Big History

If you took any history classes in high school or college, especially if you are of a certain age, those classes most likely revolved around human history, or even more arrogantly, white upper class male human history. You couldn’t be blamed for thinking that nothing existed outside of the salons of Europe until we “discovered” America.

Yeah, if you’re like me, you had a brief obsession with dinosaurs. But you probably didn’t consider that history. You thought of it more as paleontology. You certainly didn’t classify the big bang as history. That was astronomy.

Yes, we are taught to put everything neatly in their own little boxes. Geology, archaeology, biology, chemistry, physics, genetics, environmental studies, psychology… each has its niche, and never the twain shall meet.

But you know, that’s kind of like studying individual trees without examining the forest. It’s like focusing on one book without ever looking up at the wonder of the library. How short sighted of us.

Thank goodness there is now an academic discipline that looks at the big picture. It’s called Big History, and instead of focusing on the 10,000 years humans have been around, it looks at time from the Big Bang to the present.

Granted, biting off a 13.8 billion year chunk of time and trying to swallow it whole is no mean feat, but in a lot of ways, it makes a great deal of sense. An interdisciplinary approach is much more three dimensional. How could one possibly study the fossil record, for example, without understanding geology? How can we ever have a grasp of the cosmos and our place within it without looking at the many causes and effects that intertwine with one another?

You can’t understand human migration without a grasp of climatology. You can’t comprehend the elements that make up life on this planet without having a sense of chemistry. It’s macrohistory, not microhistory. It looks for common themes across a variety of disciplines.

Oh, to be young and have the time and the energy and the wide-eyed innocence to be willing to rack up debt and go back to college! It’s such an amazing time to be learning. Rock on, big historians!

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Spirituality vs. Science

Sometimes I think I’m the only person on the planet who thinks that science and spirituality do not have to be mutually exclusive. For example, why do so many people think that if you believe in the theory of evolution, you cannot also believe in a higher power? I happen to think evolution is brilliant. Not only does it solve a whole host of natural problems, but it also occurs over millennia, thus requiring a patience that we mere mortals could never hope to duplicate.

I also think the big bang is a highly spiritual thing. I love the fact that it took something so cataclysmic to eventually lead to us and the air we breathe. And stem cell research? Phenomenal. That we evolved brains sophisticated enough to even know that stems cells exist is a source of constant fascination for me.

I honestly believe that the mistake we make is in thinking that religion is confined to books that were written back in a time when science wasn’t particularly advanced. I don’t think spirituality can be boxed in like that, and I think it undergoes an evolution of its own. I think that if we think we have it all figured out, and that we have to rigidly adhere to a set of religious rules from centuries ago, that we are according ourselves entirely too much power, and underestimating the ability of a sentient creator to change. Something that can’t change may as well be a rock.

I think spirituality exists in the unknown bits, the space between the things that are smaller than the quantum particles, the things we couldn’t possibly write about because we don’t know and probably never will.

We call the things that we can explain science. But there will always be things which we cannot explain. And I find that oddly comforting, too.

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[Image credit: Wellcomecollection.org]