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Big History and the Future of Humanity

ISBN: 978-1-4443-3943-7
288 pages
January 2011, Wiley-Blackwell
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Big History and the Future of Humanity presents an original theoretical approach that makes “big history” – the placing of the human past within the history of life, the Earth, and the Universe -- accessible to general readers while revealing insights into what the future may hold for humanity.

  • Provides an accessible and original overview of the entire sweep of history that places human history within the history of life, the Earth, and the Universe
  • Features an original theory of “big history” which explains all of history and opens up an entirely new interdisciplinary research agenda
  • Offers new insights into the future of humanity by better understanding the past
  • Presents a new approach to complexity studies, which takes into account the greatest galaxy clusters as well as the tiniest sub-atomic particles
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List of Figures.

Preface and Acknowledgments.

Chapter One: Introduction to Big History.

Introduction.

Studying the Past.

A Very Short History of Academic History.

A Short History of Big History.

A Historical Theory of Everything?

Chapter Two: General Approach.

Introduction.

Matter and Energy.

Complexity.

Energy Flows and the Emergence of Complexity.

The Goldilocks Principle.

Chapter Three: Cosmic Evolution: The Emergence of Simple.

Forms of Complexity.

Introduction.

The Big Bang: No Complexity.

Recent Issues Concerning the Big Bang Scenario.

The Radiation Era: The Emergence of Complexity at the Smallest Scales.

The Matter Era: The Emergence of Complexity at Atomic and Molecular Scales.

Galaxy Formation: The Emergence of Complexity at Larger Scales.

The Emergence of Stars.

Stars as Nuclear Forges.

Chapter Four: Our Cosmic Neighborhood: The Emergence of Greater Complexity.

Introduction.

The Galactic Habitable Zone.

The Emergence of Our Cosmic Neighborhood.

The Solar System Habitable Zone.

Major Characteristics of Earth.

Early Inner Planetary History.

Early Earth History.

Life Is Very Special.

The Emergence of Life.

Chapter Five: Life on Earth: The Widening Range of Complexity.

Life, Energy and Complexity.

Planetary Energy Flows and Life.

The Gaia Hypothesis.

The Emergence of Energy Harvesting from Outside.

The Emergence of the Biological Food Web.

The Emergence of Multicellular Organisms.

The Emergence of Brains and Consciousness.

The Increase and Expansion of Biological Complexity.

Conquest of the Land.

Further Increasing Complexity.

Chapter Six: Early Human History: The Emergence of the Greatest Known Complexity.

Introduction.

What Makes Humans Different.

Energy and Complexity.

The Emergence of Early Humans.

Improving Social Coordination.

Tool Making and Brain Growth.

Brains and Intestines.

Fire Control.

Migration.

The Rise of Modern Humans.

Early Religion.

Chapter Seven: Recent Human History: The Development of the Greatest Known Complexity.

Introduction.

The Agrarian Revolution.

Contents vii.

The Developing Agrarian Regime.

Social Effects of the Agrarian Revolution.

The Emergence of Agrarian Religions.

Increasing Agricultural Complexity and Declining.

Untamed Complexity.

Early State Formation.

The Emergence of Big States.

The Emergence of Moral Religions.

Energy and Complexity in State Societies.

The First Wave of Globalization.

Industrialization: The Second Wave of Globalization.

Informatization: The Third Wave of Globalization.

Energy, Complexity and Goldilocks Circumstances.

Chapter Eight: Facing the Future.

Introduction.

A Very Short Overview of the Long Future of the Universe.

The Future of Earth and Life.

The Future of Humanity.

The Availability of Matter and Energy.

Exhaustion of Critical Resources and Growing Entropy.

Will Humans Migrate to Other Planets? Final Words.

Appendix A Short Time Line of Big History.

Notes.

Bibliography.

Index.

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Fred Spier is Senior Lecturer in Big History at the University of Amsterdam and also teaches Big History at the Eindhoven University of Technology. He is the author of Religious Regimes in Peru (1994), San Nicolás de Zurite (1995), and The Structure of Big History: From the Big Bang until Today (1996).
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“Spier takes us one important step forward in making big history accessible to all.  I look forward to the next, more fully illustrated and documented, step in this process.”  (Journal of World History, 1 August 2012

"This is a deep and important book that promises to send scholars in many different fields off on new paths in search of a grand unified theory of history." (Journal of Global History, 2011)

"Personally, I think everyone should have access to this story, and I would put it at the heart of the national curriculum as well." (The Times Higher Education, September 2010) 

"Brilliant.  It pushes the project of theorizing big history a lot further, in exactly the right way, alert to the dangers of over-theorizing or theorizing on too limited information. It will be a major contribution to the discipline.”
David Christian, Macquarie University, author of Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

 “This book has convinced me not only that Big History is interesting and exciting, but has established a genuine intellectual basis for integrating historical knowledge, and historical method, with those of the natural world. This is a framework in which, ideally, all history should be investigated, taught and discussed.”
R.I. Moore, Emeritus Professor, Newcastle University

"The most exciting book that I've read in 30 years. A masterpiece!"
Barry Rodrigue, University of Southern Maine

“Narratives don’t come much grander than the current scientific view of the history of the Universe…  Spier is one of a small band of exponents of big history, the effort to put the whole story together in an academically rigorous way…  Everyone should have access to this.” 
Times Higher Education Supplement

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