Abstract

 

Big History, the study of the entire time span of the universe in an integrated way, is essentially a study of increasing complexity. Complexity grows exponentially with the Golden Ratio, Phi, and has done so unabruptly since the beginning of time, and will continue to do so until the end of time.

  

Introduction

Complexity is a notoriously difficult concept to define. Its linguistical origin lies in the Latin word complexus, meaning entwined or twisted together, suggesting that what we consider to be complex are entities that consist of components that operate together, inseparately. Furthermore, these inseparable components have unique properties that the components themselves do not exhibit.

I like to relate entropy to complexity. In the universe entropy is set to increase, because more chaotic, or high entropic configurations, are more likely. Complexity then, can be defined as what happens when entities travel the opposite direction, they export entropy to keep there own entropy low.

 It is of course, a relative concept, e.g. when the first molecules formed, they were the most complex, but they are simple, in comparison with multicellar life. It is also impossible to measure, difficult to quantify and often a mere qualitative concept in use. That hasn’t deterred people from making the credible claim that the human brain is the most complex structure in the known universe (1), where signals can travel over a combined 176,000 km of axons or roughly half the distance from here to the moon and neurons are able to make more interactions than there are atoms in the universe. It is also the most complex structure in known history, but it will possibly be usurped in complexity by the worldwide web in the near future. This bar the fact, that we still have no mathematical way to tell if a Boeing 767 or a cucumber is the more complex of the two (after Kevin Kelly (2)).

The rise of complexity is the story behind the Big History, it is the red thread to it and I would like to take it a step further, and call it the driving force behind it; a driving force with a deterministic and constant exponential value.

Every increase in complexity will allow an even faster increase of complexity from there on. The creation of atoms, allowed the creation of the more complex molecule, which in turn allowed the construction of cellular life, which all occurred at an ever faster pace. It is subject to the Law of Accelerating Returns, as proposed by Ray Kurzeil, which states that future increases will be greater than those of the past, because growth is dependent on your starting point (3). I will rewrite this definition, and claim that future growth is just as dependent on your starting point now, as past growth was dependent on your starting point then. In other words, the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one, which than is the definition of the Golden Ratio, or Phi (see figure 1).

Where the universe can be defined as a system that is in a constant process of increasing its entropy or its amount of randomness. Complexity and life, travel the complete opposite road, they have negentropy or negative entropy, which is the entropy that it exports to keep its own entropy low. It seems that it is these two forces that are shaping the “Big Future”.

Phi, the Golden Ratio

The rate with which complexity grows is the only rate that ensures exponential growth on equal terms at any point in time; the Golden Ratio, or Phi, which is 1.6180339887. Phi is observed in many objects that exhibit growth and are unrestricted by resource limits; such as plants, trees, celestial bodies and human bodies (e.g. a children’s illness can hamper growth and cause deviations from phi, which are perceived as malformations).

This is because Phi is the only number that allows equal growth independent of scale. No matter where you are in time, future C, will always be equal to starting point B + past complexity A, in the same way that the starting complexity B was obtained from past complexity A + the complexity before it.

  1   

Figure 1: Future complexity A+B is to starting complexity A, as starting complexity A was to past complexity B or mathematically:

 

 Where we to mark each transition in discrete intervals n, one could describe the length of each colored line below as Phi to the power n, which leads to another interesting mathematical ability of Phi, namely 

  

Hypothesis

The greater complexities of today will cause an increase in complexities of tomorrow at a same rate as the complexities of yesterday caused those of today.

To investigate the rate of complexity growth, I turn to an idea by Ray Kurzweil, to select several key events in our existence, and see how much time it takes to the next, from which an idea of accelerating pace of complexity growth can be obtained. To the left I posted a table with what were in my opinion key events that pointed to an increase in complexity. Subsequently I plotted those on a graph (figure 2). A trendline was added. In red one can find the logarithmic function of the Golden Ratio, Phi, its trendline is x/Phi (or x/1.61803 = 0.6180x).

Because of the subjective nature of the so-called landmark events, I plotted the data accumulated by several sources, listed in the addendum. Projected are several key events in the history of man, from the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, to the origin of life, 3.8 billion years ago and the rise of Homo Sapiens a couple of thousands years ago (data and idea by Ray Kurzweil). Plotted are how many years ago the event took place on one hand, and on the other, how much time it took to the next event. The axes are logarithmic, meaning that the increasing occurrences of landmark events are in fact governed by exponential growth. I also plotted several exponential power functions, with in red f(x) = Phi to the power of x, with Phi =1.61803 (Golden Ratio) and in black to compare a power function 1.25 to the power x  and 3 to the power x.

