Big History Capstone Project

Lesson 1.0: Big History

The Big History

21 February 2015

What is Big History? Big History is a very informational video. It tells things that you wouldn't know like the Russians paid for there own army by paying for there habits; that was smart to me.

Visions of the Future? I learn that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a danger. Besides killing wildlife, plastic and other debris damage boat and submarine equipment, litter beaches, discourage swimming and harm commercial and local fisheries.

The Big Bang

The Big Bang - Crash Course? The Big Bang Theory is the leading explanation about how the universe began. At its simplest, it talks about the universe as we know it starting with a small singularity, then inflating over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today.

A Big History of Everything - H2? Big History is a modern scientific origin story.

Lesson 1.1: Scale

Power of ten™

What is Scale? Scales in Big History means the meters from the universe to earth. Like 1 million million meters is equivalent to 10¹² meters.

1 10⁰,10 10¹, 100 10², 1,000 10³, 10,000 10⁴, 100,000 10⁵, 1,000,000 10⁶, 10,000,000, 10⁷, 100,000,000 10⁸, 1,000,000,000, 10⁹, 10,000,000,000 10¹𝟎.

I notice that ever pattern zero is the amount of numbers to the power of one or 10.

Distance from Sun (Miles)  Distance from Sun (Feet)

Mercury   35,983,610              0 ft 9 in

Venus      67,232,360              1 ft 5 in

Earth      92,957,100                2 ft 0 in

Mars     141,635,000               3 ft 1 in

Jupiter   483,632,000              10 ft 5 in

Saturn   888,188,000              19 ft 1 in

Uranus 1,783,950,000             38 ft 5 in

Neptune 2,798,842,000           60 ft 3 in

Lesson 1.2: Origin Stories

1.Greek 2.Iroquois 3.Judeo- Christian 4..Mayan 5. Modern scientific   

Sources of the world

  1. Chaos within a void
  2. First people lived beyond the sky. Chief’s daughter falls through a hole in the sky.
  3. God forms Heaven, Earth, light and dark
  4. Makers in the sky and the sea
  5. Big Bang

Originator of the world

  1. Gaia, Eros, Erebus
  2. Great turtle in an endless sheet of water
  3. God
  4. Plumed serpent

How the Earth formed

  1. Gaia births Uranus
  2. Old lady toad spits out a mouthful of dirt on the back of the turtle
  3. God made water, sky, ground, vegetation, creatures
  4. Like a cloud unfolding
  5. Left over matter dispersed during the formation of our sun
  6. Age of the Earth
  7. 4.54 Billion years ago

First life forms

  1. Titans
  2. Swans, muskrat, beaver, toad, turtle
  3. All living creatures
  4. Deer, pumas, jaguars rattlesnakes
  5. One-celled organisms

How humans formed

  1. Prometheus / Athena made man. Zeus made first woman.
  2. Dirt grows to form the world island supporting the daughter
  3. Created in Gods image
  4. Third attempt, derived from corn
  5. Evolution, adaptation over about 100,000 years

Relationship between humans and animals / plants

  1. All subservient to the gods
  2. Respectful of the nature which supports humanity
  3. Rule over nature
  4. Hunt, gather praise the gods
  5. Dominate and jeopardize the planet’s stability


"This biblical story comes from Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, which is the sacred sourcebook of both Judaism and Christianity. In Genesis this story is followed immediately by a second creation story, in which humans are created first, followed by plants and animals. These stories were written down in the first millennium BCE and evolved into the form in which we know them around 450 BCE, some 2460 years ago.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the dome and separated the water under the dome from the water above it. And it was so. God called the dome “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning — the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, of every kind.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed of every kind and trees bearing fruit with seed in it of every kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing of every kind that moves in the teeming water, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning — the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures of every kind: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild ani- mals, each of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of every kind, the livestock of every kind, and all the creatures that move along the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground — everything that has the breath of life in it — I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the sixth day.

Thus the heaven and the earth were finished, with all their multitudes. And on the seventh day God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation."

Compiled by Cynthia Stokes Brown

The great turtle

"This story comes from the Iroquois people in North America. In the 1400s they formed a federation of five separate tribes in what is now New York State. The Iroquois did not use writing, so they told this story orally until settlers from Europe wrote it down.

