I believe the most important theme is twofold; Science and to paraphrase the Newton quote above: Standing upon the shoulders of giants. One might argue that the two are one in the same, and I would likely agree, but I felt it important to name the two as we can investigate natural history further with an understanding of who played a role in the discoveries that shape the knowledge of today; Who’s shoulders we stand upon.
This essay will examine not only the science but will also touch upon the people and the personalities involved in discovery. An odd group often exemplified by forms of thought that would flabbergast the average person.
As a species we could quite easily have gone on plodding through our existence with not so much as a care for reality or the world around us.
Instead of looking up at the stars and wondering what else could be out there we could’ve focused on the dirt beneath our feet or the cave in which we lived. A fairly simple study of history reveals just how many of us wanted that very thing. How many wanted to silence the curious and visionary voices amongst us. How fervently our discoveries have been denied and on more than one occasion violently rebelled against.
This unit, for me at least, has been a story about the triumph of Human curiosity. Of our courage to ask hard questions – and courage to accept the answers we find.
It is the product of science and the scientific method. The replacement of ‘common sense’ with common scepticism.
It has revealed to us our history, not only as a species but as life in an ever expanding cosmos that seems ill equipped to support life. Where we came from and where we might be going.
I would argue that Humans are naturally curious. We have to be. Without it we’d have never risen to the heights we find ourselves climbing today. I doubt that we’d even have survived were it not for our insatiable curiosity. It is an evolutionary trait that our species has taken and turned into all but absolute dominance of our home world.
This way of thinking has existed in several forms for thousands of years. From ibn al-Ḥasan the Arabic astronomer and polymath a thousand years ago to the likes of Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Without the almost countless numbers of curious Humans who have worked to further our understanding of reality this unit simply would not exist. Replaced perhaps by some dogmatic teaching of whichever local superstition held power.
In that respect science is the theme which holds the greatest importance for a unit dedicated not only to the history of our struggles but the history of the universe we live in.
Big History began with a week of learning about the beginning - the very beginning. Not the rise of Humans from the cave, or the creation of the first modern nations.
But the big bang – an almost jovially named event responsible for the existence of everything.
The unit guided us through the immense time scale of cosmology. 13.798±0.037 billion years of stuff happening - not bad for a 13 week course.
We covered the quantum mechanics of the early universe. How dense plasma cooled and eventually became the first matter in the cosmos leading to the first stars and planets.
We continued on through the formation of the first galaxies and eventually the condensation and accretion of the matter that led to Earth, and indeed us.
Without science none of these things could be taught or likely even imagined.
Some might argue that threshold events like the big bang are of more importance to this unit, after all we couldn’t study science without existing in the first place. However we could’ve gone on existing without knowledge of the big bang. Happy little Humans, blissfully unaware of just how genuinely flabbergasting reality is to anyone with the right tools and a keen mind.
After all science is but a tool. A means of logically and critically…