About

Scot Fagerland big history

About the Writer

Preface

Introduction

About the Cover

Epilogue: What the World Needs

Full Contents

Citations

About the Writer

 

Scot Fagerland big history

Scot in 2015

Scot Fagerland is one of the elite tutors of Los Angeles, CA.  He tutors most academic subjects, specializing in math, science, English, and standardized exams.  From 1996 to 2013, he was an adjunct instructor of mathematics at several two- and four-year colleges, including the UCLA Extension, Santa Monica College (SMC), and Framingham State College in Massachusetts.  At SMC, he was one of the earliest forerunners on RateMyProfessors.com.  He was twice nominated for General Studies Instructor of the Year at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, where he taught statistics and economics.  Scot is also a patent attorney with a small solo practice.  He holds a BS in Applied Mathematics from the California Institute of Technology, an MS in Engineering Science from the University of California at San Diego, and a JD from the UCLA School of Law.  Scot was born in the farmlands of North Dakota before being relocated to Los Angeles County at age 6.  That contrast of environments was one of the initial sparks that got him thinking about the differences between belief and truth, value and necessity.  He was a voracious reader by age 3 and has made learning a daily practice since then.  The idea of researching a logarithmic history of everything occurred to him in 2008.  He set up TheEvolutionOfHuman.com in 2014 to self-publish this book-in-progress and related essays.

Scot has chosen to call himself the “writer”, not the “author”, until and unless he is published.

Preface

From an early age, I was fascinated by “the past” as a reality that I could never personally experience, but that had led directly to the present.  I learned that there are multiple lenses for viewing the world and the past:  religion, history, and science; school, family, and books; conservative and liberal.  Many accounts of history 1 are misguided or oversimplified.  Some of them directly conflict with each other!

I grew up on the conservative end of the spectrum, where morality seemed to be based somehow on the lessons of the Christian bible.  It always bothered me how many of those lessons seemed vague or incomplete.  I wondered why my contemporaries were still reading biblical mythology in a literal sense, centuries into the scientific revolution – and why they were so emotionally attached to it.  I observed that the bible got conflated an awful lot with themes that were not in it at all, like Aristotelian science and American patriotism.

Then I got to college.  If conservative history began about 3,000 years ago, sometimes it seemed that liberal history began in 1492.  Today’s academics are very much under the spell of Karl Marx and Howard Zinn, 2 who have defined the world in terms of class conflict.  Reading journals of history, you would get the impression that the world was alight with peace and harmony until Europeans crashed the party in the Americas.  Just about the only time these journals reached further into the past was to decry the “patriarchal society” and repressive moral codes that were supposedly invented by Abrahamic religions.

To fully understand the human story, I thought, it is necessary to have a perspective including all periods of the past.  We are the products of billions of years of evolution.  Most elements of our bodies, minds, and DNA were shaped in deep pre-human time.  Even the beginning of the universe is important, not only for the pure science, but because religion is so wrapped up in the origins of the universe and the world.  These discussions seem especially pertinent in modern times.  In an age of growing secularism and plurality, what is the true basis of morality?  It would be very educational to examine the conditions under which our i30%nstincts and institutions evolved, and check them for aptness in today’s world.  It surprised me to find that these big ideas were the niche of a small subset of academics and writers, and not central to a broad intellectual discourse.

As a post-graduate “student of life,” I found that whenever I began to study a new subject, it was helpful to start with the “history and philosophy of” that subject, or what might be called the meta-subject.  That perspective helps frame questions and answers.  I even took a strong interest in history and philosophy themselves, so it made me laugh inwardly to think about studying the history and philosophy of history, or meta-philosophy etc.  I was essentially getting curious about the “history of everything”!  I didn’t feel that there was any book to capture such breadth in a single volume, so I began to wonder if I could research and write my own.

The greatest challenge in writing a history of everything is the unimaginable range of time scales.  If this whole book represented the age of the universe in linear timeline fashion, then all of human history would span about the last paragraph.  If I expanded recent human history out over 100 pages, then the age of prehistoric man would take up 10,000 pages, and the whole book would become millions of pages long.  That’s why history books that claim to cover “the world” inevitably truncate either the beginning of time or the recent past!

My epiphany was the realization that I could solve this problem with a logarithmic scale.  This simple mathematical concept means that every step represents a multiplication or a division, not an addition or subtraction.  In other words, the chapters would not cover equal spans of time.  Every chapter of the book would cover ten times as many years as the next one.  If the first chapter covered the whole ten-billion year history of the universe, then the next chapter would focus on the last one billion years, and the next chapter the last hundred-million years, and so on.  This pattern would take us all the way down to the last decade in just ten chapters!  With that problem solved, I unofficially set myself the challenge of writing the world’s first logarithmic history of everything.