There is the illusion that the graph will hit zero in a few years, marking the onset of the technical singularity. I dispute that and state that the graph will always have looked as if the singularity was near and it always will look as such. This is the nature of exponential complexity growth; it will look impressively steep in comparison with the past, but drudgingly slow compared with the future (4). The Golden Ratio ensures that this comparison between the past, the present and the future is always in the same ratio (see figure 1).

I further propose that on any point in time our ancestor was the most complex object in the known universe. From the near infinite possibilities of change of all the different matter in the universe, there always will be a significant chunk of that getting as fast as possible more complex. Our ancestor, as far as you can speak of it, was the first atom, the first heavy element, the first molecule, the first cellular life, the first sexual reproduced being, the first oxygen using organism, the first mammal, etc. As is the case with the many different genera of Homo that lived from 2 millions ago to up to a couple of thousands years ago, such as Homo Neanderthalis and Homo Erectus, there would be trial and error to decide of several more or less equally complex beings, before this process determined a optimum form; with parts incorporated from other genera, such as Neanderthal genes in ours (similarly there is a theory that viruses are in essence co-evolved with the first RNA, perhaps as an alternative to it, and finally incorporated into the more successful RNA structures).

Here the principle of uniformitarianism can be applied; the present is the key to the past, the same rules and reasonings that are at play now, would have been in place in the past. Any future complex entity can only be imagined to come from us. It is inconceivable that we will be surpassed by any other species we know in complexity. Similarly, it would have been so in the past, and so it will be in the future, as well.

The faith of the Universe, and other implications of a deterministic complexity increase

 

Asking us to understand the complexity of the future is the equivalent theoretical exercise as to ask the first primates to describe the internet. But I will attempt nonetheless.

Complexity growth seem to be unperturbed by either major paradigm shifts, as the beginning of life, nor by major catastrophic events, such as the end Cretaceous mass extinction, as is evidenced by the remarkable straight line through all events. Also in recent times events such as the Plague, or World War 1 and 2, seem to not have halted technological and economic progress in the long run.

Figure 3: Imagine an increasing complex entity underpinning all biodiversity, enabling the creation of an ever wider range of different genera with time (5).

Figure 4: Major catastrophic historic events are not visible on GDP per capita growth, implying an underlying robustness to progress.

A second point to make is on the existence of extraterrestrial life. On many places you would expect life of lower complexity (perhaps even on other bodies in our own solar system), but on planets that have similar goldilocks conditions as ours has had, that would also have had uninterrupted complexity growth, life would have had the exact same path towards complexity as we had, exactly as fast, and at this point in time, would be exactly as complex as we are now.

Taking these assumptions, one can take them to their ultimate conclusions.

Complexity will grow indefinitely; ever complexer entities will interlink ever more to form even greater complexity. We are at the onset of the great interlinking of our brains, the internet is the first glimpse of that trend. Billions of equally complex brains will merge to form a single complex entity. This entity will than merge with billions of entities of equal complexity across the galaxy, which in the end will merge with all other complex entities in all galaxies until its complexity will rival the Universe. It will encompass all.

References:

(1) http://www.economist.com/node/21537050

(2) What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly

(3) http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns

(4) http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2006/02/the_singularity.php

(5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Phanerozoic_Biodiversity.png

Addendum:

Paradigm Shifts for 15 Lists of Key Events, Time to Next Event (Years), Logarithmic Plot  
Paradigm Shifts    
Source (List) Event Time Before Present (Years) Time to Next Event (Years)
Carl Sagan Big Bang

15000000000

5000000000

Carl Sagan Origin of Milky Way Galaxy

10000000000

5400000000

Carl Sagan Origin of the Solar System

4600000000

200000000

Carl Sagan Formation of the Earth

4400000000

400000000

Carl Sagan Origin of life on Earth

4000000000

300000000

Carl Sagan Formation of the oldest rocks known on Earth

3700000000

300000000

Carl Sagan Date of oldest fossils (bacteria and blue-green algae)

3400000000

900000000

Carl Sagan Invention of sex (by microorganisms)

2500000000

500000000

Carl Sagan Oldest fossil photosynthetic plants

2000000000

100000000

Carl Sagan Eukaryotes (first cells with nuclei) flourish

1900000000

700000000

Carl Sagan Significant oxygen atmosphere begins to develop on Earth

1200000000

200000000

Carl Sagan Extensive volcanism and channel formation on Mars

1000000000

380000000

Carl Sagan First worms

620000000

50000000

Carl Sagan Precambrian ends. Paleozoic Era and Cambrian Period begin. Invertebrates flourish

570000000

40000000

Carl Sagan First oceanic plankton. Trilobites flourish.

