David Christian raised the interesting question many parents will have: what problems and issues will our children be faced with?
He started to elaborate that the Russian economy prior to Brezhnev would collapse if people would stop drinking vodka as its economy depended 40% on this, an interesting thought but not surprising as in the US and even India, it was not sustainable not to sell spirits. I was even more keenly attracted to his story as I taught students in Australia, the place where I also studied science. He began to teach a course on the origin of everything, an ambitious attempt on multi-disciplinary topics in the following order of emergence: cosmology, astrology, chemistry, geology, biology, anthropology and finally history. We see increasing complexity over 40 million years, goldilocks conditions, emergence, thresholds moments. The latter are doorways to something new.
David gave a brilliant overview of how the universe evolved 13.7 billion years ago. He left us literally in the dark as he took us back to the first threshold, the very beginning. I had difficulties to keep up with him on his imaginary time-scale. Hydrogen and helium dominated earth but were replaced largely by the solar energy. Then one-cell organisms appeared. David raced through time to the extinction of the dinosaurs when an asteroid hit earth. Curiously, if that asteroid would have hit earth a few minutes earlier or later, the dinosaurs would have still ruled earth and we human beings would not have appeared.
Luckily for us, though, evolution took a leap and collective learning took over and with it agricultural civilisations. The spooky thing was to see how, in an amazingly short time, human consumption of energy took off: about a 100 times of what we need. Hence we have such an impact on our environment.
What will be the next threshold? Will it collapse or will we be able to sustain ourselves?
David, with the support of Bill Gates, is putting together a website to teach students this Big History course to students worldwide and to create a framework across multidisciplinary disciplines with the hope to inspire students throughout the world and prepare them for the challenges in the 21st century. I will definitely introduce my kids to the site when it will be launched officially next year.
By Alfred Tuinman for Thinkworks.in