To encapsulate the history of everything in about 100,000 words, I have to choose my details very carefully.  This book can only include the most “important” events and trends.  To be important, an event must be a break from the past, and it must have lasting impact on humanity today. The quasi-formula goes something like this:  Go further back in time –> Set a higher threshold for event “importance” –> Find important events more sparse –> But multiply them over a longer time scale, and they are roughly equal in number.  Voila, all periods of time can be covered in equal breadth and depth!

To illustrate, you may have heard of the concept of a “ten year flood” and a “hundred year flood.”  A river will flood particularly high every ten years or so; levees should be designed to anticipate that level of flood.  Once per century, a flood will be so high that it will breach the control systems.  If you are planning a city for a century, you will be concerned about the ten-year floods:  there will be ten of them.  If you are a very ambitious engineer planning a city for a millennium, you will prepare for the larger hundred-year floods.  Again, there will be ten of them!

logarithmic history big history

A model of logarithmic history. If you are prepared to protect a city from flooding for a decade, you can protect Houses above C. If you are prepared to protect from floods for a century, you can protect Houses above B. In either case, your system will withstand ten “important” floods before it is breached. Each timescale has a roughly equal number of important events, though they are larger and sparser on the longer time scale. 1

The unrecorded past is a slippery subject.  The world has been changing while collective interpretation has been changing with it.  This gives two intertwined narratives to keep track of – real and imagined.  My goal was to untangle the strands of where people came from and where we thought we came from.  Many people have beliefs and opinions about big ideas.  We are going to stoke the fires of all the hot-button subjects:  religion and politics, sex and violence.  The whole point of this book is to step outside of personal beliefs and emotions, and to survey the scientific consensus of what has really happened in the last 14 billion years.

“Why?!”  I am writing this book simply because I’m interested in understanding the true nature of my brief life before it’s over.  Some people choose to love life by relaxing, partying, raising kids, or making money.  I love life by learning about it.  I sometimes say that my higher power is truth, whether beautiful or ugly.  I figure that we should all look for the truth together so we can figure out how to deal with it.

We live in a unique time when a true “history of everything” is just becoming possible.  Just a century ago, scientists’ knowledge of life, Earth, and the universe were far too primitive to track the deep past.  The key to life, the structure of DNA, was discovered within my parents’ lifetime, and the age of the universe was only measured within my own lifetime. 2 Scientists have barely begun to apply evolutionary theory to psychology and social structures, providing us with paradigms, if not yet compelling evidence, of how the human experience was shaped millions of years ago.

This book is a work in progress.  I vowed to complete two chapters and the secondary text before even announcing this project.  I wrote the first and last chapters before the middle, to make the manuscript more diverse.  Drafts of chapters 10 and 1 were complete by 2013.  In 2014, I took time out to learn more about the world of Publishing, Promotion, and Platform (PPP).  I learned that chapters 10 and 1 were far too long, so I spent months rewriting them.  I am now writing the rest of the chapters from outside in (Chapters 10 and 1, then 9 and 2, etc).  I will post the chapters on my website as they are completed.  My self-established pace is now to write two chapters per year.  The estimated completion year will be 2018, a full decade after this book’s ah-ha moment.  I have redefined Chapter 1 accordingly to represent the 1990s – 2010s, rather than the 1980s – 2000s as originally conceived.

There are only two things harder than writing a history of everything:  (1) Writing it in 100,000 words or less, and (2) Getting it published!  I have learned that major-league publication has gotten pretty much impossible for non-celebrity writers.  That won’t stop me.  I am already 60% done with a history of the entire universe, so I am definitely committed to finishing what I’ve started!  If commercial agents and publishers find that it’s not worth their resources, I will do all I can to keep this book alive longer than myself.

I want to offer a disclaimer and give credit where credit is due:  I am a tutor, not an academic.  There are many professors, explorers, scientists, statisticians, and journalists whose work is summarized here.  In my research, I have read incredible back stories behind some crucial facts that would have remained unknown without a few particular visionaries.  Sometimes, a single sentence in this book summarizes someone’s obsessive life quest for truth.  All I can say is, “Thank you!”

My expertise is the art of explanation.  The information for this book is far-flung.  I am collecting and distilling it into a single book that most anyone should be able to understand.  As George W. Bush might say, “I’m the explainer!”  There is no such thing as a PhD in “the big picture”, so nobody is distinctly qualified to write such a book as an academic.

