Note- This question was partially inspired by the civilization in Star Trek: Voyager Season 6: Episode 12 "Blink of an Eye", plot here.

You are an ordinary person, with an ordinary life, and an ordinary house. One day, you wake up and find something you weren't quite expecting. Out in your garden there appears to be a small stone age civilization. You don't seem to remember seeing them before, so you assume it just developed. This was, of course, of great interest to the world, once that idiot kid who won't leave you alone catches a glimpse.

Once the government arrives, though, something's different... they're no longer stone age. It appears they've developed a feudal system. In 2 or so hours. Remarkable! Either way, the government is here, and, in another 2 hours, so is everyone else. Oh look, there's the UN Secretary! And that's the UN High Command. You stand in a corner as Putin stalks by, and then you meet Rex Tillerson warmly (he does smell faintly of Vodka and petroleum, though). By this time, the society appears to have erected a small steam factory, and it is spoiling your Rhododendrons.

Now, with any belligerent military man comes the demand- "They could be dangerous! Kill them all!". For some reason, this receives astounding agreement, and they attempt to tear down the factory 'in the name of security'. This fails miserably as the commanders were talking fairly loudly, and the citizens caught wind.

Using their newly developed muskets, they fend off the men with a couple warning shots. The generals try again with force, but the people have learned their tactics, refined their technology. This continues, and no matter how hard the generals try, they simply cannot destroy the civilization.

Is this feasible? Can a civilization develop so rapidly? Can they adjust to, and anticipate, whatever may come their way? Can a civilization grow more rapidly than they are destroyed?

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    $\begingroup$ At first I thought you were talking about normal humans, but the text indicates that these humans are small, like plants you could plant in your garden. Or am I misinterpreting the text? Depending on the answer "feasible" would be very different. Normal humans would not be able to develop in mere hours. An imaginary society however could develop in the way the author imagines. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Apr 14 '17 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ Are they strictly biological? An AI(s) with an army nanomachines could certainly evolve like this. $\endgroup$ Apr 14 '17 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ No, this is nowhere close to feasible. Anything much smaller than humans will have too few neurons to be intelligent. The range of crops and metal ores required would not be present in your garden. Everything works differently on smaller scales, current industrial processes can't be shrunk. And somehow they understand English? $\endgroup$ Apr 14 '17 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ What makes this question difficult for me is the assumption that for some unknown reason, this species with radically different biology and physics happens to follow our exact path through history. That level of handwaving alone turns the answer into "utterly anything is possible." Did you intend to bring any realism into the question by abandoning that pattern? $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Apr 14 '17 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ @JDlugosz That's a good point. I'll consider it. $\endgroup$
    – Imperator
    Apr 15 '17 at 20:34

There have been studies which show that creatures perceive time as a function of their own heart beat or metabolism. Scientific American has a report on one of these studies. One of the key points in the article is:

These findings show that differences in how a mouse and an elephant sense time are not arbitrary but rather are finely tuned by interactions with their surroundings. A link between time perception, body structure and physiology suggests that different nervous systems have developed to balance pressures from the natural environment with energy conservation. Rapid perception might be essential for a hawk but would waste a whale's precious energy.

Ever wonder why it is so hard to swat a house fly? That fly's pulse is 500 to 600 beats per minute (bpm), compared to your 60 to 100 bpm. To the fly, your hand or swatter is coming toward it at pedestrian pace. Plenty of time to buzz out of the way.

Galapagos tortoises never seem in much of a hurry and live nearly 200 years. It helps to have a 6 bpm resting heart rate.

Others have expanded on this idea and noted that a city has a "pulse" of one day (observable in traffic patterns for example), the earth of one year (daylight and climate), the sun 11 years, and so on. Scaling up and down in size tends to correlate to scaling slower and faster in the sense of time.

Now moving on to your garden society, going to stone age to feudalism to democracy as you watch. How fast would their hearts need to beat? This depends on some variables you don't provide, but let's assume a linear relation between pulse and time perception, and that each minute for us is a century for them. I calculate that as a pulse 52.5 million times greater than ours.

Further, we have this article that tells us that the blood takes about 1 minute to make a round trip in a human body. If I estimate a round trip from my heart to my left little toe and back as 1.5 meters, I get a speed of 0.025 m/s.

If I reduce the round trip distance in the garden people to .15 meters and reduce the time to travel by a factor of 52.5 million, I get that their blood moves at 131,250 m/s. While not quite a relativistic speed, I suspect the blood pressure to sustain that would explode their little arteries. Not to mention the frictional heating caused by that amount of flow. These guys would be cooking themselves from the inside out.

This is just discussing pulse. If we get to the respiration rate that corresponds, we would get even more complications.

In conclusion: Not plausible, not without the "temporal distortion" of Star Trek.

