The Story
Numenera puts you as someone living in the Ninth World (actually the ninth Civilization that currently inhabits Earth)
All eight former Civilizations were somewhere between Type I and Type II on the Kardashev scale as far as I can tell. They must have developed at least interstellar Travel(probably not FTL) because they left behind some alien species that they brought home from other planets.

The Question What would be the limiting factors of an earth like planet supporting this rise and fall of Civilizations with high technological level on the same planet given the natural limitation of resources.

1. Those Civilizations never exist at the same time, they develop and after a while descend into some kind of medieval world before they slowly rise again, loosing every bit of knowledge in between
2. It is not known what caused the Civilizations to descend again.
3. The timescale for would be one billion years between the rise of the first Civilization and the beginning of the ninth. But feel free to give examples of different timescales to show what limits there are.

  • $\begingroup$ Atlantis sounds about right. Apparently they had 'lasers'. Heck, even the ancient Greek had mechanical automaton. $\endgroup$ – hownowbrowncow Feb 11 '16 at 14:52
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I like the question/concept, but your precise question is very vague and decidedly opinion based. If you could provide a scale on which you can objectively compare answers this would be good to go. So instead of asking "How far fetched is this idea" it would be better to ask something along the lines of "What would be the limiting factors of an earth like planet supporting this rise and fall?" $\endgroup$ – James Feb 11 '16 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @James My initial question was along the lines of your suggestion, much more specific. I don't know why I switched for the broad one. Will try to edit it in again. Would you mind if I use your exact wording? $\endgroup$ – vanillagod Feb 11 '16 at 15:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ As a side note : some civilization were not human. $\endgroup$ – MakorDal Feb 11 '16 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @MakorDal I have not read that yet since I am just starting with preparations but thanks for the info! I am not sure if it makes a difference since a non-human civilization would propably not have a different impact on earth $\endgroup$ – vanillagod Feb 11 '16 at 15:27

I think, in terms of a literary solution anyway, the previous civilization should have effects that are specifically enabling to the existence of the new one, to cancel out the disabling effects. Our own civilization could not be replayed again, but instead something else will be made possible.

Accessible oil and coal will be gone, at least for a fraction of a billion years. But early civilization will find aluminum in metallic form and find that easier than isolating bronze from ore. The strata associated with the anthropocene epoch will show an imprint of our presence, with new minerals bearing traces of man-made materials and processes requiring other such materials.

Consider also the biological effects. Recovering from a mass extinction, the biosphere comes back better ans stronger than ever after 20 million years. There will be adaptive radiation to fill the empty niches, and this next time there will be domesticated species to serve as the starting point. Consider: in the age of dinosaurs plant life was poor in nutrition; fruit and grain did not exist. Now, squirrels have a niche to fill and cows can be adapted to eat grass. Our paleolithic ancestors had to spend generations making wheat, corn, potatoes, etc. come into existence.

In the next cycle, some animals may have an easier time due to the very existence of more advanced foodstuffs, just as squirrels could not have existed before flowering plants and modern ruminate animals are far more efficient than any ceratopsid. Likewise, a rising civilization will have plants suitable for agriculture and animals that are easily domesticated.

Finally, there may be caches of knowledge to aid development. Whether time capsules or arriving missionaries, they may learn important tips such as the importance of waste management and sterile bandages, which might have as large of an effect at the right stage as any advanced technology.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's worth nothing that this is inherently present in the Numenera universe. At the time the setting takes place, humanity is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, where they are rediscovering old technologies/materials left behind by previous civilizations. $\endgroup$ – Ethan Feb 11 '16 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ It's worth nothing? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Feb 11 '16 at 19:58
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think he meant "it's worth noting" $\endgroup$ – Insane Feb 11 '16 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ I did indeed mean "noting." Apparently my spelling is worth nothing though. $\endgroup$ – Ethan Feb 12 '16 at 18:21

Some of this depends on the time frames you're dealing with. Are we talking a few thousand years? or 100,000s or millions?

The longer the time frame the more likely it would happen. Even completely new species could evolve and have brand new source of coal and oil at the millions of years level.

However at the 1000's one or two previous civilizations might be possible. Though at interstellar traveling, some semblance of the previous civs might still be out there, leaving the 'mother' planet as a backwater or 'used' up planet. What might cause a collapse is everyone who can got of the dying planet and those left where able to survive while the planet healed itself with the bulk of the populace gone.

