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It's uncanny how many alien races encountered in Star Trek are at a comparable level of technological development: humans, Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, + numerous other species. The likelihood of all these races independently evolving warp drive within a few thousand years of each other seems improbable.

Are there canonical explanations for this? A few possible answers (which may be supported by canon, I don't know):

  • Advanced species share or involuntarily leak their technology with low-tech species.
  • Advanced species "uplift" less evolved species as the Dominion did.
  • Low-tech species are annihilated or absorbed into the empires/federations of expanding high-tech warp capable species. This continues until two or more advanced civilizations at the same military tech level eventually bump into each other.
  • Most civilizations tend to stagnate once they hit a tech level say a few hundred or thousand years beyond our own.
  • Many intelligent species either go extinct (eg, the Tkon and Iconian Empires) or evolve to a higher state of being (eg, the Zalkonians) soon after developing warp technology and leave our plane of existence or become aloof to mundane matters. This would conveniently clear out all civilizations that had evolved billions of years in the past up through several thousand years ago, and also explain the many god-like entities throughout the Galaxy.

Any other thoughts?

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    Not canonical, but cultural evolution, like biological evolution, can be convergent if similar environmental factors exist. Why are there so many bipedal and quadrupedal species on earth but no tripedal ones? Because there are few if any efficient tripedal body plans. Likewise, warp drive may be the most simple/obvious way to travel interstellar distances, hence why many species develop warp technology. There's also an extreme selection bias in play since non-space-faring species aren't going to be a major species in the galaxy. – Lèse majesté Nov 4 '13 at 16:50
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    @Lèsemajesté - Actually this is canonical. Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development. Basically, given similar conditions, life forms, societies, and technology will tend to develop along similar lines. – Compro01 Nov 4 '13 at 19:20
  • This very thing, numerous civilization existing in a state of rough technological parity, has struck me before as the least likely aspect of the ST universe. Just here on Earth, we see that certain events have accelerated or retarded our development. The idea that other civilizations, even starting out roughly when we did, would end up where we are, is vanishingly slim. – Emsley Wyatt May 15 '18 at 3:39
  • It is also uncanny how so many nations on Earth have comparable levels of technology. – Xantec Jun 1 '18 at 16:54
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    @Xantec Right, but it's not as shocking that a single intelligent species (humans) sharing the same planet have developed at approximately the pace. Modern Homo sapiens evolved between 100,000-200,000 years ago & there's been a lot of information & technology sharing between human cultures on Earth over the centuries. It's a another matter when you have multiple pre-warp species that are completely isolated from each other co-evolving at roughly the same pace over 4.5 billion years on different worlds. – RobertF Jun 1 '18 at 17:06
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As sort-of revealed in Voyager, this is largely a quirk of the parts of the Alpha/Beta quadrants that we're used to seeing.

Technology in Voyager, over in the Delta quadrant, varied drastically from species to species:

  • Kes's people barely had any understanding of the outside world
  • The Kazon stole everything, including their ships
  • The Vidiians were extremely advanced in the biological sciences, not quite as much in others
  • Some species had artificial lifeforms as an everyday thing (VOY 4x05, Revulsion), while others had never heard of it before (and subsequently pushed Federation technology further than the Federation ever intentionally did!)
  • None of the species encountered (that I recall) had replicators, although some did have transporters as Voyager got closer to home (like the Hirogen)

The Gamma Quadrant, explored in Deep Space Nine, had similar gaps that were explored a bit before the conflict with the Dominion began:

  • The hunters after Tosk had some sort of phaser-absorbing glove (DS9 1x06, Captive Pursuit)
  • The Wadi have a bizarre offshoot of transporter/holodeck technology never seen before or since (DS9 1x10, Move Along Home)
  • The Skrreeans were largely agricultural (DS9 2x10, Sanctuary), if I recall correctly

There is one thing unique to the Alpha and Beta quadrants that the others do not share, that would definitely account for at least some of the technological similarity: The Ferengi, who will sell to anyone for the right price. (paraphrased from Odo, I believe, in an episode of Deep Space Nine)


Additionally, there have been at least two seedings of humanoid life that might help explain why the gap is more on the order of thousands of years, rather than millions:

(And I believe there was one other mentioned/hinted at, but I cannot recall at the moment)

  • "Additionally, there have been at least two seedings of humanoid life that might help explain why the gap is more on the order of thousands of years, rather than millions." This makes some sense - after previous super-tech civilizations (Slavers, Tkon, Iconians) perished the clock was reset. – RobertF Nov 4 '13 at 17:42
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    Thanks for the research on species encountered by Voyager - the Ferengi in the Alpha & Beta quadrants (+ possibly the Yridians, information traders) are definitely a major player in leveling the field. – RobertF Nov 4 '13 at 17:49
  • Also, there's Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development, if you generalize it to technology. This would seem to be a general underpinning of the prime directive. The idea that every sentient species, if they survive long enough, will eventually develop warp drive. – Compro01 Nov 4 '13 at 19:26
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    In the Alpha/Beta quadrant Federation also for sure did their share to spread technology. – Bobby Nov 5 '13 at 21:43
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As much as I hate being That Guy...

This isn't an issue of canon so much as the reality of producing a dramatic science-fiction television series. Writers have to create drama, and there isn't much drama when antagonists are extremely mismatched (the Borg were the exception that proves the rule; they were scary precisely because they could easily swat Starfleet). So, everybody uses warp drive (or something similar), everybody's weapons are roughly equivalent in power, everybody uses roughly equivalent tactics, etc., because otherwise one side would just blow the other up before the end of the first act. That, or the technologically superior side would have to be Pakleds.