Because I am gathering knowledge from all over the place, it is essential to cite my sources.  On the other hand, I don’t like reading a book when citations keep getting in the way.  My solution is to make them discreetly.  When you see a faint superscript number 3 clicking it will take you to an “endnote” at the bottom of the page, with a reference to my source.  When you see a big bold number 3 hover over it to make a “footnote” appear, an interesting side comment.  You can also hover over a picture to learn more about its source at a glance.  If an image has a more complicated citation, it will be fleshed out in an endnote.

The History of Everything will probably become an increasingly common genre, like the History of Civilizations (usually called a “History of the World”) has been for quite a while.  I am excited to live in the early 21st century when I can be one of the first authors of a true History of Everything.  Whether anybody ever reads my account or not, learning and thinking about “it all” has been a very meaningful and enriching part of my life.

Introduction

What is the introduction to a story that begins with the universe’s first moment?  To prepare the framework, I find it appropriate to introduce a small sprinkling of math.  Carl Friedrich Gauss, one of the world’s greatest mathematicians, said, “Mathematics is the queen of the sciences …. She often condescends to render service to astronomy and other natural sciences, but in all relations she is entitled to the first rank.” ”4 In a sense, math is the essence that precedes form. My introduction will not be nearly that poetic or profound. We just need to get acquainted with powers of ten. The chapters of this book are based on these powers. Scientific notation is also helpful to designate very large or small numbers, which will appear throughout the book, especially in the first few chapters.

The powers of ten are those numbers obtained by multiplying by ten again and again. On paper, a power of ten is a one followed by zeroes. The number of zeroes counts the multiplications by ten, also known as the logarithm. For starters:
intro_p1
All of these astronomically large numbers correspond to equally small microscopic numbers, using negative exponents. One millionth, or \frac{1}{1,000,000} , is expressed 10-6.

As I mentioned in the preface, the logarithmic scale is the only way to structure a History Of Everything to give equal coverage to all periods of the past. Every chapter in this book is ten times shorter and more recent than the preceding chapter. The chapters are numbered in reverse according to their logarithms. The first chapter in the book is “Chapter 10” or what I sometimes call “Chapter 10^{10},” which spans over ten billion years. The last chapter is “Chapter 1” or “Chapter 10^1,” which only spans the last few tens of years (decades).

I could have been strict about the chapter boundaries, making Chapter 1 begin exactly ten years ago, and Chapter 2 exactly one hundred years ago. That kind of precision seemed unnecessarily rigid to me. It would have required a Chapter 11 with virtually nothing in it but the Big Bang. On the short-term extreme, Chapter 1 would have been outdated by the time I finished writing the book. I avoid these problems by letting Chapter 1 represent “the last few decades,” Chapter 2 “the last few centuries,” and so forth.  I still had to decide just where one chapter would end and the next one would begin.  I defined “a few” as “about three.”  Three is close to the square root of ten, which is midway between 1 and 10 in a logarithmic sense.  That is, events of the last 30 years belong in Chapter 1, the last few decades, while events from 40 – 50 years ago are more appropriate for Chapter 2, the last few centuries. 

Using this rounding convention, here is a complete list of chapters and some of the main developments in each one. The abbreviation “YA” stands for “Years Ago.” “MYA” and “BYA” stand for “Million Years Ago” and “Billion Years Ago.”

 

Chapter

Time Span

Dates

Events

10^{10}

The last few ten-billion years

14 – 3 BYA

Formation of universe, solar system, and Earth; Beginning of life and evolution; genetic mixing.

10^9

The last few billion years

3 BYA – 300 MYA

Photosynthesis, oxygen, and mass extinctions. Sexual reproduction / evolution,  Multicellular life, including all phyla of animals. Cambrian explosion. 

10^8

The last few hundred-million years

300 – 30 MYA

Present continents. Fossil fuels. Dinosaurs and mass extinction. Mammals, primates.

10^7

The last few ten-million years

30 – 3 MYA

Apes. Global cooling and ecological diversification.

10^6

The last few million years

3 MYA – 300,000 YA

Early humans. Nuclear family structure. Hunting and Fire. Neocortex of the brain.

10^5

The last few hundred-thousand years

300,000 – 30,000 YA

Modern humans. Abstract thought, language. Origins of cultural traditions, including religion. Drugs.

10^4

The last few ten-thousand years

30,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE

Agriculture. First civilizations. Earliest extant religions. Written language. Wealth and power. Smallpox.

10^3

The last few millennia

1,000 BCE – 1700

Classic civilizations. Christianity and Islam. Empires and constant war. Renaissance. Logic and Science.

