Big History

"Big History assembles accounts of the past from many different disciplines into a single, coherent account of the past."  From What is Big History?, Lecture 1, The Great Courses*

The past refers to the last 13 billion years!  Several months ago, I watched Professor David Christian's TED Talk on The Big History and then I listened to Bill Gates speak of the importance for young people to engage in such a course.  A group of us decided to invest in the 48 thirty minute DVDs and listen to the lectures together, over dinner, wine and lively conversation.  For me it is a wonderful, perhaps life changing, time.  We are not yet halfway through the series but each of us is finding new meaning, new understanding. We are seeing patterns that we can not see from a close up, near term perspective. 

In a nutshell, Christian speaks of eight thresholds beginning with the Big Bang and continuing through today.  Each threshold is an extraordinary  increase in complexity, and by its nature, fragile.  Threshold five brings life to our planet.  Threshold 6, 7, and 8 include human history. We are very recent. 

Humans appear as the 7th threshold, the Paleolithic Era. Christian's working theory is that what makes us human is our unique form of adaptation "collective learning".  All living beings adapt and change but it is very slow often over millienum.  Collective learning enables us to combine, store and reuse information. 

Those of you who know me know that I like to find patterns.  I attempt to work and see at a meta level. If you go to our library, you will find books that help me see and seek patterns.  Patterns are always prevelant in my design and facilitation. 

The following two quotes are magnificent in helping me see patterns from the past unfolding today. 

"There was neither non-existence nor existence then." What we are talking about is a sort of state in which there is not quite nothing, but there's not quite something: there's "sort of a potential". --- Rigveda, the basic Hindu scriptures.

I think of paradigm shifts.  The old is crumbling, disolving; the new is forming, solidifying. We are approaching our 9th threshold and a sort of potential.  We are in a fragile moment in history.

"The evolution of multi-cellular organisms was a complex process. For such organisms to work, billions of cells had to cooperate and communicate with great precision.  It was also necessary for them to be able to communicate with each other in some way, and for each cell to know its place and role in he functioning of the organism as a whole.  These are staggering organizational challenges. However, such challenges were not entirely unprecedented, for evolution can involve cooperation as well as competition. In fact, simpler forms of cooperation that do not count as multi-cellularity had already evolved.  Even eukaryotes formed through symbiosis between distinct types of prokaryotes."

This seems to me to be the same pattern we must repeat today, but on a higher order.  Is this not our challenge today ... for billions of people to learn to cooperate and communicate with great precision? 

Is this not our next collective learning adaptation? Today's mantra for collaboration and cooperation are not fads. It is more than a current trend.  When we take a long now approach, we can see that we are being shown the easiest, most natural route to crossing Threshold 8 successfully. 

Time and work is precious today.  If you are reading this you are probably one of the people building the scafolding for the next threshold.  There always seems to be more work than we could possibly do. Still I invite you to find some friends and enroll in an awesome experience.  You can rent the course from many libraries and The Learning Company has sales for more than 80% off.  I got my set for $90, a very good investment.  And, let's get the kids enrolled. It can be a wonderful family experience!