The first people lived beyond the sky because there was no earth beneath. The chief’s daughter became ill, and no cure could be found. A wise old man told them to dig up a tree and lay the girl beside the hole. People began to dig, but as they did the tree fell right through the hole, dragging the girl with it.

Below lay an endless sheet of water where two swans floated. As the swans looked up, they saw the sky break and a strange tree fall down into the water. Then they saw the girl fall after it. They swam to her and supported her, because she was too beautiful to allow her to drown. Then they swam to the Great Turtle, master of all the animals, who at once called a council.

When all the animals had arrived, the Great Turtle told them that the appearance of a woman from the sky was a sign of good fortune. Since the tree had earth on its roots, he asked them to find where it had sunk and bring up some of the earth to put on his back, to make an island for the woman to live on.

The swans led the animals to the place where the tree had fallen. First Otter, then Muskrat, and then Beaver dived. As each one came up from the great depths, he rolled over exhausted and died. Many other animals tried, but they experienced the same fate.

At last the old lady Toad volunteered. She was under so long that the others thought she had been lost. But at last she came to the surface and before dying managed to spit out a mouthful of dirt on the back of the Great Turtle.

It was magical earth and had the power of growth. As soon as it was as big as an island, the woman was set down on it. The two white swans circled it, while it continued to grow, until, at last, it became the world island as it is today, supported in the great waters on the back of the Turtle."

Compiled by Cynthia Stokes Brown

The Popul Vuh

"This origin story was told by the Mayans, who lived in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico from around 250 CE to 900 CE. It’s the beginning of a long, complex story called the Popol Vuh(literally the “council book”), first translated into alphabetic text from Mayan hieroglyphics in the 16th century.

Now it still ripples, now it still murmurs, still sighs, and is empty under the sky. There is not yet one person, not one animal, bird, fish or tree. There is only the sky alone; the face of earth is not clear, only the sea alone is pooled under all the sky. Whatever might be is simply not there.

There were makers in the sea, together called the Plumed Serpent. There were makers in the sky, together called the Heart of Sky. Together these makers planned the dawn of life.

The earth arose because of them. It was simply their word that brought it forth. It arose suddenly, like a cloud unfolding. Then the mountains were separated from the water. All at once great mountains came forth. The sky was set apart, and the earth was set apart in the midst of the waters.

Then the makers in the sky planned the animals of the mountains — the deer, pumas, jaguars, rattlesnakes, and guardians of the bushes. Then they established the nests of the birds, great and small. “You precious birds; your nests are in the trees and bushes.” Then the deer and birds were told to talk to praise their makers, to pray to them. But the birds and animals did not talk; they just squawked and howled. So they had to accept that their flesh would be eaten by others.

The makers tried again to form a giver of respect, a creature who would nurture and provide. They made a body from mud, but it didn’t look good. It talked at first but then crumbled and disintegrated into the water.

Then the Heart of Sky called on the wise ones, the diviners, the Grandfather Xpiyacoc and the Grandmother Xmucane, to help decide how to form a person. The Grandparents said it is well to make wooden carvings, human in looks and speech. So wooden humans came into being; they talked and multiplied, but there was nothing in their minds and hearts, no memory of their builder, no memory of Heart of Sky.

Then there came a great destruction. The wooden carvings were killed when the Heart of Sky devised a flood for them. It rained all day and all night. The animals came into the homes of the wooden carvings and ate them. The people were overthrown. The monkeys in the forest are a sign of this. They look like the previous people — mere wooden carvings.

The story continues with the final people being made from corn, an important crop that enabled the Mayan people to move from being a hunting-and-gathering society to a more complex civilization."

Compiled by Cynthia Stokes Brown

The Titans and the Gods of Olympus

"We know the Greek origin story from some of the earliest Greek literary sources that have survived, namely The Theogony and Works and Days, by Hesiod. This oral poet is thought to have been active sometime between 750 and 650 BCE, within decades of when the Homeric epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, took the form in which we know them. Archeological findings support the creation story recorded in Hesiod’s work; pottery from the eighth century BCE depicts the gods and goddesses he describes. Before Hesiod told this patriarchal version, in which the first woman is the cause of much trouble, Pandora, whose name means “gift giver,” was known in oral tradition as a beneficent Earth goddess.

