Historians call it the “conquest pattern”, which unfolds in three phases: legalistic measures to provide the invasion with a gloss of justification, a declaration of territorial claims, and the founding of a town to legitimate the declaration. ❧
Category: Big History
🎧 Episode 116 An Educator’s Guide to Systems Thinking: An Interview With Linda Booth Sweeney | Human Current
In this episode, Angie talks with systems educator and award-winning author, Linda Booth Sweeney. Booth Sweeney describes her work as a systems educator and explains why understanding systems is so important. She shares many wonderful examples and stories of patterns (and feedback loops) that show up in everyday life and explains how seeing a pattern is the very first step toward influencing change. Booth Sweeney also talks about her books and why storytelling is such an instrumental tool in her work.
Some awesome ideas hiding in here. Definitely worth a second listen as well as bookmarking some of Sweeney’s books to read in the future. I particularly like the idea of systems thinking for children via storytelling. Some of the ideas here have some overlap with ideas in Big History.
🔖 davidgchristian tweet: We humans have reduced the biomass of life on earth by 50%
We humans have reduced the biomass of life on earth by 50% #bighistory pic.twitter.com/dlDypTlU1l— David Christian (@davidgchristian) October 21, 2018
👓 Sapiens | Adactio
I’ve had this book and his others on my list for quite a while, but I’ve been worried that they may fall short like this. I’ve started his most recent one in the past few weeks prior to it’s release this weekend. Jeremy’s review makes me even more reticent.
Perhaps it’s better to stick with the better sourced materials within the topic of “big history” by David Christian and others?
📺 Learner Identities | YouTube
Human Diversity and Learner Transformation
I really like this video quite a bit. It definitely has an air of Big History to it, or at least Big History on the human scale portion of the timeline. I recognize and have written a bit about one of the smaller infographics from the video, though here it’s far too small to see what it is or what she’s referring to.
Learner identities, Big History, and collective learning also generally remind me about shrinking numbers of languages, which I’ve mentioned before. In teaching and passing on knowledge, we will need to be even far more accomodating about culture and language, or eventually we’ll loose all of the diversity of languages we’ve got today.
In digging around a bit I note that Dr. Kalantzis has some interesting course content available on Coursera that might be worth delving into shortly as well.
Origin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian
"I have long been a fan of David Christian. In Origin Story, he elegantly weaves evidence and insights from many scientific and historical disciplines into a single, accessible historical narrative." --Bill Gates
A captivating history of the universe -- from before the dawn of time through the far reaches of the distant future.
Most historians study the smallest slivers of time, emphasizing specific dates, individuals, and documents. But what would it look like to study the whole of history, from the big bang through the present day -- and even into the remote future? How would looking at the full span of time change the way we perceive the universe, the earth, and our very existence?
These were the questions David Christian set out to answer when he created the field of "Big History," the most exciting new approach to understanding where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. In Origin Story, Christian takes readers on a wild ride through the entire 13.8 billion years we've come to know as "history." By focusing on defining events (thresholds), major trends, and profound questions about our origins, Christian exposes the hidden threads that tie everything together -- from the creation of the planet to the advent of agriculture, nuclear war, and beyond.
With stunning insights into the origin of the universe, the beginning of life, the emergence of humans, and what the future might bring, Origin Story boldly reframes our place in the cosmos.
As many will know, I’m enamored of Christian’s thesis of Big History, so this is going to be a must-read, though I suspect it will be a shorter and more accessible version covering a lot of similar ground to his prior heroic effort Maps of Time.
📖 Read pages 19-52 of The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life by Nick Lane
📖 Read Chapter 1: What is Life? pages 19-52 in The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life by (W.W. Norton,
, ISBN: 978-0393088816)
, ISBN: 978-0393088816)
Lane lays out a “brief” history of the 4 billion years of life on Earth. Discusses isotopic fractionation and other evidence that essentially shows a bottleneck between bacteria and archaea (procaryotes) on the one hand and eucaryotes on the other, the latter of which all must have had a single common ancestor based on the genetic profiles we currently see. He suggest that while we should see even more diversity of complex life, we do not, and he hints at the end of the chapter that the reason is energy.
