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Big History and the Future of Humanity, 2nd Edition




Big History and the Future of Humanity, 2nd Edition

Fred Spier

ISBN: 978-1-118-88171-2 March 2015 Wiley-Blackwell 360 Pages

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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.

  • 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

Find additional resources from the author online at

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