In the beginning there was Chaos, a yawning nothingness. Out of the void emerged Gaia (the Earth) and other divine beings — Eros (love), the Abyss (part of the underworld), and the Erebus (the unknowable place where death dwells). Without male assistance, Gaia gave birth to Uranus (the Sky), who then fertilized her.

From that union the first Titans were born — six males: Coeus, Crius, Cronus, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Oceanus, and six females: Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Rhea, Theia, Themis, and Tethys. After Cronus (time) was born, Gaia and Uranus decreed no more Titans were to be born.

Cronus castrated his father and threw the severed genitals into the sea, from which arose Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty and sexuality. Cronus became the ruler of the gods with his sister-wife, Rhea, as his consort. The other Titans became his court. Because Cronus had betrayed his father, he feared that his offspring would do the same. So each time Rhea gave birth, Cronus snatched up the child and ate it. Rhea hated this and tricked him by hiding one child, Zeus, and wrapping a stone in a baby’s blanket so that Cronus ate the stone instead of the baby.

When Zeus was grown, he fed his father a drugged drink, which caused Cronus to vomit, throwing up Rhea’s other children and the stone. Zeus then challenged Cronus to war for the kingship of the gods. At last Zeus and his siblings, the Olympians, were victorious, and the Titans were hurled down to imprisonment in the Abyss.

Zeus was plagued by the same concern as his father had been and, after a prophecy that his first wife, Metis, would give birth to a god greater than he, he swallowed Metis. But she was already pregnant with Athena, and they both made him miserable until Athena, the goddess of wisdom, civilization and justice, burst from his head — fully grown and dressed for war. Zeus was able to fight off all challenges to his power and to remain the ruler of Mt. Olympus, the home of the gods.

One son of Titans, Prometheus, did not fight with fellow Titans against Zeus and was spared imprisonment; he was given the task of creating man. Prometheus shaped man out of mud, and Athena breathed life into the clay figure. Prometheus made man stand upright as the gods did and gave him fire. Prometheus tricked Zeus, and to punish him, Zeus created Pandora, the first woman, of stunning beau- ty, wealth, and a deceptive heart and lying tongue. He also gave Pandora a box she was commanded never to open, but eventually her curiosity got the best of her, and she opened the box to release all kinds of evil, plagues, sorrows, and misfortunes, and also hope, which lay at the bottom of the box."

Compiled by Cynthia Stokes Brown

The Big Bang

"This version of modern science’s origin story is condensed and interpreted from a great body of historical and scientific information.

In the beginning, as far as we know, there was nothing. Suddenly, from a single point, all the energy in the Universe burst forth. Since that moment 13.8 billion years ago, the Universe has been expanding — and cooling down as it gets bigger.

Gradually energy cooled enough to become matter. One electron could stay in orbit around one proton to become an atom of hydrogen. Great clouds of hydrogen swirled around space until gravity pulled some atoms so close together that they began to burn as stars. Stars swirled together in giant clusters called galaxies; now there are galaxies numbering in the billions.

After each star burned up all its matter, it died in a huge explosion. The explosion generated so much heat that some atoms fused and got more and more complex, forming many different elements, including gold and silver.

One giant star, our mother star, exploded and scattered clouds of gas containing all the elements needed to form living beings. About 5 billion years ago gravity pulled these atoms into a new star: our Sun. The leftover pieces of matter stuck to each other and formed eight planets, which revolve around the Sun.

The third planet out, Earth, became our home. It was the perfect size — not too big, not too small — and the perfect distance from the Sun, not too far or too close. A thin crust formed over Earth’s hot interior, and the temperature was just right for water to form on parts of the surface. Gradually the chemicals in the water formed inside of membranes and got more complex until one-celled living organisms appeared, able to maintain themselves and reproduce.

For 3 billion years these one-celled creatures reproduced almost exactly, but not quite. They gradually changed in response to their environment.

But they also changed their environment. They learned to burn energy from the Sun, and they released oxygen into the atmosphere. The oxygen formed an ozone layer around Earth that protected life from the Sun’s rays.

Eventually cells stuck together to form creatures with many cells. Plants and animals came out of the sea onto land and became ever more complex and aware, until about 100,000 years human beings evolved from a shared ancestor with species of apes.