530000000

40000000

Carl Sagan Ordovician Period. First fish, first vertebrates.

490000000

40000000

Carl Sagan Silurian Period. First vascular plants. Plants begin colonization of land

450000000

40000000

Carl Sagan Devonian Period begins. First insects. Animals begin colonization of land

410000000

40000000

Carl Sagan First amphibians. First winged insects.

370000000

40000000

Carl Sagan Carboniferous Period. First trees. First reptiles.

330000000

40000000

Carl Sagan Permian Period begins. First dinosaurs.

290000000

40000000

Carl Sagan Paleozoic Era ends. Mesozoic Era Begins.

250000000

40000000

Carl Sagan Triassic Period. First mammals.

210000000

50000000

Carl Sagan Jurassic Period. First birds.

160000000

40000000

Carl Sagan Cretaceous Period. First flowers. Dinosaurs become extinct.

120000000

38000000

Carl Sagan Mesozoic Era ends. Cenozoic Era Tertiary Period begins. First cetaceans. First primates.

82000000

41000000

Carl Sagan First evolution of frontal lobes in the brain of primates. First hominids. Giant mammals flourish.

41000000

23000000

Carl Sagan Origin of Proconsul and Ramapithecus, probable ancestors of apes and men

18000000

15400000

Carl Sagan First humans

2600000

900000

Carl Sagan Widespread use of stone tools

1700000

1290000

Carl Sagan Domestication of fire by Peking man

410000

290000

Carl Sagan Beginning of most recent glacial period

120000

62000

Carl Sagan Seafarers settle Australia

58000

29000

Carl Sagan Extensive cave painting in Europe

29000

10000

Carl Sagan Invention of agriculture

19000

7000

Carl Sagan Neolithic civilization; first cities

12000

7200

Carl Sagan First dynasties in Summer, Ebla, and Egypt; development of astronomy

4800

500

Carl Sagan Invention of the alphabet; Akkadian Empire

4300

500

Carl Sagan Hammurabic legal codes in Babylon; Middle Kingdom in Egypt

3800

400

Carl Sagan Bronze metallurgy; Mycenaean culture; Trojan War; Olmec culture; invention of the compass

3400

500

Carl Sagan Iron metallurgy; First Assyrian Empire; Kingdom of Israel; founding of Carthage by Phoenicia

2900

500

Carl Sagan Asokan India; Ch’in Dynasty China; Periclean Athens; birth of Buddha

2400

500

Carl Sagan Euclidian geometry; Archimedean physics; Ptolemaic astronomy; Roman Empire; Christ

1900

500

Carl Sagan Zero and decimals invented in Indian arithmetic; Rome falls; Moslem conquests

1400

400

Carl Sagan Mayan civilization; Sung Dynasty China; Byzantine empire; Mongol invasion; crusades

1000

500

Carl Sagan Renaissance in Europe; voyages of discovery from Europe and from Ming Dynasty China; emergence of the experimental method in science

500

499

Carl Sagan Widespread development of science and technology; emergence of global culture; acquisition of the means of self-destruction of the human species; first steps in space craft planetary exploration and the search of extraterrestrial intelligence

1

 
AmericanMuseum of Natural History Big Bang

13000000000

3000000000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Milky Way forms

10000000000

5500000000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Sun and planets form

4500000000

700000000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Oldest known life (single cell)

3800000000

2800000000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History First multicellular organisms

1000000000

450000000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Cambrian Explosion (burst of new life forms)

550000000

70000000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Emergence of first vertebrates

480000000

40000000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Early land plants

440000000

50000000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Variety of insects begin to flourish

390000000

160000000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History First dinosaurs appear

230000000

40000000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History First mammalian ancestors appear

190000000

50000000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History First known birds

140000000

75000000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Dinosaurs wiped out by asteroid or comet

