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Civilization Before Homo Sapiens?

18 Apr 2018, 14:07 UTC
Civilization Before Homo Sapiens?
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

My doctor is a long-time friend who always stops during my annual physical to ask about what’s going on in the hunt for exoplanets. Last week he surprised me when, after I had described ways of analyzing a transiting planet’s atmosphere, he asked whether planets could give rise to civilizations in different epochs. Why just one, in other words, given that homo sapiens has only been around for several hundred thousand years? Our technological civilization is a very recent, and to this point a short-lived phenomenon. Were there others?
I was startled because Adam Frank (University of Rochester) and Gavin Schmidt (NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies) have recently raised a stir with a paper on what they call the ‘Silurian Hypothesis,’ the name deriving from a Doctor Who TV episode referencing intelligent reptiles called Silurians who come to life when accidentally awakened. As the authors point out in their paper:
We are not however suggesting that intelligent reptiles actually existed in the Silurian age, nor that experimental nuclear physics is liable to wake them from hibernation. Other authors have dealt with this possibility in various incarnations (for instance, Hogan (1977), but it is a rarer theme than we initially ...

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