What If Humanity Was A Type V-minus Civilization? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
Welcome to the Kardashev Scale... in reverse! Join us... and explore!

The Kardashev Scale isn't the only way to rank advanced civilizations! In this video, we take a closer look at John D. Barrow's system for Microdimensional Mastery... and we ask, what if humans were a Type V-minus society? Get ready to explore the subatomic world... it's a weird, weird place!

What If Humanity Was a Type V-minus Civilization?

In science and technology right now, change is in the air. We’re looking at the world in a different way, and quantum physics is fast becoming modern life’s most exciting field of study. So much so that when scientists today consider how to advance humankind… they think subatomically. What will the future look like? The answer, it seems, can be found in the invisible world of the infinitely small.

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; what if humanity was a Type Five-minus civilization?

The Kardashev Scale has long been held as the foremost method for measuring societal advancement. Kardashev Type One masters all of the energy of its home planet. For Type Two, it’s the energy of its home star system. For Type Three, it’s of its home galaxy, and so on. But, thanks to the theoretical physicist John D. Barrow, there is another way of approaching the problem.

In his own work, Barrow uniquely reversed the Kardashev Scale into a new system; one that strives for what he called Microdimensional Mastery. In Barrow’s scale, rather than expanding civilizations and ever-increasing units to measure them by (as per Kardashev) success instead comes from mastering increasingly small aspects of reality.

At the start of Barrow’s list is Type One-minus, which is any civilization able to master anything their own size or bigger. So, anything that’s visible, like towns, cities, buildings, rocks or sand. Then comes Type Two-minus, which relates to anything that can manipulate its own biology, including for organ transplants and gene therapy. And Type Three-minus is able to build new materials out of raw ones, by manipulating molecular bonds. The making of plastics is an example of this.

So, it’s so far so good for humankind. We can pretty much do everything on Barrow’s scale up until this point. With Type Four-minus we begin to enter into the unknown, though, as the main requisite for this civilization type is that they’ve mastered nanotechnology. Today’s tech news is awash with headlines about nanotechnology, yes, but we’re still far from having complete control over it. In fact, it’s a technology sector still very much in its infancy. We took a closer look at this particular level of the Barrow Scale in another video, so check that out after this!

But next comes the main focus of today’s question; Type Five-minus. According to Barrow, a civilization this advanced would be capable of fully manipulating and rearranging an atomic nucleus. They will have zoomed into reality so closely, that even the most fundamental building blocks of it are at their mercy. So, what would it mean if we could do that?

Your first thought might be, “Hang on a minute. Atomic… nucleus… manipulating… haven’t we already done that?”. And, to some extent, we have. The manufacture of atomic weapons has clearly, perhaps irreversibly changed what it’s like to live in this world… and how did we get there? By splitting the atom. By getting to grips with nuclear fission, to produce enormous explosions. A Type Five-minus civilization has more to it than city-levelling superweapons, though. Where with A-bombs it’s essentially about the amount of energy that’s released when an atom is cut open, and the devastating effects thereafter, there’s no such threat with Type Five-minus. Or, not necessarily, at least. And that’s because even at this infinitesimal, subatomic level of smallness, they are in complete control. Yes, they could trigger literally any type of explosion at any moment they wanted to… but they’re also highly advanced beings, so perhaps they wouldn’t be doing that.

Consider that every atom is made up of a combination of protons, neutrons and electrons. The way these are assembled dictates what the atom is, and therefore what it can be used for (and combined with) in our world. Hydrogen, Helium, Lead, Oxygen… they all have their own, unique atomic structure. And when these (and all other atoms) bond together, they form, well, everything. Skyscrapers, spaceships, oceans, forests, our own human bodies… it’s all the result of how various atoms are arranged. For a Type Five-minus, however, all of that is kind of irrelevant to how they would live their lives.

At any time, a Type Five-minus being would be able to precisely change the atoms around them. So, we can quickly see how the applications of this would be limitless. Imagine that you’re trapped somewhere and you’re running out of oxygen… for standard human beings it’s a potential death sentence. But not for a Type Five-minus. They would simply redistribute the atomic nuclei that were at their disposal until, fortunately for all concerned, there is enough oxygen to breathe again. For as long as there are nucleons - i.e., protons and neutrons - of some description near at hand, a Type Five-minus can engineer the atoms they need. In fact, in the previous scenario, they’d feasibly have a choice. Producing oxygen atoms to renourish the body would be one solution; but rearranging their bodies so that they didn’t require oxygen in the first place could be another. Although, on paper, it does seem as though it would be the harder option of the two.

With control over every single atom, and therefore every single molecule, and therefore every single solid, liquid, gas, material of any kind… a Type Five-minus would have incredible power, from our perspective. As in shapeshifting, produce-stuff-out-of-thin-air superpowers. They’d be able to walk on water because they’d know how to change the atoms of the water (or of their own feet) to make it so. They’d be able to turn water into wine because, ultimately, the difference between the two is in how they’re subatomically put together. They’d be able to produce pure gold out of seemingly nothing, just for the thrill of it. Clarke’s famous third law says “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, and that’s exactly the situation we’d have here. If a modern human were to meet a Type Five-minus being, then their abilities would translate as magic in our eyes.

But would there be any wider consequences in an alternate reality where humanity is a civilization this advanced? There’s no doubt that Microdimensional Mastery to this level would have to be controlled… in the sense that it couldn’t just be everybody doing what they liked, when they liked. Turning a loaf of bread into a stash of diamonds is all well and good, but where does it end? And how quickly before it becomes dangerous? After all, life is predominantly carbon based. So, what would happen if, for example, we began messing with carbon atoms? Multiplying, rearranging or deleting them at will.

It might be argued that, for this reason, we could claim with some confidence that there aren’t any Type Five-minus civilizations in the universe at present, because the natural world from our point of view seemingly obeys a number of rules. No one, it appears, is rewriting the laws of our reality whenever they feel like it - a feat that would be possible for a Type Five-minus.

It might also be argued that if any civilization were to reach Type Five-minus, they’d inevitably have to do so as a collective - perhaps through a hive mind-like setup - or even as just one individual. The powers that they would have would be so all-encompassing, that everything else in existence would be inescapably below them. Even for a Type Four-minus society which, among other things, would employ a theoretical device known as a molecular assembler to manipulate materials above the atomic level… those guys would still be completely at the mercy of Type Five. And that’s because their (by comparison primitive) assembler could only ever work based on the molecules put into it… which would only ever be dictated by the atoms that make them up… which would always be determined by a Type Five-minus.

And yet John Barrow’s scale of Microdimensional Mastery does have two even higher levels! Type Six-minus, and Type Omega-minus… at which point you’re also in complete control of time. Which, considering the scope of abilities possible that we’ve already seen at Type Five, is pretty mind-blowing!

But, what’s your verdict? Will humankind ever reach these kinds of levels? And if we were Type Five-minus, what would you do with all those extra powers? Fans of Barrow’s inverted Kardashev Scale often highlight a pleasing symmetry between the two systems, because the further along you get with Barrow the more feasible it becomes to achieve the goals that Kardashev set out. Master something as small as the atoms around you, and suddenly bigger things like space travel become more possible. And megastructures. And perhaps even faster-than-light speed.

It all depends on how far you can zoom in on reality, and on how firm a grip you can gain over it. Theoretically, it’s possible to infinitely change almost everything that exists. And that’s what could happen if humanity were a Type Five-minus civilization.