65000000

49000000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Apes appear

16000000

12100000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History First human ancestors to walk upright

3900000

2100000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Homo erectus appears

1800000

1785000

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Anatomically modern humans appear

15000

8700

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Invention of writing

6300

1700

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Pyramids built in Egypt

4600

4092

AmericanMuseum of Natural History Voyage of Christopher Columbus

508

 
Encyclopaedia Britannica Oldest prokaryotic fossils

3500000000

1000000000

Encyclopaedia Britannica Oxygen begins to accumulate in atmosphere

2500000000

400000000

Encyclopaedia Britannica Oldest eukaryotic fossils

2100000000

1400000000

Encyclopaedia Britannica Simple multicellular organisms evolve

700000000

280000000

Encyclopaedia Britannica Plants colonize land

420000000

50000000

Encyclopaedia Britannica Amphibians appear

370000000

10000000

Encyclopaedia Britannica First insects

360000000

20000000

Encyclopaedia Britannica Reptiles appear

340000000

60000000

Encyclopaedia Britannica Mass extinction

280000000

50000000

Encyclopaedia Britannica First dinosaurs and mammals

230000000

30000000

Encyclopaedia Britannica Birds evolve from reptiles

200000000

60000000

Encyclopaedia Britannica First flowering plants

140000000

74000000

Encyclopaedia Britannica Mass extinction

66000000

63600000

Encyclopaedia Britannica Ice age

2400000

2300000

Encyclopaedia Britannica Advent of modern humans

100000

99999

Encyclopaedia Britannica Present

1

 
ERAPS at University of Arizona No life; shallow seas

4000000000

200000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Origin of simple cells

3800000000

300000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Origin of cyanobacteria

3500000000

1000000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Oxygen accumulates in atmosphere

2500000000

800000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Protists and green algae

1700000000

700000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Simple multicellular life (sponges, seaweeds)

1000000000

300000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona More invertebrates (flatworms, jellyfish)

700000000

180000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Early animals with hard parts in oceans

520000000

110000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Planets invade land

410000000

60000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Vertebrates invade land

350000000

50000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Coal forming forests, amphibians, BIG insects

300000000

70000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Mass extinction (trilobites)

230000000

30000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Pangaea, first mammals, first reptiles

200000000

135000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Mass extinction (including dinosaurs)

65000000

35000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Small mammals, humanoids

30000000

28000000

ERAPS at University of Arizona Early Humans

2000000

1999999

ERAPS at University of Arizona Us

1

 
Paul Boyer Big bang

15000000000

10200000000

Paul Boyer Solar system forms

4800000000

200000000

Paul Boyer Earth forms

4600000000

600000000

Paul Boyer Nitrogen atmosphere (for winds) is present or acquired

4000000000

100000000

Paul Boyer Abundant water is present or acquired, Organic precursors for life forms accumulate, Primitive living organisms arise or (less likely) come from space

3900000000

400000000

Paul Boyer Land temperature stabilizes so that most of the water is liquid

3500000000

300000000

Paul Boyer Some life forms get energy from oxidationreduction reactions

3200000000

200000000

Paul Boyer Organisms evolve to gain many present biochemical characteristics

3000000000

300000000

Paul Boyer Photosynthetic capacity is acquired, and oxygen evolution begins

2700000000

100000000

Paul Boyer Land surfaces form and plate tectonics established

2600000000

200000000

Paul Boyer Evolution produces organisms that can use oxygen to make ATP

2400000000

300000000

Paul Boyer Abundant microorganisms colonize the entire earth.

2100000000

1400000000

Paul Boyer Multicellular organisms arise with increased capacity for structural differentiation

700000000

300000000

Paul Boyer Primitive plant forms begin to evolve stems, roots, and leaves

400000000

397400000

Paul Boyer First humans

2600000

900000

Paul Boyer Widespread use of stone tools

1700000

700000

Paul Boyer Acquisition of spoken language

1000000

995000

Paul Boyer Acquisition of written language

5000

4500

Paul Boyer They learn that knowledge comes from observation and experiment (scientific method)