In general, it’s much easier to follow than I anticipated it might be. His writing style is lucid and fluid and he has some lovely prose not often seen in books of this sort. It’s quite a pleasure to read. Additionally he’s doing a very solid job of building an argument in small steps.
I’m watching closely how he’s repeatedly using the word information in his descriptions, and it seems to be a much more universal and colloquial version than the more technical version, but something interesting may come out of it from my philosophical leanings. I can’t wait to get further into the book to see how things develop.
Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil
Energy is the only universal currency; it is necessary for getting anything done. The conversion of energy on Earth ranges from terra-forming forces of plate tectonics to cumulative erosive effects of raindrops. Life on Earth depends on the photosynthetic conversion of solar energy into plant biomass. Humans have come to rely on many more energy flows -- ranging from fossil fuels to photovoltaic generation of electricity -- for their civilized existence. In this monumental history, Vaclav Smil provides a comprehensive account of how energy has shaped society, from pre-agricultural foraging societies through today's fossil fuel--driven civilization. Humans are the only species that can systematically harness energies outside their bodies, using the power of their intellect and an enormous variety of artifacts -- from the simplest tools to internal combustion engines and nuclear reactors. The epochal transition to fossil fuels affected everything: agriculture, industry, transportation, weapons, communication, economics, urbanization, quality of life, politics, and the environment. Smil describes humanity's energy eras in panoramic and interdisciplinary fashion, offering readers a magisterial overview. This book is an extensively updated and expanded version of Smil's Energy in World History (1994). Smil has incorporated an enormous amount of new material, reflecting the dramatic developments in energy studies over the last two decades and his own research over that time.
h/t Bill Gates
👓 Las Vegas Is Only the Deadliest Shooting in US History Because They Don’t Count Black Lives | The Root
News reporters and anchors have repeatedly referred to the recent tragedy in Las Vegas as the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history.” Like all things that are constantly repeated, the proclamation has become fact.
There’s some great history here. It reminds me about the podcast Seeing White which I’ve been listening to recently.
🎧 What a Cool New Podcast About Shipping Can Teach You About Coffee | Bite (Mother Jones)
That cuppa joe you just sipped? Its long journey to your cup was made possible by shipping containers—those rectangular metal boxes that carry everything from TVs to clothes to frozen shrimp. And there’s a whole host of characters whose lives revolve around this precious cargo: gruff captains, hearty cooks, perceptive coffee tasters, and competitive tugboat pilots. This is the world journalist Alexis Madrigal illuminates in his new podcast Containers. Alexis tells us how the fancy coffee revolution is shaking up the shipping industry, and reveals his favorite sailor snack. Bite celebrates its first birthday, and Kiera gets up-close-and-personal with a kitchen contraption that’s sweeping the nation: the InstantPot.
This is a cool new podcast I hadn’t come across before. This particular episode is a bit similar to my favorite podcast Eat This Podcast, though as a broader series it appears to focus more on culture and society rather than the more scientific areas that ETP tends to focus on, and which I prefer.
The bulk of this episode, which discusses shipping and containers (really more than food or coffee which is only a sub-topic here), reminds me of the book The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson which I’d read in July/August 2014. (The book is now in its second addition with an additional chapter.) I suspect it was some of the motivating underlying material for Alexis Madrigal’s Containers podcast series. The book had a lot more history and technical detail while I suspect Madrigal’s series has more of the human aspect and culture thrown in to highlight the effect of containerization. I’m subscribing to it and hope to catch it in the next few weeks. The discussion here is a quick overview of one of his episodes and it goes a long way towards humanizing the ever increasing linkages that makes the modern world possible. In particular it also attempts to put a somewhat more human face on the effects of increasing industrialization and internationalization of not only food production, but all types of manufacturing which are specifically impacting the U.S. (and other) economy and culture right now.
The InstantPot segment was interesting, particularly for cooking Indian food. I’m always intrigued by cooking methods which allow a modern home cook to better recreate the conditions of regional cuisines without the same investment in methods necessitated by the local cultures. Also following Alton Brown’s mantra, it sounds like it could be a useful multi-tasker.
h/t to Jeremy Cherfas and his excellent Huffduffer feed for uncovering this particular episode (and podcast series) for me.
