Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

Synopsis

An introduction to a new way of looking at history, from a perspective that stretches from the beginning of time to the present day, "Maps of Time "is world history on an unprecedented scale. Beginning with the Big Bang, David Christian views the interaction of the natural world with the more recent arrivals in flora and fauna, including human beings.

Cosmology, geology, archeology, and population and environmental studies--all figure in David Christian's account, which is an ambitious overview of the emerging field of "Big History." "Maps of Time "opens with the origins of the universe, the stars and the galaxies, the sun and the solar system, including the earth, and conducts readers through the evolution of the planet before human habitation. It surveys the development of human society from the Paleolithic era through the transition to agriculture, the emergence of cities and states, and the birth of the modern, industrial period right up to intimations of possible futures. Sweeping in scope, finely focused in its minute detail, this riveting account of the known world, from the inception of space-time to the prospects of global warming, lays the groundwork for world history--and Big History--true as never before to its name.

Excerpt

Maps of Time unites natural history and human history in a single, grand, and intelligible narrative. This is a great achievement, analogous to the way in which Isaac Newton in the seventeenth century united the heavens and the earth under uniform laws of motion; it is even more closely comparable to Darwin's nineteenth-century achievement of uniting the human species and other forms of life within a single evolutionary process.

The natural history that David Christian deals with in the first chapters of this book is itself radically extended and transformed from the natural history of earlier ages. It starts with the big bang some 13 billion years ago, when, according to twentieth-century cosmologists, the universe we inhabit began to expand and transform itself. Processes thereby inaugurated are still in course, as time and space (perhaps) began, allowing matter and energy to separate from one another and distribute themselves throughout space in different densities and with different rates of energy flows in response to a variety of strong and weak forces. Matter, gathering into local clots under the influence of gravity, became radiant stars, clustered into galaxies. New complexities, new flows of energy arose around such structures. Then, some 4.6 million years ago, around one star, our sun, planet Earth formed and soon became the seat of still more complicated processes, including life in all its forms. Humankind added yet another level of behavior a mere 250,000 years ago, when our use of language and other symbols began to introduce a new capacity for what Christian calls “collective learning.” This in turn made human societies uniquely capable of concerting common effort so as to alter and sporadically expand widely varying niches in the ecosystem around each of them and, by now, surround us all in the single, global system.

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