Day 1- David Christian. The history of our world in 18 minutes.

I watched this talk on the suggestion of my friend Rebecca, and as it is the first day of a new year I felt a little reminder of how we all arrived here would be appropriate!   
Background: David Christian is by trade a Russian historian who currently lectures on Modern History at Macquarie University, Sydney. Supported by Bill Gates, he is working on a free online high school syllabus in big history, due for release in 2013.  
What is big history? Macquarie University describes it as an attempt to understand, in a unified and interdisciplinary way, the history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life and Humanity. In this talk, Christian takes us on a journey from the Big Bang 3.7 billion years ago to where we are today.  
By the time he reaches our creation, it’s clear we humans are lucky to be around. Being ruled by the second law of thermodynamics, the universe struggles to create complexity. Christian uses the metaphor of the ‘goldilocks moment’ frequently; conditions must be just right. He touches on each stage of the earth’s development, explaining how at each threshold structures became more and more sophisticated. When life on earth was created at the fifth threshold, the ‘goldilocks conditions’ were becoming more and more stringent and these increasingly complex creations were accompanied by a level of fragility.
Living organisms are created by chemistry. The first organisms were simple, single celled structures, which after 600-800 million years began to give rise to multi celled organisms such as fish. There was an obvious need to stabilise these increasingly larger molecules and this is where DNA came in;the universe simply stabilised the template, allowing information to be passed on.   
The fundamental flaw of DNA is that it works on a trial and error basis, making it slow. To counteract this problem, organisms began to develop brains. This allowed learning in real time, until these creatures died and the information was lost. This happened in all living beings except for humans, to our knowledge at least!  
Human beings have the privilege of being able to pass on their learning via language. Christian terms this, ‘collective learning’. He describes how collective learning has helped our development from the first people in Africa, to the almost ‘global brain’ we share in this information age. Christian concludes with a statement on the importance of understanding our history so that we all may see the challenges and opportunities it brings.
With over 600,000 views and a listing as one of Bill Gates top 13 TED talks, it’s not difficult to assess the popularity of this talk. Christian is an engaging speaker and uses visual aids well, including his beginning with a video of a scrambled egg to demonstrate the tendency of the earth to lean towards chaos. There’s no scientific jargon and the talk is well pitched at a variety of interest and education levels. Some may be offended by the fact that he takes the opportunity to speak out against fossil fuel use, warning that we may be jeopardising the ‘goldilocks conditions’ so necessary for our development over the past 10,000 years. This small section shouldn’t overshadow what is an entertaining and educational talk, reminding us of our small but important place in the world’s overall history.


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