Humans could talk in symbols and sing, dance, draw, and cooperate more than the other animals could. Humans learned to write and to accumulate their learning so that it kept expanding. Humans increased in skills and in numbers until there were too many people and too few big animals in some places.

Then humans learned to grow their own food and herd their own animals. Some animals learned to cooperate with humans. This gave humans new sources of food and work energy, and they could live in larger and larger groups. These groups expanded into cities and empires, using more and more of the resources of Earth. Humans collaborated and learned collectively in more complex ways; they traveled, traded, and exchanged inventions, creating vast civilizations of astonishing beauty and complexity.

Humans were always looking for more energy for their use. About 200 years ago we learned to use the energy from coal — trees that grew more than 300,000 years ago, then were buried underground. Humans learned to burn oil — animal remains buried long ago under the sea. Using these fossil fuels, humans began to change their climate quickly, as the gases released from burning these fuels ascended into the atmosphere.

Now humans are in a predicament – our population is increasing rapidly, fossil fuels are running out, we are pushing many plants and other animals into extinction, and we are changing the climate. What are we humans going to do next?"

By Cynthia Stokes Brown


"Human beings have always wondered how things hang together. Our minds spontaneously look for connections, and we remain restless until we find them. Nothing is really intelligible unless we can relate it to other things.

This is why science is such a satisfying adventure. Its mathematical principles tightly unify everything that goes on in the cosmos. Every occurrence, science tells us, is subject to the same fundamental physical laws everywhere. You can be sure, for example, that if you travel to another galaxy in our Big Bang Universe you will find the same laws of physics and chemistry operative there as on Earth. Although the Universe unfolds in rich diversity, it rests upon an underlying physical and mathematical simplicity.

Before modern science came along our ancestors were not aware of the physical universality that ties all of nature together. Nevertheless, our ancestors were just as interested in finding connections as we are. The main way in which they brought coherence to their experience of things and events was to tell stories about them. These stories often took the form of myths about cosmic, biological, and human origins. Understanding the origin of things apparently reduces human anxiety in the face of the unknown.

We still need stories. Big history is a good example of the human longing for narrative coherence. We want to understand, for example, how life is tied into physical processes and how the history of human beings on Earth is bonded to the natural world that gave birth to us. Science now allows us to tell a whole new story about our connection to nature. Remarkably, over the last two centuries the natural sciences have increasingly demonstrated that the Universe itself has a history and that human life is a relatively new chapter in the cosmic story. We did not float in from some other world. We blossomed gradually from roots that extend all the way back to the Big Bang. It is enormously satisfying now to be able to tell the story of the emergence of atoms, stars, planets, cells, organisms, and minds."

1.3—What Are Disciplines?


In this activity, you’ll start to explore how examining the same event from different perspectives can result in drawing varied conclusions surrounding that event. There is another activity at the end of this lesson that is an extension of this activity. Both of these activities should help you better understand what it means to use interdisciplinary perspectives and how you can use a variety of disciplines to help you understand the Big History story.


Think about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. Vesuvius is known for this eruption, which led to the burying and destruction of the Roman cities Pompeii and Hurculaneum.

Think about answers to the following questions:

1. What are the questions a historian would ask about what happened?

What may have cause this? Was there anything I miss. Does the eruption ofRoman cities Pompeii and Hurculaneum connect with this?

2. What kind of questions would a biologist (or another discipline of your choosing) ask about what happened? When did it happen? Are there any artifacts? Could this been prevented?


In this activity, you’ll look at a single event – the collapse of the population on an island – from different points of view. You should know right off the bat that the true reason for the collapse remains a total mystery! That said, lots of historians and scientists have hypotheses about why this island’s population fell so drastically. You’re going to try to make sense of what happened there, and you’ll do this using an interdisciplinary approach.

Look at the picture of Easter Island. In 1722, explorers happened upon this island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. When they arrived, they discovered over 800 giant statues and almost no people. This was strange, since the small number of people on the island couldn’t possibly have built these statues—it would have taken a much larger civilization. Think about Easter Island and consider the following questions: What kinds of events might have befallen the people of Easter Island? Could it have been disease, famine, or some other natural disaster?

