Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Epochs in the big picture

If you haven't thought about the universe today - now would be a good time.  It may be the only time you really have.  However we tend to measure things, we humans tend to only think in terms of our personal scale.  We measure our lives in birthdays (an unassuming point where a crowded planet completes an almost circular orbit about a yellow star).  But what are the true delineating points in the history of the universe?

One would most certainly have to be the Big Bang!  I mean - come-on, the point at which nothingness turns into somethingness - that's the start of something.  But measuring from that point 13.7 billion years ago, what's the next important event?

  • 13.7 billion years ago:  Big Bang!
  • Just 380,000 years later the atoms of Hyrdogen & Helium start to form.
  • Just 200 million years later stars begin to form.

These are just the first 3 Thresholds of Increasing Complexity (David Christian, Big History Project).  They have happened at the very beginning of time.  Rather quickly on a time line linear scale.  Then for quite a long time 9 - 10 billion years nothing quite so miraculous happened on the complexity increasing threshold event time line.  Until the formation of planets (4.7 billion years ago).  Not long after planets we get Life on Earth (3.8 Billion years ago).  Things are starting to get more interesting.

Interesting things happen at the ends of time.
If we zoom up to the right end of the time line we start to see that complexity increases rather quickly at this end of the scale.  Much like it did at the other end of the time line.  It is the middle that is rather uneventful.

The last 3 thresholds have happened in just the last 100,000 years. Thresholds 6 collective learning, then 7 agriculture, then 8 the modern revolution have just happened.  To compare humans scale to the Epoch scale use the term Stone Age.   We tend to think the Stone Age was a long time ago (2.5 million years).  The Stone Age is the first of the minor epochs used in archaeology, which divides human history into three periods.  It is just a small fraction of time.

The Anthropocene has just started.  A good point in time for that era is when humans started using stored sun energy (oil) to change the environment.  The trend is ever increasing complexity.  While the 2nd law of thermodynamics tells us that the system (universe) should tend toward chaos (higher entropy). What is threshold 9? It should happen any moment now.  Could it be the Ray Kurzweil Singularity event?  The merging of human consciousness with silicon machines.
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