Origin Story : A Big History of Everything - Christian, David

Origin Story : A Big History of Everything

David Christian

Yayınevi: Penguin

Yayın tarihi: 05/2019

ISBN: 9780141983028

İngilizce | 368 Sayfa | 12,90 x 19,80 x 2,10 cm.

Tür: Tarih Çalışmaları

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If you enjoy traditional history in terms of investigation, analysis, and debate about specific events and people, you will likely not be satisfied by David Christian’s 2018 work, “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything”.

As the author, a historian with extensive teaching credentials at Macquarie University in Sydney, University of Vermont, San Diego State University, to name some, has pointed out: “… in a globally connected world, there are so many local origin stories competing for people’s trust and attention that they get in one another’s way.”

This is the impetus for Christian to write a “big history” from a much broader perspective of human experience and coincidently to co-found with Bill Gates of Microsoft origin, the Big History Project, a free online syllabus about this topic.

The premise of “Origin Story” is there is a relentless struggle between basic components of the universe: evolution of more complex structures and entropy, the general tendency of matter and energy to return to a simple, disorderly state. And humans are part of this process.

Presumably our capacity for collective learning with an evolved emphasis on precise copying and communication is a unique trait distinct from other living forms. Consequently, we are more self-aware and able to accept responsibility for our impact on the biosphere, for however long we will experience big life.

The author defines the rise of complexity in terms of ”thresholds”, or events when the flow of recorded or theorized experience gained complexity: birth of the universe; first stars glow; new elements created; our sun and solar systems form; earliest life on earth; earliest form of human species; end of last ice age and earliest signs of farming; fossil fuels revolution. The last and future threshold touches on the sustainability of a world order.

An imaginative twist to putting these thresholds and timeline in perspective is dividing the estimated number of years by 1 billion: the “big bang” was 13 years, 8 months ago, while the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 24 days ago, the Roman and Han empires 1 minute ago and the fossil-fuel revolution 6 seconds ago.

The book is divided into four sections: Cosmos; Biosphere; Us; The Future. The writing is conversational and comfortable to follow while providing a level of detail and terminology without overwhelming technicality.

Christian carefully reminds that several chance occurrences, besides the much-discussed “Goldilocks zone”, created opportunities for life, as we know it, to evolve. Geo-thermal core, plate tectonics, critical balancing between carbon, oxygen and other elements, the evolution of DNA beyond RNA, the role of prokaryotes – all are presented in fascinating detail.

One area the book might have explored more was the evolution of the pre-frontal lobe or cortex in the human brain. This is a more recent development and seems to be a major, if not decisive, distinction between humans and other species and a likely basis for self-awareness and consciousness.

As a complementary material for the first two sections, you might want to check out online NOVA’s “Australia’s the First 4 Billion Years’” four-part series that helps visualize some of Christian’s observations.

For the third section covering the rise and impact of complex human interactions beyond farming and hunting, the author references Samuel Noah Kramer’s 1963 work, “The Sumerians” (if it helps, here's the link to my Amazon review of Kramer’s work: https://www.amazon.com/review/R37UB92YMPN1U3/ref=cm_cr_othr_d_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8).

In the same section he makes several important references to Thomas Picketty’s 2014 seminal work, “Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century”, to underscore the human and social impact of the rapid industrial development (again, if it helps, here's the link to my Amazon review of Piketty’s work: https://www.amazon.com/review/R3QGVI29BM4HI/ref=cm_cr_othr_d_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8 ) .

The last section about the future seems more focused as a response to today’s political and social events while leaving aside some of the potentially more impactful long-range human developments: artificial intelligence, mixed reality and quantum computing.

All told, “Origin Story” offers a refreshing way to see our human experience. It may also make you wonder whether, one way or another, as TS Eliot wrote in his 1925 poem, “The Hollow Men”, it will all come to end “not with a bang but a whimper.”

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