A. Madrigal, “Containers,” Medium, 07-Mar-2017. [Online]. Available: https://medium.com/containers. [Accessed: 18-May-2017]
🎧 Changing Global Diets: the website | Eat This Podcast
A fascinating tool for exploring how, where and when diets evolve. Foodwise, what unites Cameroon, Nigeria and Grenada? How about Cape Verde, Colombia and Peru? As of today, you can visit a website to find out. The site is the brainchild of Colin Khoury and his colleagues, and is intended to make it easier to see the trends hidden within 50 years of annual food data from more than 150 countries. If that rings a bell, it may be because you heard the episode around three years ago, in which Khoury and I talked about the massive paper he and his colleagues had published on the global standard diet. Back then, the researchers found it easy enough to explain the overall global trends that emerged from the data, but more detailed questions – about particular crops, or countries, or food groups – were much more difficult to answer. The answer to that one? An interactive website.
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While this seems a short and simple episode with some engaging conversation, it’s the podcast equivalent of the floating duck–things appear smooth and calm on the surface, but the duck is paddling like the devil underneath the surface. The Changing Global Diet website is truly spectacular and portends to have me losing a day’s worth of work or more over the next few days.
Some of the data compilation here as well as some of the visualizations are reminiscent to me of some of César A. Hidalgo’s work at the MIT Media Lab on economic complexity and even language which I’ve briefly mentioned before or bookmarked.
I’d be curious to see what some of the data overlays between and among some of these projects looked like and what connections they might show. I suspect that some of the food diversity questions may play into the economic complexities that countries exhibit as well.
If there were longer term data over the past 10,000+ years to make this a big history and food related thing, that would be phenomenal too, though I suspect that there just isn’t enough data to make a longer time line truly useful.
D. Hartmann, M. R. Guevara, C. Jara-Figueroa, M. Aristarán, and C. A. Hidalgo, “Linking Economic Complexity, Institutions, and Income Inequality,” World Development, vol. 93. Elsevier BV, pp. 75–93, May-2017 [Online]. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2016.12.020
S. Ronen, B. Gonçalves, K. Z. Hu, A. Vespignani, S. Pinker, and C. A. Hidalgo, “Links that speak: The global language network and its association with global fame,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111, no. 52. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pp. E5616–E5622, 15-Dec-2014 [Online]. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1410931111
A new fossil could push back the start of life on Earth | The Economist
The putative fossils formed just a few hundred million years after Earth itself
🎧 Sugar and salt: Industrial is best | Eat This Podcast
Henry Hobhouse’s book Seeds of Change: Five Plants That Transformed Mankind (now six, with the addition of cacao) contains the remarkable fact that at the height of the slave trade a single teaspoon of sugar cost six minutes of a man’s life to produce. Reason enough to cheer the abolition of slavery, I suppose. But that doesn’t mean that everything is sweetness and light in the business of sugar. Or salt. A photo gallery in The Big Picture made that very clear, and inspired Rachel Laudan, a food historian, to write in praise of industrial salt and sugar.
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We often don’t know how lucky we are to live in the modern highly linked world. The concept of industrialized foods like salt and sugar and their prior histories will certainly bring our situation into high relief. The history here and its broad effects could certainly be fit into the broader category of big history as well.
Authagraph by Hajime Narukawa [ 鳴川 肇 ] | TEDxSeeds 2011
An endless world map: Viewing the world through "Authagraph"
"Mr. Narukawa is the inventor of Authagraph, a world map designed to fit the world into a rectangle while almost perfectly maintaining the continents' relative size. It is mathematically impossible to precisely project the earth's sphere onto a rectangle. As such, previous methods would succeed in either taking on a rectangular shape or being true to the size ratio and shape of each continent, but never in both. Authagraph is groundbreaking in that it takes on both of those qualities, making it applicable to various themes such as sea routes, geology, meteorology and world history in ways never thought possible.