As izkata points out, there are some canon elements that can be used to rationalize all this, but ultimately it comes down to the limitations of the medium. This is why you see so few non-humanoid aliens, it's why everyone speaks English, und so weiter.

  • Very true...of course the Dominion was a technologically superior foe that required the Federation teaming up with the Klingons & Romulans AND help from the wormhole aliens in order to defeat. But you're right, if an alien race with 10 million years of technological progress under its belt swept through the Galaxy, it'd be curtains. Although somehow I think the Q Continuum or other beings would intervene. After all, Q wouldn't want someone else playing in his sandbox. :) – RobertF Nov 5 '13 at 4:35
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  • While a thousand years is a blink of an eye in terms of biological evolution, it may be an eternity in terms of technological development. Just consider the past 100 years of our own history. So I don't think that the likelihood of multiple species developing warp technology within a few thousand years of each other is that small.
  • Star Trek stories are told from the Federation's point of view. And the Federation has the prime directive, which forbids it even from revealing its existence to pre-warp civilizations. That is why the vast majority of the Federation's interactions are with other warp-capable species.
  • We do see encounters with vastly more advanced species, like the Q, the Caretaker, or the Traveler.
  • "While a thousand years is a blink of an eye in terms of biological evolution, it may be an eternity in terms of technological development." Right, but going by that logic a 100,000 or 1 million year or 1 billion year old civilization would be able to effortlessly squash the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, etc. with its advanced weapons. Where are all these civilizations? There has to be a mechanism to remove alien races from the picture if they become too advanced. – RobertF Nov 4 '13 at 17:34
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    "We do see encounters with vastly more advanced species, like the Q, the Caretaker, or the Traveler." This seems to be the best answer to the above dilemma. – RobertF Nov 4 '13 at 17:40
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I always thought that because it was because of the stipulation of the Prime Directive that no federation ship is to interfere with a civilization that has not yet discovered Warp Technology. That is the only reasons Vulcans came to earth in the first place. The reasoning in tech is pretty loosely based on the principle that if they are advanced enough to travel space, they must in turn have state of the art technology. In this case, what we are supposed to see on screen is the writers idea of the most advanced technology for every species. What we really see is the same tech with everyone.

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I would suggest you to watch episode 20 of the 6th Season of Star Trek: The Next Generation; I believe its called "The Chase".

In that episode it is explained that Humans, Cardassians, Klingons, Romulans (and Vulcans since they share the same ancestors) and pretty much all other life in Alpha and Beta Quadrants was seeded by the same, now extinct, species who first explored said Quadrants and found them empty. So it is most likely that pretty much everyone is at the same technological age because they were all seeded at same time and their evolution grow at same pace more or less. Also we do see a lot of technologically advanced species like the Borg, Species 8472, Dominion or even more or Godlike like Q, the Traveler and the Caretaker...

But that's just my opinion XD

  • The Chase episode does explain the prevalence of humanoid aliens in Star Trek. The only problem is the ancient humanoids in The Chase episode were at their prime 4.5 billion years ago. It seems unlikely the DNA which they seeded into primordial oceans on separate worlds would evolve into humanoid species with the same tech levels at almost exactly the same time ~4.5 billion years later. – RobertF Oct 20 '15 at 2:50
  • And why not? We don't know what kind of seed was it. Maybe it was design to help them evolve at same time so there wouldn't be total dominion of just one species. Also not all evolved to same tech levels, we do encounter lot of undeveloped species in their industrial or even stone ages trough out of series. There are also many technologically advanced species like people from Aldea in 17th episode of first season "When the Bough Breaks" who are so advanced that they are consider mythical. – Vanja Vasiljevic Oct 21 '15 at 12:11
  • Even taking into account the fact that some species possessed technology thousands of years more advanced than others, that still seems like quite a trick to get the timing of intelligent humanoid life to coincide to a precision of +/- 10,000 years, let's say, after a 4.5 billion years have passed. Genetic drift has to be taken into account, environmental conditions on the seeded planets will differ, etc. That's a lot of variables to code into DNA. – RobertF Oct 21 '15 at 14:07
  • I think more plausibly the Slavers, Tkon, Iconians, and Sargon's race evolved from the progenitor's DNA at different times during the past 4.5 billion years, and humanity then evolved from Sargon's race of humanoid aliens which colonized the Galaxy ~600,000 years ago. – RobertF Oct 21 '15 at 14:07
  • It still doesn't explain how did 4 different species had part of DNA and when all pars come together you get holographic recording. Unless Sargon's had whole DNA in their own systems and deiced to split it and share it between 4 races that would become dominant in Quadrant in 600,000 years. I also cant exclude fact that Q had his fingers in whole situation since he helped Picard save human race in series finale. – Vanja Vasiljevic Oct 21 '15 at 14:25
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The best in universe explanation for races is the Preservers (The Paradise Syndrome; TOS)

"They passed through the galaxy rescuing primitive cultures which were in danger of extinction and seeding them, so to speak, where they could live and grow."

If the Preservers were a Type III civilization on the Kardashev scale (We see the remnants of a Type II in TNG' "Relics") then everybody would have been "primitive" compared to them.

Technology is a little tricker though in TNG's "Booby Trap" (where it is stated the Menthars and Promellians destroyed each other over 1000 years ago) hints that past a certain point tech development slows (Promellian were built to be used for generations)

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