Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dave Christian's 'Big History' of the Universe

As a highly complex, highly sophisticated and highly fragile species, says world historian David Christian in a recent talk, it is important for us to realize the story of the universe, its complexity and our own fragility.

Despite the second law of thermodynamics (which says systems always move from a state of order to disorder, and not otherwise), "the Universe can create complexity, but with great difficulty," Christian observes. "In pockets there appear . . .  'Goldilocks conditions" - not too hot, not too cold, just right for the creation of complexity - and slightly more complex things appear. And where you have slightly more complex things," he observes, "you can get slightly more complex things. And in this way complexity builds, stage by stage."

"Each stage, Christian notes, "is magical because it creates the impression of something utterly new appearing almost out of nowhere in the universe. We refer to these moments in 'Big History' as 'threshold moments.' And at each 'threshold' the going gets tougher. The complex things get more fragile, more vulnerable; the 'Goldilocks conditions' get more stringent, and it is more difficult to create complexity."

"We, as extremely complex creatures," says Christian," desperately need to know this story of how the universe creates complexity despite the Second Law, and why complexity means vulnerability and fragility."

Christian then explains the entire "Big History" of the universe in under fifteen minutes in an inspiring talk that puts together everything you ever learned in high school science in one big picture that explains both how we came to be here at this moment in time - and how vulnerable we are due to our complexity and our fragility at this, our own 'threshold' moment in history.

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