I don't think its none. I think it was before our time. By people who people that the status was there protector .

Ways of Knowing – Introduction to Cosmology

I learn that just before that point, he mentions that all the other phenomena, forces and laws we have found seem to be present everywhere in the universe. I think science would need a lot of revising if life happens to be unique to Earth, since its components are common, and present everywhere. So I read the affirmation as ''if we want to validate our current knowledge, we need to find life elsewhere.''

Ways of Knowing – Introduction to Astrophysics

I learn that astrophysics is the study of physical laws. it explains a lot about mathematics and the galaxy. I also learn that mathematics does more than help with math questions, but it help the world connects.


This activity is a follow up to the Mt. Vesuvius activity. This time, you’re going to ask the questions from the viewpoint of the new disciplines that you just learned about in this lesson, which will solidify your understanding of the different kinds of questions these disciplines ask.


Your job is to assemble the best research team possible to most deeply understand the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

1. Come up with the single discipline that you think would be best suited to understand the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The best discipline I think thats best suited to understand the eruption of Mt.Vesuvius science.

2. Explain what someone from this discipline would know or want to ask about Mt. Vesuvius. Someone from the science discipline would know that its possible for it to erupted, but how didn't we know?

3. Why is your discipline the best for the job? I think the science discipline is best because thats there job to study the earth.

1.4—My Big History

Feb 28, 2015

Introduction to Thresholds of Increasing Complexity

I learn that there was eight major thresholds that explains everything! I think its really cool; that the Goldilocks story can be compare with the making of something so significant. The universe! The story of goldilocks repeats the theme: not too "this" / not too "that."

What does complexity mean, and why is it so important? What role has complexity played in getting us to the world we live in today?


One of the central themes of this course is the idea of increasing complexity. In the 13.8 billion years since our Universe appeared, more and more complex things seem to have appeared — and we’re among the most complex of them all. So it’s natural for complex things to fascinate us. Besides, modern human society is so complex that learning how the Universe creates complexity can also teach us something about today’s world. But we shouldn’t assume there’s anything special about complexity or that complex things are necessarily any better than simple things. Remember that complexity can present challenges.

What does complexity mean?

That’s a tough question and there’s no universally accepted answer. We may feel intuitively that empty space is much simpler than a star, or that a human being is in some sense more complex than an amoeba. But what does that really mean? Here are some ideas that may help you think about complexity during this course.

A continuum from simple to complex

Complexity is a quality, like “hot” or “cold.” Things can be more or less simple and more or less complex. At one end is utmost simplicity, like the cold emptiness of intergalactic space. At the other extreme is the complexity of a modern city.

The qualities of more complex things

Here are three qualities that make some things more complex than others.

1. Diverse ingredients: More complex things often have more bits and pieces, and those bits and pieces are more varied.

2. Precise arrangement: In simpler things it doesn’t matter too much how the ingredients are arranged, but in complex things the bits and pieces are arranged quite precisely. Think of the difference between a car and all the bits and pieces of that car after it’s been scrapped and is lying in a junkyard.

3. Emergent properties: Once the ingredients are arranged correctly, they can do things that they couldn’t do when they weren’t organized. A car can get you around; its component parts cannot. A car’s capacity to be driven is a quality that “emerges” once it’s been assembled correctly, which is why it’s called an “emergent property.”

Complexity is fragile

There’s another important thing to remember about complexity. Complex things need just the right ingredients and they need to be assembled in just the right way. So, complex things are usually more fragile than simple things. And that means that after a time, they fall apart. If they are living creatures, we say they “die.” Death, or breakdown, seems to be the fate of all complex things, though it may take billions of years for a star to break down, and just a day or two for a mayfly to die.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Creating complex things is more difficult than creating simple things. The natural tendency of the Universe seems to be for things to get less and less organized. Think of your own house if you just let it be for a month. Tidying your room means arranging everything in just the right way; it takes work. But if you don’t care how it’s arranged you can just let it un-tidy itself naturally. The idea that the Universe tends naturally to get less ordered and less complex is expressed in one of the most fundamental of all the laws of physics: the Second Law of Thermodynamics. That’s one way of explaining why making complex things requires more work, and thus more energy, than making simple things.