Instead of abstracting the globe into a cylinder, then a plane, as the more common Mercator projection map does, the AuthaGraph turns the Earth into a tetrahedron, which then unfolds in any number of ways. The map can then be tessellated similar to the way that we can traverse the planet–without ever coming to an end.
Rather than having just one focal point—the North Atlantic in Mercator’s case—nearly any place around the Earth can be at the center. The effect also means that the relative sizes of countries and their locations are much more representative than prior maps.
Those who remember the Gall-Peters Projection map featured on The West Wing will see that this is a step better.
For more details, see also Japanese Designers May Have Created the Most Accurate Map of Our World: See the AuthaGraph | Open Culture
How much do our (supposed) intellectual elite…
That's a question I've been stewing about for the past few weeks, ever since reading the results from a quiz (at http://www.nature.com/…/three-minutes-with-hans-rosling-wil… ) in the scientific journal Nature, from Hans Rosling.
The quiz contains 8 fundamental questions about the state of the world: questions about poverty, life expectancy, wealth, population, and so on. All big, important questions.
What has me stewing is that respondents to the quiz - I presume, nature.com's readers - do far worse than chance. That is, they would have done much better overall if they'd simply guessed their answers at random (the questions are multiple choice). Only on 2 of 8 questions do respondents do appreciably better than chance. On most questions they do worse than chance, sometimes much worse than chance. A chimpanzee pushing buttons at random would have done better than nature.com's readers.(By the way, I'm not certain the response data is from nature.com's readers. It may be separate data, perhaps from Rosling's audiences. If that's the case, it weakens my argument below.)
I'm not usually bothered by this kind of thing. Media love to bemoan surveys showing lack of basic scientific knowledge among the general population. That kind of thing doesn't alarm me. We're a society in which most people specialize, and it's not surprising if most of us are ignorant in major areas; collectively we can still do pretty well. But this data from Rosling - the Nature survey - really got under my skin. It's a survey of a group (one I'm part of, I guess) that often seems to think it has special knowledge of solutions to big, important problems - things like climate change, energy, development, and so on. And what I take from Rosling's data is that that group isn't just ignorant about the state of the world in some fundamental ways. They're actually anti-informed.
So, why does this matter?
On Twitter, I regularly see people like Rosling, Max Roser, Steven Pinker, and Dina Pomeranz post graphs showing changes in the state of the world. Often, those graphs are extremely positive, like Roser's wonderful graphs on poverty, education, literacy etc over the last 200 years:
(See the images below, or: https://twitter.com/MaxCRoser/status/811587302065602560… )
It is absolutely astonishing to read the responses to such tweets. Many people are furious at the idea that some things in the world are getting better. Many responses boil down to "Nah, nah, can't be true", or "I'll bet [irrelevant thing] is getting worse, why don't you focus on that, you tool of the capitalist conspiracy."
Of course, while those responses are irritating, & illustrate a certain kind of wilful ignorance, they don't really much matter. What bothers me more is that some of the most common responses are variants on "It doesn't matter, climate change is more important than all your graphs"; "Where are your climate graphs?"; "Nukes are going to kill us all"; etc.
This type of comment seems wrongheaded for more interesting reasons.
First, appreciating Roser's (and similar) graphs does not mean failing to acknowledge climate change, nuclear security, and other problems. Roser, for instance, has repeatedly acknowledged that the challenges of climate are huge and critical.
But I think the more significant thing is that graphs like Roser's don't happen by accident. They are extraordinary human achievements - the outcome of remarkable technical, social and organizational invention. If you don't know of these facts, in detail, or if you underplay their importance, then you cannot hope to understand the underlying technical, social, and organizational invention in any depth. And it seems to me that that kind of understanding may well be crucial to solving problems like climate, etc.
To put it another way, the anti-Pollyannas, including much of our intellectual elite who think they have "the solutions", have actually cut themselves off from understanding the basis for much of the most important human progress.
What's the solution? I'm not sure. But this line of thinking is deepening my appreciation for the work done by people such as Roser, Rosling et al. And it's making me think about how it can be scaled up & incorporated more broadly into our institutions.