  • $\begingroup$ The time frame in Numenera is given as 1billion years so it fits with your answer. I also like your idea of the evacuation and natural healing which leads to those cycles. $\endgroup$ – vanillagod Feb 11 '16 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ @vanillagod after a billion years, the planet basically is pristine again. Oil and coal can regenerate multiple times during that timeframe. (consider that multicellular life on Earth is some 700 million years old..). Biological even near total extinction of life will only be noticeable in the fossil record. Even minerals could be replenished by tectonics (from the mantle). The real problem with that timescale could be stellar evolution, 9 billion years is a rather long time for but the two faintest classes of stars. Spectral class K and M are needed. $\endgroup$ – Chieron Feb 11 '16 at 19:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ sorry I didn't specify that. It is one billion years for the whole eight cycles(with the ninth just starting) $\endgroup$ – vanillagod Feb 12 '16 at 7:45

Not sure why folks think that all of the natural resources will be used up. I assume that after the decline of one civilization, there are still trees around to make fire? If it takes a hundred million years for a civilization to rise and fall, then it is probably even possible for coal to be regenerated in some or many areas (it can be formed in tens of millions of years[1]). But much better than finding a coal seam would be finding an ancient landfill. When an archaeologist finds a midden today, the only interesting artifacts are bones and stones. But when an archaeologist 200 million years from now finds a midden, it will have high concentrations of rare earth metals useful for advanced electronics. Surely that is a nice jump-start for any new civilization!

Not only that, but lots of uranium will be mined and concentrated as well (assuming it wasn't detonated or taken off-planet in ships). Uranium and thorium have half lives in the billions of years for some isotopes[2]. And if the civilizations care at all for the future, then they will leave knowledge lying about in a durable form (explored in Niven's Footfall, where knowledge was recorded on metal plates).

The advancement of civilization pretty much depends directly on the amount of useful energy the inhabitants can harness. At prehistoric levels, only human power is meaningful. With agriculture and animal husbandry, draft power from animals becomes available and makes it feasible to farm large tracts of land (rather than just subsistence gardens). With fire and metallurgy, steam power eventually becomes available, first from wood and biomass, and later from coal and fossil fuels. But solar power can also be harnessed by dams, and was long before the Industrial Revolution.

Again, if knowledge is passed down in some form to each new civilization, then converting power to electricity would greatly aid the reboot of the next civilization. That's because electricity is one of the easiest ways to convert power from one form to a more useful form. One electrification has been achieved, even the absence of fossil petroleum is not a major deal-breaker. Gasoline has one of the highest energy densities of any chemical fuel (non-nuclear). But ethanol is decent, and can be manufactured from average biomass. At sufficient technology level, gasoline and kerosene can be manufactured from scratch, via thermal depolymerization (TDP)[3].

Even steel is not a problem, because in thousands of years, most of the steel on earth will rust down to iron oxide. No tectonic activity necessary. But let's say that the previous civilization managed to coat most structural steel with really effective anti-rust coatings. No problem. Just chisel off the coatings and let it rust away! But most likely, no steel will be so thoroughly coated as to resist all weathering effects. Steel at the bottom of a lake or ocean will last longer, but will be harder to get at anyway. Unless a civ goes underwater to escape land, most of the steel will probably be on land.

The Mote in God's Eye series also explores the theme of cyclic civilization (a good read!).

[1] http://www.planete-energies.com/en/medias/close/how-coal-formed-process-spanning-eras [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isotopes_of_thorium#Thorium-232 [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_depolymerization

  • $\begingroup$ Ha! +1 for being the first to mention the Moties... Another novel to explore this theme is A Canticle for Leibowitz. Also, on a scale of $10^7$ years, humans aren't very human anymore. $\endgroup$ – Oscar Bravo Feb 12 '16 at 7:59
  • $\begingroup$ Coal is not coming back. It was formed when trees piled up for 50 million years before fungi evolved to decompose it; lignum was the styrofoam of the time. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Feb 12 '16 at 17:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ On the contrary, coal is formed from peat bogs being buried and compressed over geologic timescales, and peat bogs are being created all the time over the surface of the earth. The different varieties of coal being mined today attest to the various maturities of the coalification process. $\endgroup$ – Lawnmower Man Feb 12 '16 at 18:34

It's an interesting question - any civilisation following hot on the heels of ours would have a hard time extracting resources such as coal, metal, etc from the earth as all the immediately accessible resources have long been used up.