Why complexity is rarer than simplicity

The Second Law of Thermodynamics explains why most of the Universe is simple. Intergalactic space is almost completely empty, extremely cold, and randomly organized. Complexity is concentrated in just in a few places: inside galaxies and particularly around stars.

Goldilocks Conditions

You find complex things only where the conditions are just right for making them, where there are just the right environments, just the right ingredients, and just the right energy flows. We call these conditions “Goldilocks Conditions.” Remember the children’s story of the three bears? Goldilocks enters their house when they are out. She tastes their porridge and finds that the father bear’s is too hot, the mother bear’s is too cold, but the baby bear’s is just right. Complexity seems to appear only where the conditions are “just right.” So whenever we see complex things appearing, we can ask why the Goldilocks Conditions were “just right.”

Here’s an example. You always need energy. So if there’s no energy flowing, it’s hard to build complexity. Think of a still, calm lake that’s been dammed. Not much is happening. Then imagine opening the gates of the dam and allowing the water to flow downhill. Now you have energy flowing — enough to drive a turbine that can create the electricity to power a computer. Now more complex things can happen.

But of course there mustn’t be too much energy. If there’s too much water pressure then the turbine will be destroyed. So you need just the right amount of energy — not too little, not too much."

Thresholds of increasing complexity

"In this course, we will focus on moments when more complex things seemed to appear, things with new emergent properties. We call these “threshold moments.” Examples include the appearance of the first stars in a Universe that had no stars, and the appearance of the first cities in societies that had never known cities before.

Each time we cross one of these thresholds we’ll ask about the ingredients and the Goldilocks Conditions. And we’ll also ask what was new. What emergent properties do these new complex things have?

There are many such turning points in Big History, but in this course we will focus mainly on eight threshold moments. Some thresholds took place at a very specific point in time, while others were more gradual and we can only approximate the turning point. If this were an astronomy course or a biology course, our choice of thresholds would undoubtedly be different. In fact, during this course we will see many important “turning points” that we could, perhaps, describe as “thresholds.”


In this activity, you will write a history of yourself, and then you will have the opportunity to reflect upon the scale at which you examined your own history. This helps you to understand that your own personal narrative does have things in common with the much larger Big History narrative.


Take about 4 minutes to write a "history of you." Set a timer if you have to—you really should make this quick! Stop reading the instructions for this activity now and start writing! After you’ve finished writing, come back to see how many of the following topics you included in your history.

Did you write about…

  • your time in high school?
  • your childhood?
  • your parents?
  • your parents' childhoods?
  • your grandparents?
  • anything that happened over 100 years ago?
  • anything that happened over 1,000 years ago?

You probably wrote about your childhood and maybe your parents, but you may not have written about your grandparents, and you probably didn’t write about anything more than 100 years ago.

Also, did you write about anything that is further away than the state you’re currently in? Did you talk about anything that’s further away than the country you’re currently in? What is the most distant place you mentioned?

I was born February 5,2000. I’m growing up on Tackawanna St. I go to Crossroads Accelerate Academy @ Meade. I live with my mom and my little brother.

2.0—How Did Our Understanding of the Universe Change?

March 28,2015

I learn that many things change our view of the universe, like the stars and planets and how earth became our planet

An Earth-Centered View of the Universe

The Earth was the center of the Universe according to Claudius Ptolemy, whose view of the cosmos persisted for 1400 years until it was overturned — with controversy — by findings from Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton.

An Astronomer in Ancient Times

Claudius Ptolemy (about 85–165 CE) lived in Alexandria, Egypt, a city established by Alexander the Great some 400 years before Ptolemy’s birth. Under its Greek rulers, Alexandria cultivated a famous library that attracted many scholars from Greece, and its school for astronomers received generous patronage. After the Romans conquered Egypt in 30 BCE (when Octavian defeated Cleopatra), Alexandria became the second-largest city in the Roman Empire and a major source of Rome’s grain, but less funding was provided for scientific study of the stars. Ptolemy was the only great astronomer of Roman Alexandria.

Ptolemy was also a mathematician, geographer, and astrologer. Befitting his diverse intellectual pursuits, he had a motley cultural makeup: he lived in Egypt, wrote in Greek, and bore a Roman first name, Claudius, indicating he was a Roman citizen — probably a gift from the Roman emperor to one of Ptolemy’s ancestors.