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    $\begingroup$ Why are you correlating heartbeat to perception of time? Your source mentions size, weight, and metabolism as possible links, not heart rate. $\endgroup$ Apr 14 '17 at 21:27

A General Intelligence Appears

It winks into existence (Quantum variation spawns one/ Extraterrestrial intelligence places it there for fun/ You bought the wrong magic seeds) and it has limited capacity to construct things out of organic matter. Its mission is simple: become the dominant entity on the planet. Listening to the local electromagnetic waves it learns that the dominant species on earth is humanity. Being only a general intelligence and not a super intelligence it decides to simply emulate humanity rather than try to come up with something better. After all, they had been pretty successful despite taking thousands of years to get there. It decides to build itself a few humans to start the process, small to be more efficient on resources (there is organic matter everywhere!). This decision takes .0001 seconds.

As a general intelligence with a wifi connection, your knowledge of the sciences is enormous but your capacity to carry it out is not. With your constructed miniature humans you begin to build, gathering resources that you need to expand. First starting with stone to build rudimentary structures to house your miniature humans (darn things need to rest and be protected from the weather). With your computer mind and access to the wealth of humanity's knowledge advancement comes as quickly as you can gather the resources. Fire was a no-brainer "discovered" in seconds, but things got off the ground when a rusty nail was found and you could make metal tools. The discovery of an ax head relly set things in motion because you could not build a working steam engine without all the steel it contained! You make it to the industrial revolution in a matter of hours, a feat that took regular humans thousands of years.

The process continues....


Read Dragon’s Egg by the great “hard” s-f writer (and scientist) Robert L. Forward. I think Blink of an Eye must have been influenced by it, as well. But this is hard s-f. (I just watched it again, and the episode is obviously based on Forward’s novel. The novel is much better, and where Michael Taylor waved his hands or made up technobabble, Forward was writing “hard” science fiction.)

Most of the novel, from May to June 2050, chronicles the cheela civilization beginning with its discovery of agriculture to advanced technology and its first face-to-face contact with humans.

The appearance of the human craft in their sky stimulates their devolopment out of pre-history, and they finally build spaceships and launch a mission to visit the human craft in orbit, in a matter of weeks.

In 24 hours, they go from being able to crudely communicate with the humans using mideval tech on their end, to mounting the space exploraration. At one point a human at the communication console remarks how draining it is to have 15-minute life-long friendships, as the cheela counterparts go through their careers in successive generations.

The million to 1 speed differential is caused by two factors: a mere factor of 2 due to their world having very high gravity (67 billion g), and the main difference due to neuclonic reactions (using the strong force) being faster than chemical reactions. They are made of degenerate matter, without electrons taking up huge orbitals around the nucleus.

Feasible in your back garden, sharing our envonment: no. Feasible where time runs a million times faster: sure thing.

Another, more recent, story where this happens is Crystal Nights by Greg Egan, this time in a simulated world in a supercomputer. Besides time running faster, they were set up to be able to evolve rapidly as an ultimate genetic algorithm implementation. The problem they were set was to produce general intelligence with a skill to create technology, and the human experimentors intervened with this goal in mind.

And your plot also reminds me of Microcosmic God by Theadore Stergeon. In 1941 it was handwaved rather than being hard science, but it has the human inventor guiding the life to develop intelligence and then technology.


Smaller creatures can be 'faster'. Neurons have to travel a shorter distance. Hearts tend to beat faster. So they could totally life faster and probably develop faster. However I don't think it would come anywhere near mere hours. That is totally unrealistic. However it can still be a compelling story I'd read.

Also I doubt their muskets no matter the numbers could stop any military in the last century. Even without using armor like tanks a rifle round is like an artillery shell.


In the comments, I asked about the physics, and it was pointed out that the physics isn't such a big issue. The next point to note is that every civilization has this pattern. Every civilization alive has somehow grown its way out of every problem it has faced. Every civilization that died had somehow grown its way out of every problem except one. So the story is quite universal.

This universality makes the story really more one of "could such a small species fend off a large intelligent adversary?" The usual advantage of being large is that we have more resources, so we should be able to, say, raze the entire garden to plasma for a few minutes, which would eradicate any pesky creatures who depend on a structure greater than a randomly careening nucleus. However, with the physics handwaving involved, its not immediately clear whether the larger beings actually have such a physical advantage. So it's really a question of a race that has control over small timeframes vs. a race that has control over big time frames.

The interesting logical conclusion is that the race that has control over small frames wins iff it also has control over the long time frames, making it a superior race all around. Nature has found that "growth" is a very powerful tool for accomplishing such wins, so its a good match. If the smaller race has a more solid long term survival plan than the big race was, it will simply wait the big race out. The big race can't play the same game in reverse. It can't assume that because a nuclear explosion is "a blink of an eye" for us, that the small race can't respond while the explosion is happening.

The real question would come about in terms of interaction. How do they interact? To develop thousands of years of culture in a few minutes clearly calls for the species to move and think and speak that fast. To them, the loud "They could be dangerous! Kill them all" would have taken as long to come out of the general's mouth as, say, the time it's taken us to collect scientific observations on global warming (which, ironically, provides the same exact message). I would not expect any real meaningful interaction between them until the small culture got really advanced.

An interesting twist would be to have a trigger which causes the small fast race to slow down for a moment so they could interact with us (interact via talking or firing weapons, either way). In such a case, I would expect the first civilization to master the trigger to that mindbogglingly powerful ability to win.


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