10^2

The last few centuries

1700 – 1980

Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, inc. computers. Nationalism & Globalism. Capitalism and Communism. World Wars. Birth control. Secularization and civil rights.

10^1

The last few decades

1980s – 2010s

Fall of Iron Curtain. War against Terror. EU. China. World Wide Web. AIDS. Alternative lifestyles.

 

The challenge in visualizing the full span of time has been discussed. If we multiply something by about 1,000, we cannot physically envision the smaller and larger scales simultaneously. Our bodies and personal space are measured in meters. Anything smaller than a millimeter (\frac{1}{1,000} of a meter) is essentially microscopic. Land features larger than a kilometer (1,000 meters) are too large to see in their entirety, unless we get up in an airplane to a height of kilometers. Then we can see the landscapes, but the people become microscopic. How then can we possibly visualize numbers in the billions?

I have a solution for this conundrum too, and it is to represent the numbers in three dimensions instead of one. To multiply the volume of a solid shape by 1,000, you really only have to multiply each dimension by 10. For some reason, as I constructed this metaphor, gold came to me as the clearest example of something we can visualize on all scales.

metaphor to visualize large numbers such as millions and billions big history

Represent the number one with a milligram — that’s a gold flake.

metaphor visualize big numbers millions billions big history

Then the number 1,000 is one gram. That’s a small gold nugget.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-businessman-holding-out-gold-bar-image28707186

On this scale, the number 1,000,000 is represented by one kilogram of gold, a large bar.

© Scanrail | Dreamstime.com - Stacks Of Gold Ingots On Shipping Pallet Photo

Finally, the number 1,000,000,000 compares to one metric ton of gold – roughly a pallet.

So if Chapter 1 of this book, the approximate span of your lifetime so far, is a few dozen flakes of gold, then Chapter 10, the age of the universe, is ten pallets worth of golden time!

Before we begin, let me also leave you with a golden theme to keep in mind. This book is an attempt to ferret out truth from belief. After humans make their appearance in chapter 6, and especially after modern humans in chapter 5, you will see again and again that our observational skills are far from scientific. By our nature, we think with our emotions and convictions. Moods and gut feelings evolved to help us survive in the world, not to understand it. Our ideas of the world are shaped by our mind’s inherent instincts to look for patterns and purpose, even where there is none to be found. Models of reality are also highly social. Children absorb the culture around them from birth, when they have no context to compare their environment to, no concept of questioning the endless stream of new experiences. They simply internalize it all. They mature and pass traditions on to new generations. Good ideas get preserved along with the bad, from the silly to the dangerous. The whole cycle can be summarized in this quatrain. As you observe people around you, see if you can find behavior that demonstrates one of these lines (it’s very hard to see it in yourself). I’ll bet you’ll see quite a lot of it when you keep track.

We see what we know

And we know what we see.

We believe what we’re told,

And we tell what we believe.

About the Cover

jellyfish galaxies outer space big history

Life really did descend from the heavens, but it went through many exotic phases on its way to becoming human.

The cover is a collage of three photographs. One is a deep-space photo of hundreds of galaxies.  It was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, so it is in the public domain. That original image and its attributions can be found here.  I took the other two pictures and edited them into this collage.

Midway down the page, the galaxies fade subtly into a photograph of jellyfish floating in a dark column of water.  I photographed the jellyfish at the Long Beach Aquarium in 2001, years before I conceived this book.  When I took the picture, though, I made the conscious connection that they looked like stars or galaxies in outer space.  At the bottom of the page is a Los Angeles skyline that I photographed in 2012.

A key feature of this book is its insane range of timespans.  I wanted the cover to represent not only modern humans but our origins, to tie the present to the deepest past.  For years, I was baffled about how to capture that in an image.  In this realization, time progresses from the top to the bottom.  Life descends from the heavens, as it did in real life and most creation myths.  But unlike mythology, man did not descend fully formed.  Life was built up from interstellar molecules, and our primitive ancestors looked like jellyfish within the last billion years.  In the cover image, then, these mysterious sea creatures represent a transition from the beginning of life to the human species.  The cover image thus depicts another main theme of the book, the duality between the true past and beliefs about the past, and how they have both shaped the world.  Finally, the present day is represented by a modern city.  None better than my own hometown of Los Angeles!

I have a separate photography site, and will consider posting the image(s) there with higher resolution.  Unfortunately, the jellyfish photo was taken at low resolution and is out of focus, so that will always be a limitation — unless I take another, better shot!