A Geocentric View

Ptolemy synthesized Greek knowledge of the known Universe. His work enabled astronomers to make accurate predictions of planetary positions and solar and lunar eclipses, promoting acceptance of his view of the cosmos in the Byzantine and Islamic worlds and throughout Europe for more than 1400 years.

Ptolemy accepted Aristotle’s idea that the Sun and the planets revolve around a spherical Earth, a geocentric view. Ptolemy developed this idea through observation and in mathematical detail. In doing so, he rejected the hypothesis of Aristarchus of Samos, who came to Alexandria about 350 years before Ptolemy was born. Aristarchus had made the claim that the Earth revolves around the Sun, but he couldn’t produce any evidence to back it up.

Father of Modern Observational Astronomy

Galileo Galilei, an Italian Renaissance man, used a telescope of his own invention to collect evidence that supported a Sun-centered model of the Solar System.

Youth and Education

Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa, Italy, on February 15, 1564, the first of seven children of Vincenzo Galilei and Giulia Ammanati. Galileo’s father was a musician — a lute player — from a noble background that conferred on him the right to hold civic office in the Duchy of Florence, which in 1569 became the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. At the time, Italy was made up of small territories ruled by hereditary dukes.

When Galileo was 10, his family moved to Florence, northeast of Rome, where he was educated in a monastery. He was attracted to the priesthood, but his father steered him to study medicine from 1581 to 1585 at the University of Pisa, some 40 miles west of Florence on the coast, and very near Galileo’s childhood home. University studies at that time were based primarily on Aristotle’s philosophy, but Galileo’s acute observations caused him to question some of these accepted views. He noticed that hailstones of different sizes reached the ground simultaneously, contradicting Aristotle’s rule that bodies fall with speeds proportional to their size. At this time Galileo also sat in on lectures by a practical mathematician in the service of the Grand Duke, apart from his university studies.

A Sun-Centered View of the Universe

In the middle of the 16th century a Catholic, Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus, synthesized observational data to formulate a comprehensive, Sun-centered cosmology, launching modern astronomy and setting off a scientific revolution.

Renaissance Man

Have you ever heard the expression “Renaissance man”? First coined in the early 20th century, the phrase describes a well-educated person who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields. The Renaissance is the name for a period in European history, the 14th through the 17th centuries, when the continent emerged from the “Dark Ages” with a renewed interest in the arts and sciences. European scholars were rediscovering Greek and Roman knowledge, and educated Europeans felt that humans were limitless in their thinking capacities and should embrace all types of knowledge.

Nicolaus Copernicus fulfilled the Renaissance ideal. He became a mathematician, an astronomer, a church jurist with a doctorate in law, a physician, a translator, an artist, a Catholic cleric, a governor, a diplomat, and an economist. He spoke German, Polish, and Latin, and understood Greek and Italian.

Physics, Gravity & the Laws of Motion

Sir Isaac Newton developed the three basic laws of motion and the theory of universal gravity, which together laid the foundation for our current understanding of physics and the Universe.

Early Life and Education

Newton was born prematurely and not expected to survive. His dad had died before his birth, and when he was 3 his mother remarried and left him with his grandparents on a farm in Lincolnshire, England, about 100 miles north of London, while she moved to a village a mile and a half away from him. He grew up with few playmates and amused himself by contemplating the world around him.

His mother returned when Newton was 11 years old and sent him to King’s School, eight miles away. Rather than playing after school with the other boys, Newton spent his free time making wooden models, kites of various designs, sundials, even a water clock. When his mother, who was hardly literate, took him out of school at 15 to turn him into a farmer, the headmaster, Henry Stokes, who recognized where Newton’s talents lay, prevailed on her to let Newton return to school and prepare for university.

Newton attended Cambridge University from 1661 to 1665. The university temporarily closed soon after he got his degree because people in urban areas were dying from the plague. Newton retreated to his grandparents’ farm for two years, during which time he proved that “white” light was com- posed of all colors and started to figure out calculus and universal gravitation — all before he was 24 years old.

It was on his grandparents’ farm that Newton sat under the famous apple tree and watched one of its fruits fall to the ground. He wondered if the force that pulled the apple to the ground could extend out to the Moon and keep it in its orbit around Earth. Perhaps that force could extend into the Universe indefinitely.

