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Big History and the Future of Humanity


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Table of Contents

List of Figures viii List of Text Boxes x Preface and Acknowledgments xi A Short Time Line of Big History xx Chapter One Introduction to Big History 1 Introduction 1 Studying the Past 2 A Very Short History of Academic History 12 A Short History of Big History 18 A Historical Theory of Everything? 29 Chapter Two General Approach 42 Introduction 42 Matter and Energy 45 Complexity 48 Energy Flows and the Emergence of Complexity 54 The Goldilocks Principle 63 Chapter Three Cosmic Evolution: The Emergence of Simple Forms of Complexity 74 Introduction 74 The Big Bang: No Complexity 75 Recent Issues Concerning the Big Bang Scenario 77 The Radiation Era: The Emergence of Complexity at the Smallest Scales 80 The Matter Era: The Emergence of Complexity at Atomic and Molecular Scales 86 Galaxy Formation: The Emergence of Complexity at Larger Scales 89 The Emergence of Stars 95 Stars as Nuclear Forges 100 Chapter Four Our Cosmic Neighborhood: The Emergence of Greater Complexity 107 Introduction 107 The Galactic Habitable Zone 110 The Emergence of Our Cosmic Neighborhood 111 The Solar System Habitable Zone 116 Major Characteristics of Earth 118 Early Inner Planetary History 122 Early Earth History 125 Life Is Very Special 126 The Emergence of Life 130 Chapter Five Life on Earth: The Widening Range of Complexity 140 Life, Energy and Complexity 140 Planetary Energy Flows and Life 147 The Gaia Hypothesis 149 The Emergence of Energy Harvesting from Outside 153 The Emergence of the Biological Food Web 156 The Emergence of Multicellular Organisms 160 The Emergence of Brains and Consciousness 162 The Increase and Expansion of Biological Complexity 166 Conquest of the Land 168 Further Increasing Complexity 170 Chapter Six Early Human History: The Emergence of the Greatest Known Complexity 179 Introduction 179 What Makes Humans Different 180 Energy and Complexity 183 The Emergence of Early Humans 185 Improving Social Coordination 188 Tool Making and Brain Growth 189 Brains and Intestines 193 Fire Control 194 Migration 197 The Rise of Modern Humans 200 Early Religion 205 Chapter Seven Recent Human History: The Development of the Greatest Known Complexity 214 Introduction 214 The Agrarian Revolution 220 The Developing Agrarian Regime 229 Social Effects of the Agrarian Revolution 232 The Emergence of Agrarian Religions 234 Increasing Agricultural Complexity and Declining Untamed Complexity 235 Early State Formation 240 The Emergence of Big States 245 The Emergence of Moral Religions 247 Energy and Complexity in State Societies 251 The First Wave of Globalization 256 Industrialization: The Second Wave of Globalization 264 Informatization: The Third Wave of Globalization 271 Energy, Complexity and Goldilocks Circumstances 276 Chapter Eight Facing the Future 295 Introduction 295 A Very Short Overview of the Long Future of the Universe 299 The Future of Earth and Life 300 The Future of Humanity 301 The Availability of Matter and Energy 304 Exhaustion of Critical Resources and Growing Entropy 309 Will Humans Migrate to Other Planets? 311 Final Words 313 Index 318

About the Author

Fred Spier is Senior Lecturer in Big History at the University of Amsterdam. He also teaches big history at the Eindhoven University of Technology and Amsterdam University College. He is the author of The Structure of Big History: From the Big Bang until Today (1996) and a founding member and President of the International Big History Association.

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