. Apathy
    9. Dependence

Unfortunately it's cyclical and not very descriptive.


As already stated in another answer, the Kardashev scale was interpolated by Carl Sagan to admit non-integer values. The formula would be the following:

Kardashev formula

In this formula, K is the Kardashev's rating and P is the power the civilization uses, in Watts. This actually means that we could rate whatever civilization we want: the power will never be negative, so the logarithm in base 10 of it will always be defined. Given this scale, we can establish the minimum on a civilization of type -0.6.

Wikipedia states that:

World energy consumption refers to the total energy used by all of human civilization.

Typically measured per-year, it involves all energy harnessed from every energy source we use, applied towards humanity's endeavors across every industrial and technological sector, across every country. Being the power source metric of civilization, World Energy Consumption has deep implications for humanity's social-economic-political sphere.

As for that,

  • A prehistoric civilization will have an almost 0 energy consumption (the only energy source is fire), and thus will be a civilization of type -0.6.
  • A civilization of type 0 will consume about 10^6 Watts.

Since the industrial revolution, the data of the world consumption is available:

World energy consumption graph

(Credit to http://ourfiniteworld.com/2012/03/12/world-energy-consumption-since-1820-in-charts/)

The ~20 EJ/year on 1820 are about 0.63 TW = 6.3 * 10^11 W. That is a civilization of type 0.6.

All that data means that if you can approximately determine the energy consumption of your civilization, you can give it a value in the Kardashev scale.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting that that graph does not show sustainable power sources such as solar, wind or ocean. Also interesting that one would think to rate civilization by how much energy it uses - sounds like an entrenched capitalist mindset, which imagines ever-increasing consumption as a desirable, rather than a thermodynamically impossible and probably disastrous, endeavor. $\endgroup$
    – Dronz
    Oct 1 '14 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ However, the op is explicitly asking about the Kardashev's scale. About the graph, the use of that power sources you mention were almost nonexistent in the period that we are concerned about (year ~1800) $\endgroup$
    – Garoal
    Oct 2 '14 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Well yes. Circa 1800, the graph shows practically all energy as "bio fuels", and it might be interesting to see someone try to express statistical estimates for wood-burning, beeswax, lamp oil, animal power, human musclepower (slave vs. freeman), wind harnessed for sailing, windmills, waterwheels... except that would seem a bit more academic than practical, as few were considering shifting energy sources for the same sort of device, and there was no electrical grid to allocate electrical power to different devices. $\endgroup$
    – Dronz
    Oct 3 '14 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ Assuming that a civilization must consist of at least one human, and a human has a minimum power consumption of about 100 Watt ($P=100$) just for living, I conclude that a civilization cannot go beyond $-0.4$. If one assumes that it needs at least 10000 people before the term "civilization" can be applied, the scale cannot be negative (actually it needs even less people to not be negative, as those people will spend energy to get their food, which they will additionally need to consume). $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Dec 14 '15 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ @SarahofGaia (log₁₀(P))-6, it doesn't make much sense to subtract constant 6 watts from how much power a civilisation utilises before counting how many base-ten digits that number is. $\endgroup$
    – BenRW
    Jan 12 '17 at 12:44

This is my personal list out of my head. It is based on ability to store and transmit information.

  1. Pre-intelligent - No way to effectively communicate with members of same species.
  2. Basic communication - Efficient communication with same species.
  3. Writing and reading - Ability to store information.
  4. Printing press - Heightened ability to store and copy information.
  5. Global network - Ability to send message to any other member of same species. Corresponds to colonization of Americas.
  6. Steam power - Decreased latency and increased reliability of sending messages (trains and steamboats for messaging).
  7. Electricity - More decrease in latency (wired communication) or increased reach of information (radio).
  8. Digitalization - Ability to store and copy information at almost zero cost and time. Ability to transfer information at zero latency and perfect reliability.

The Kardashev scale takes over after that.

  • $\begingroup$ A lot happened between "steam power" and "radio/phone". The first practical steam engine was patented in 1698. Optical telegraphs were invented in the late 1700s (deliberately signalling by light, for example using signal fires, probably dates back a few thousand years), electrical telegraphs appeared in the early 1800s, wireless telegraphy in the late 1800s, and wireless audio transmissions right around 1900. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Dec 14 '15 at 9:34
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Well, this is just quick list I made on the spot. The list should not be perfect historical progression, but more generic list of milestones that drastically changed how society handled information. It is true #7 could be changed to electricity instead of radio/phone. $\endgroup$
    – Euphoric
    Dec 14 '15 at 9:52

As promised, here is the table it used. Not sure where I found / modified it, so if anyone recognizes let me know and I will give proper attribution for it.

 value    technology            magic
   0      stone age             no use of magic
   1      copper age            undisciplined casting, hedge wizards
   2      bronze age
   3                            split of magic into schools, start of professions
   4      iron I                start of alchemy and item creation
   5      iron II               knowledge of arcane, initial utilization of primal forces
   7      steel                 complete control of primal forces, arcane as a school
   8      pre-industrial
   9                            integration of magic and technology
  10      industrial            all population are casters of some sort

As I re-read the table, I suspect that I highly modified the magic column for the game that I was playing at that time (Rolemaster). Hope this helps somewhat.

  • $\begingroup$ While a valuable scale for a fantasy world I didn't see (I could be wrong) any indication that the OP has a magic based world. We need to be careful not to assume fantasy worlds meta.worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/106/… $\endgroup$
    – Liath
    Sep 19 '14 at 7:22
  • $\begingroup$ Agree with @Liath. Also, Wikipedia summarizes the Kardashev scale as (my emphasis) "The Kardashev scale is a method of measuring a civilization's level of technological advancement, based on the amount of energy a civilization is able to utilize.", and the OP gives no indication that magic-based answers are sought. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Sep 19 '14 at 8:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Liath - you are correct we should not assume a fantasy world. I just lifted the table from my notes as-is. Mea Culpa $\endgroup$
    – thurizas
    Sep 19 '14 at 14:55

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