Evidence for an Expanding Universe

In the course of five years, Edwin Hubble twice changed our understanding of the Universe, helping to lay the foundations for the Big Bang theory. First he demonstrated that the Universe was much larger than previously thought, then he proved that the Universe is expanding.

Early Life and Education

Edwin Powell Hubble, the son of an insurance executive, was born in Marshfield, Missouri, on November 20, 1889, and moved to Wheaton, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, soon after. Growing up, he was more outstanding as an athlete than as a student, although he did earn good grades in every subject (except spelling). He won seven first-places and a third place in a single high school track-and-field meet in 1906. That year he also set the Illinois high school record in the high jump.

At the University of Chicago, Hubble studied mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy — and played for the school’s basketball team. He graduated with a bachelor of science in 1910, and then spent 1911 to 1914 earning his master’s as one of Oxford University’s first Rhodes scholars. Though he studied law and Spanish there, his love of astronomy never diminished.

Ptolemy's Universe

The Ptolemaic view of the Universe was an Earth-centered, or geocentric, model. The Sun and all of the planets orbited the Earth and the other stars formed a backdrop that also orbited Earth.

The Copernican Model

Source: Big History ProjectThe idea of a Sun-centered, or heliocentric, view of the Universe had been suggested by ancient Greek astronomers like Aristarchos and was later published by Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543. To some extent, this model (not at actual scale in this illustration) ushered in a new age of astronomy.

Kepler and Elliptical Orbits

Source: Big History Project

The German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler demonstrated that the orbits of Earth and the other planets (not drawn to scale in this illustration) were not perfectly circular but were actually elliptical, or egg-shaped.


Source: Big History ProjectThis illustration simulates the redshift, or Doppler shift, that affects how light waves appear to us when the source of light is moving away. When we view galaxies from Earth, their light is shifted to the red side of the color spectrum, and indication that they are moving away from us. This is strong evidence for an expanding Universe.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Source: Big History ProjectIt's important to remember that what we see as visible light is only a small portion of the full electromagnetic spectrum. Many modern telescopes are able to view different wavelengths of electromagnetic energy, thus generating images from space that are completely invisible to the unaided eye.

Spectral Lines

Source: Big History Project

The color of light from objects in space can be used for more than gauging distances. Different elements actually leave their own "signatures" in light. Scientists can use spectral lines to determine the chemical composition of objects in space like other stars and planets. Hydrogen, helium, and oxygen are the three most abundant elements in the Universe.

Cepheid Variable Star V1 in the Andromeda Galaxy

Source: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage TeamAstronomers use the fluctuating brightness of Cepheid variable stars like V1 as "stellar yardsticks" to measure distances. The discovery of Cepheids and the understanding of how to interpret their fluctuations of brightness helped prove that the Universe was a much larger place than first thought.

Cepheids in the Galaxy NGC 5584

Source: NASA, ESA, L. Frattare (STScl), A. Riess (STScl/JHU) and L. Macri (Texas A & M University)This illustration shows the location of the many Cepheid variable stars found in the spiral galaxy NGC 5584. Different Cepheids have different "periods" related to the total energy they put out as they burn hydrogen and helium.

The Horn Antenna

Source: NASAThe Horn reflector antenna at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey was built in 1959 and became famous when Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson used it to detect the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the afterglow of the Big Bang. In 1989 The Horn was dedicated to the U.S. National Park Service as a National Historic Landmark.

The Cosmic Microwave Background

Source: NASA/WMAP Science TeamThese details of the CMB were captured by NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe (WMAP) at the very start of the 21st century. The color-enchanced WMAP imagery of the infant Universe shows the slight variations in temperature that correspond to the slight variations in density that helped seed the formation of the first galaxies.

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This activity gives you a chance to get familiar with some of the big ideas related to the Big Bang.

1. We have a sense of what happened during the first few minutes of the Big Bang.

2. The four fundamental forces are gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear force, and weak nuclear force.

3. As the Universe expanded, it got hotter.

4. The formation of the first atoms had an effect on the Universe.

5. Cosmic background radiation is compelling evidence that supports the Big Bang theory.