Average Life of a Civilization

I have mentioned in a few different posts about how much time our civilization has left. Many great minds like Hawking have stated that we only have about 100 years left before our current civilization will collapse. I do not think he gave a specific reason as to why this would happen, but if you think about it you could pick a variety of reasons for this to happen. Population explosion, climate change, economic collapse, take your pick. It could very well be one, two, or all of the above and more that could potentially cause a total or partial collapse of society.

I got to thinking about civilizations throughout history and wanted to see how long on average certain Empires or civilizations have lasted in the past. You have to take this with a grain of salt because I am by no means an expert and have done only a brief amount of research on this topic. I found that the average ancient civilization lasted for about 350-400 years, and by ancient I mean before the 1300’s. Rome was above average at about 600 depending on dates and what not. I know it is hard to compare those ancient civilizations to a modern technologically advanced civilization that we currently live in.

I would argue that the British Empire is the most recent “modern” empire to see a decline and “collapse.” I put that in quotes because I do not consider the British Empire as collapsed, but simply carrying no significance or the same power that is use to. Basically the decolonization that happened after WWII diminished the power of the British Empire. I found that most scholars believe the empire lasted from 1500’s to 1997, so again about 500 years, slightly above average. Again the idea of the empire was no more, but as far as the civilization collapsing, that is not the case.

I would argue that the current modern civilization started with the invention of the printing press around 1450. Upon writing this I did not realize it was that long ago although, I believe that invention changed the civilization and is one of the greatest technological inventions of all time. However, I would like to change my statement to around the industrial revolution, 1760’s. I would say that at that point, we, as a civilization, began making giant technological leaps forward. So if you follow that train of thought our current civilization is going on about 250 years. Using that logic Hawking’s predictions do not look so dire, as another 100 years puts us right at the 350-400 average of earlier civilizations.

I would like to think we have longer than that and honestly I think just based on our technology I would say that we do. But that does not meant that some unforeseen circumstance could or could not happen in the next 50 years or so that could make that prediction a reality. The biggest unknown we are battling now is climate change, at least that is what I would guess. I think it would be naive to say that it is not happening, the real question is will that accelerate the 100 year timeline? If I were a betting man I would have to think that that aspect will play a large role in our civilization living beyond the next 100 years.



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