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Big History and the Future of Humanity

  • Provides an accessible and original overview of the entire sweep of history that places human history within the context of the history of life, the Earth, and the universe
  • Offers new insights into the future of humanity by providing a better understanding of the past
  • Features a variety of updates and revisions that include increased coverage of key concepts such as the emergence of human behaviour, the development of value systems, and patterns of complexity in Big History
  • Incorporates a variety of 'little big histories' that aid readers in recognizing how big history concepts can relate to their daily lives
  • Instructor resources from the author will be available online upon publication

By: Fred Spier(Author)


Paperback | Apr 2015 | Edition: 2 | #223660 | ISBN-13: 9781118881729
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NHBS Price: £19.99 $27/€23 approx

About this book

Featuring a variety of updates and revisions, Big History and the Future of Humanity, Second Edition, presents an accessible and original overview of the entire sweep of history from the origins of the universe and origins of life on Earth up to the present day.


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

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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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