Contents

Chapter 10:  THE LAST FEW TEN-BILLION YEARS

I.  Looking Into The Past

II.  The Big Bang

A.  The Stuff of Physics

B.  Attempts to Understand Creation

1.  Philosophical issues
2.  The theory of everything
3.  “When” and “where” did the big bang happen?

C.  The Early Moments After the Big Bang

D.  Cosmic Background Radiation

III.  Early Outer Space

A.  The Gravitational Clumping of Stars and Galaxies

B.  Stellar Nucleosynthesis and the Heavier Elements

C.  Atoms:  from Physics to Chemistry

D.  Complexity and Stability

IV.  Sun, Earth, And Moon

A.  Formation of the Sun and Solar System

B.  Formation of the Earth and Moon

C.  Earth’s Early Atmosphere and Oceans

D.  We Come from Outer Space!

V.  Life

A.  Prebiotic Chemistry:  the Ingredients of Life

B.  Abiogenesis:  from Chemistry to Biology

C.  The Earliest Life and the Universal Ancestor

D.  Two Billion Years of Bacteria

VI.  Summary

VII.  Margin Notes (Blog Posts)

Ch. 9:  THE LAST FEW BILLION YEARS

I.  Geological Time Periods

II.  Oxygen And Eukaryotic Cells

III.  Sexual Reproduction

IV.  The Sexual Evolution

A.  How Life Evolves

B.  Studying and Understanding Evolution

V.  From Amoebas To Amniotes

A.  Overview

B.  Multicellularity and Animals

C.  Animal Cells, Tissues, and Organs

D.  The Vertebrate Body Plan

E.  Tetrapods:  From Sea to Land

F.  Consciousness, Communication, Cooperation, and Competition

1.  Defining consciousness
2.  The early evolution of conscious behavior

VI.  The Rest Of The World

A.  Formation of Continents

B.  The Cambrian Explosion:  An Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth

C.  Life on Land

D.  Coal and Natural Gas

VII.  Chapter 9 Summary

VIII.  Image Gallery:  Human Ancestors

Ch. 8:  THE LAST FEW HUNDRED-MILLION YEARS

Chapter 8 is in progress in the first half of 2016.

Ch. 7:  THE LAST FEW TEN-MILLION YEARS

Ch. 6:  THE LAST FEW MILLION YEARS

Ch. 5:  THE LAST FEW HUNDRED-THOUSAND YEARS

Ch. 4:  THE LAST FEW TEN-THOUSAND YEARS

Ch. 3:  THE LAST FEW MILLENNIA

Ch. 2:  THE LAST FEW CENTURIES

I.  The Enlightenment And Its Revolutions

A.  What is Enlightenment?

B.  The American Revolution

C.  The French Revolution

D.  The Free World in Incubation

E.  Secularism and Atheism

II.  Industry

A.  The Industrial Revolution

B.  Marxism

C.  Computers

III.  The World Wars

A.  How?!  Why?!

B.  The Wars

C.  How the Wars Changed the World

                       1.  The end of empires
                       2.  Pax civilia and the cold war
                       3.  Globalism
                       4.  The Israeli / Palestinian conflict

IV.  Modern Culture

A.  Universal Human Rights

B.  Birth Control

C.  Consumerism and Multi-National Corporations

D.  The Industrial Family

     V.  Summary And Conclusions

Ch. 1:  THE LAST FEW DECADES

I.  Overview:  Many Intermingling Themes

II.  The Web And Mobile Computing

A.  The World Wide Web

B.  Living in the Information Age

III.  Geopolitics And Current Events

A.  From the Cold War to the War on Terror

B.  Shifting First World and Second World

C. The Arab Spring and its Unintended Consequences

D.  Global Financial Crises

IV.  The Age Of AIDS

A.  The HIV Virus and the AIDS Epidemic

B.  The Gay Civil Rights Movement

C.  Genetics

V.  Demographics And Lifestyle

A.  Single Parenthood and Cohabitation

B.  Work, Home, and Body

                        1.  Gigonomics
                        2.  Population, migration, and urbanization
                        3.  We’re getting older and fatter

VI.  Modern Conspiracist Religion

A.  New World Order Theory

B.  Analysis

VII.  Chapter 1 Conclusion

VIII.  Chapter 1 Margin Notes (Blog Posts)

EPILOGUE: WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS

CHAPTER 0:  THE LAST FEW YEARS (ONGOING BLOG)

Citations

  1. Image from Harris County, TX, Flood Control District, www.HCFCD.org, reused with permission.
  2. http://www.aip.org/history/curie/age-of-earth.htm, accessed 9/04/13
  3. Like this, usually with a link
  4. Quoted in German by Wolfgang von Waltershausen, Gauss zum Gedächtniss (1856).
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