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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Funeral for a Civilized Species: A Science Fiction Story

The grim group of extraterrestrial visitors convened amidst the ruins of the greatest city of the intelligent species that had now become extinct. A ceremony was held to mark the end of an unsuccessful experiment of evolution. The ceremony was held in front of the rusting ruins of a pyramid constructed by the race that had perished.

When in the course of cosmic events, a civilized species fails its planetary test, and becomes completely extinct,” said the ceremony leader solemnly, “it is fitting that we gather together to mourn this great biological tragedy, and examine why the light of civilization was so sadly extinguished.”

The visitors had come from five different planets to participate in the funeral ritual, and to finalize their historical records on the civilized race that had perished. The visitors were all specialists in galactic history and the evolution of intelligent races. Some had limbs of metal and plastic; some had huge eyes and shiny skin; others had long, curved necks and triangular ears.

After the ceremonial ritual was completed, the visitors gathered together for a historical discussion of the tragedy.

So let me ask for your expert assessments,” said the event leader. “What was the main reason why this civilized race finally became extinct?"

It is puzzling,” said one of the visitors. “Here was a race with every opportunity for success. They had this glorious little blue-green planet with such large, lovely oceans. Their planet was the right distance from the sun. They had an abundance of mineral resources. How could they have squandered such a golden chance?”

I think the main reason for their demise was that they never were able to rise above their primitive jungle instincts for violence,” said another visitor. “They always loved war, and never realized that as a race's technology grows more and more advanced, war must be abolished if a civilized race is to survive.”

I think the main reason for their ruin was environmental,” said another visitor. “They kept burning fossil fuels without restraint. It caused their planet to get hotter and hotter. They were so short-sighted, they couldn't see they were burying themselves in the long run.”

They never learned to conserve,” said another visitor. “They had a great inheritance of fossil fuels, but they kept using it up at ever-more profligate rates of consumption. When their fossil fuels started to run out, they weren't prepared. They started fighting with each other more and more over their dwindling resources.”

Part of the problem was political and economic,” said another visitor. “They let their wealth get concentrated in the hands of a few. It helped to bring about an utter collapse of their economy, which played a large part in their downfall.”

They put too much faith in technology,” said another visitor. “They always thought there would be some new invention that would save them. But they had to save themselves, by changing their thinking and habits. They could never do that.”

It was partially their religion,” said the event leader. “As their problems got worse and worse, they always thought that the deity of their religion would intervene and save them from doom. They failed to realize that it was their duty and responsibility to save themselves from doom.”

The relevant facts were gathered, and a historical report was issued that summarized the reasons for the extinction of the once promising species. Finally the group decided to clear away almost all the ruins of the vanished civilization. Self-reproducing robots were brought in to do the job. The visitors decided that the planet would be restored almost entirely to its natural state.

It was decided there would be two historical ruins that would be preserved. The sites that were chosen were made of solid stone, and believed to be places that could last for thousands of years, without being maintained. At both of the sites, a museum was constructed, and was filled with writings, artistic works, and historical records of the vanished civilized species. The museums were not designed for anyone still left on the planet, for all of the original civilized inhabitants were dead. The museums were designed for any interplanetary visitors who might visit the planet, or any civilized race that might evolve on the planet in the distant future.

Finally the visitors were all done with their work, and it was time for them all to leave, to return to the planets they called home in other solar systems. The visitors from one planet gathered together in their spaceship, getting ready for blast-off. One of the visitors made a final comment about the sad extinction of the vanished race that had lived on the planet they were about to leave.

Our very distant ancestors many thousands of years ago faced problems similar to those which this vanished race faced,” said the visitor. “But our ancestors triumphed over such challenges. If the dice of history had rolled differently long, long ago, our ancestors might have met the dismal fate of this extinct race. How different things would have been then! There never would have been ten thousand far-flung interstellar settlements on a thousand planets in a hundred solar systems, which all were descended from that peerless source of galactic colonization, that great beacon of cosmic culture, the great mother planet known as planet Earth.”