However, instead of primary sources of say tin or iron-ore, a civilisation following our own would probably find recycling or scavenging resources from old dumps or ruins - especially metals.

This might act as a barrier to later growth as it would be less obvious that these materials came out of mineral deposits found in the ground, as the richest sources of metals would instead be found in urbanised areas - without any link back to their original sources.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ a parking lot full of cars and 10,000 of volcanic dust and debris looks an awful lot like an iron vein. $\endgroup$ – hownowbrowncow Feb 11 '16 at 15:14
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I have been told by people who know chemistry and metallurgy better than me that one of the big problems people will have rebuilding civilisation is that we have converted most of our iron to steel. Steel requires much higher temperatures to smelt and much more advanced knowledge of metallurgy to work with compared to iron. It is said that starting with steel is like the Wright Brothers attempting to build a jet fighter as their first aircraft. $\endgroup$ – slebetman Feb 11 '16 at 15:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @slebetman It depends on how much time passes between two civilizations erosion and tectonic movements can turn steel to iron veins again in a few million years. $\endgroup$ – mg30rg Feb 11 '16 at 15:39

I understand it as wondering how civilization could restart so many times if each cycle uses up some of the natural resources.

It could be possible, especially if some of those civilizations practiced conservatism, and/or brought back resources from off planet since they had some kind of interstellar transportation.

Also, each civilization would be able to mine some of the junk left behind by previous civilizations for resources. IIRC this does happen some in Numenera lore?

One thing that would help is that even with the fall in between, some of the knowledge would remain, making each rise a little easier, especially if advanced relics and texts can be found.

Also, each civilization would adapt to make use of the resources available.
So all the oil us used up by cycle 4? More research is put into solar or wind in cycle 5.

So long as one cycle didn't permanently make the earth uninhabitable, life would find a way. Hardship can make people adapt pretty quick.

Limiting factors: A lot of stuff would renew over time.
Metals aren't one of them and so the metals that are mined during each cycle wouldn't go back into the ground without some cataclysmic upheaval swallowing a scrap yard, but this might make some metals easier to find in purer forms.
Metals such as aluminum will be more readily available earlier in a civilizations timeline than it would be normally.
Aluminum is hugely abundant (8% of the crust), but does not occur in its metallic form anywhere naturally. It is not easy to produce, and for a while was more "rare" and more valuable than gold.
Aluminum turns into aluminum oxide when it corrodes, which protects the aluminum underneath from further corrosion. This would allow it to survive better.

One metal that might be harder to find over time would be iron, as any iron that is mined and refined would tend to rust away over long periods of time exposed to the elements.
To balance this out any civilization that can make it off planet is going to find a lot of iron (and other metals) in the asteroids to bring back to the planet, and so there is a better chance that some of it might remain for the next cycle to use until they can make it into space.

Other materials will be developed as well, such as ceramics which could help bridge the resource gap.

  • $\begingroup$ I have edited the question to make it more specific, you might want to take a second look. I still think the answer fits but I wanted to tell you so you could edit if you think differently. $\endgroup$ – vanillagod Feb 11 '16 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ The sand and earth are not even as we have them today : they are mostly the synthetic dust of the past. $\endgroup$ – MakorDal Feb 11 '16 at 15:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @vanillagod Updated it a little bit to reflect the limiting factors versus the plausibility, without stepping on Bowlturners answer to much. The little I know of Numenera lore comes from the kickstarter updates to the new game that's being developed... The fact that they know that they are the 9th civilization shows that not all knowledge is lost between cycles. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Feb 11 '16 at 17:48

It's kind of an interesting question for me, since I've given it some thought before and think it would be totally plausible.

  • This depends on what time scale you're having in mind.

Having the real world examples of our time, the different nations could race for interstellar exploration and colonization, which I guess will lead to another world war and possibly crazy leaders or terrorists will tend to use H-bombs this time and ruin the mother planet for the current civilization and the colonies without the support of earth would soon fade away.

After that give it a couple of million years and the ruined earth (with nuclear clouds and so many new mutations and possible left bacteria or even bugs) might give rise again to another civilization who have no idea about what happened before them and just could give some guesses.

You could also consider that the course of evolution could change this time and a new specie (or more) could rule the earth, but the same cycle would happen for them again too sooner or later.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.