David Christian raised the interesting question at THiNK 2012 that many parents will have: what problems and issues will our children be faced with?
He started to elaborate that the Russian economy prior to Brezhnev would have collapsed if people would have stopped drinking vodka as its economy depended for 40% on this. An interesting thought but not surprising really as in the USA and even in India it was not sustainable not to sell spirits.
I was even more keenly attracted to his story as he taught students in Australia, the place I studied Science myself. He started to teach a course on the origin of everything, an ambitious attempt on multi disciplinary topics in the order of its emergence: cosmology, astrology, chemistry, geology, biology, anthropology and finally history. We see an increasing complexity over 40 million years, Goldilocks conditions, emergence, thresholds moments. The latter Christian defined as doorways to something new.
David gave a brilliant overview of how the universe evolved some 13.7 billion years ago. He left us literally in the dark as he took us back to the first threshold, the very beginning. On his imaginary time-scale I had difficulties to keep up with him. Hydrogen and helium dominated earth but were replaced largely by the solar energy. Then one cell organisms appeared. David raced through time to the extinction of the dinosaurs when an asteroid hit earth. Curiously Christian asserted that “if that asteroid would have hit earth a few minutes earlier or later the dinosaurs may still be ruling earth and we, human beings, would not have appeared”.
Luckily for us though, evolution took a leap and collective learning took over and with it the creation of agricultural civilisations. The scary thing was to see how, in an amazingly short time, human consumption of energy took off: about a 100 times of what we need. Hence we have such an impact on our own environment.
“What will be the next threshold? Will it collapse or will we be able to sustain ourselves?” Christian questioned.
Christian, with the support of Bill Gates, is putting together a website to teach this Big History course to students worldwide. He would like to create a framework across multidisciplinary disciplines with the hope to inspire students throughout the world and prepare them for the challenges in the 21st century.
I will definitely introduce my kids to the site when it will be launched officially next year.