500

300

Paul Boyer Ability to control nature gives rise to a human population explosion

200

100

Paul Boyer The above abilities give rise to a remarkable understanding of nature

100

 
Barrow and Silk Big Bang

20000000000

1500000000

Barrow and Silk Galaxies begin to form

18500000000

1500000000

Barrow and Silk Galaxies begin to cluster

17000000000

1000000000

Barrow and Silk Our protogalaxy collapses; first stars form

16000000000

1000000000

Barrow and Silk Quasars are born; Population II stars form

15000000000

5000000000

Barrow and Silk Population I stars form

10000000000

5200000000

Barrow and Silk Our parent interstellar cloud forms

4800000000

100000000

Barrow and Silk Collapse of protosolar nebula

4700000000

100000000

Barrow and Silk Planets form; rock solidifies

4600000000

300000000

Barrow and Silk Intense cratering of planets

4300000000

400000000

Barrow and Silk Oldest terrestrial rocks form

3900000000

900000000

Barrow and Silk Microscopic life forms

3000000000

1000000000

Barrow and Silk Oxygen rich atmosphere develops

2000000000

1000000000

Barrow and Silk Macroscopic life forms

1000000000

400000000

Barrow and Silk Earliest fossil record

600000000

150000000

Barrow and Silk First fishes

450000000

50000000

Barrow and Silk Early land plants

400000000

100000000

Barrow and Silk Ferns, conifers

300000000

100000000

Barrow and Silk First mammals

200000000

50000000

Barrow and Silk First birds

150000000

90000000

Barrow and Silk First primates

60000000

10000000

Barrow and Silk Mammals increase

50000000

49900000

Barrow and Silk Homo sapiens

100000

 
Jean Heidmann Big Bang, etc.

15000000000

7000000000

Jean Heidmann Age of most distant galaxies

8000000000

3500000000

Jean Heidmann Formation of the Sun and the Earth

4500000000

1000000000

Jean Heidmann First bacteria

3500000000

2000000000

Jean Heidmann First eucaryotic organisms

1500000000

1000000000

Jean Heidmann Explosion of life in the Cambria era

500000000

496500000

Jean Heidmann The dawn of Australopithecus

3500000

1000000

Jean Heidmann Homo habili uses tools

2500000

1500000

Jean Heidmann Homo erectus masters the use of fire

1000000

960000

Jean Heidmann Invention of writing

40000

38000

Jean Heidmann Eratosthenes measures the size of the Earth

2000

1600

Jean Heidmann Copernicus, Galileo

400

 
IGPP Symposium Formation of the Earth

4600000000

600000000

IGPP Symposium Origin of Life on Earth

4000000000

200000000

IGPP Symposium Formation of the oldest rocks known on Earth

3800000000

300000000

IGPP Symposium Date of oldest fossils and stromatolites

3500000000

700000000

IGPP Symposium Abundant cyanobacteria and stromatolites

2800000000

300000000

IGPP Symposium Abundant iron formations

2500000000

400000000

IGPP Symposium Latest detrital uraninite/pyrite

2100000000

200000000

IGPP Symposium Atmospheric oxygen

1900000000

100000000

IGPP Symposium Nucleated cells (phytoplankton)

1800000000

700000000

IGPP Symposium Complex (sexual) phytoplankton

1100000000

250000000

IGPP Symposium Seaweeds and protozoans

850000000

250000000

IGPP Symposium Animals without backbones

600000000

100000000

IGPP Symposium Fish

500000000

100000000

IGPP Symposium Land plants and animals

400000000

100000000

IGPP Symposium Coal swamps

300000000

100000000

IGPP Symposium Dinosaurs and birds

200000000

100000000

IGPP Symposium Flowering plants

100000000

98000000

IGPP Symposium Humans

2000000

 
Phillip Tobias Divergence of orangutan lineage from Hominoidea

16000000

8500000

Phillip Tobias Divergence of gorilla from other African hominoids

7500000

1500000

Phillip Tobias Uplift, cooling, and aridification of Africa

6000000

300000

Phillip Tobias Chimpanzee hominid divergence, inferred appearance of Hominidae

5700000

200000

Phillip Tobias “Messinian crisis”, the drying up of the Mediterranean / Spread of African savannah / etc.

5500000

700000

Phillip Tobias Earliest known fossils identifiable as probable hominid

4800000

1000000

Phillip Tobias Earliest fossil evidence of hominid bipedalism

3800000

1000000

Phillip Tobias Hominid fossils known

2800000

100000

Phillip Tobias Differentiation of postulated “derived A. africanus”

2700000

100000

Phillip Tobias One or more splittings of hominid lineage; earliest known Australopithecus boisei fossils;      earliest known stone cultural remains.

2600000

300000

Phillip Tobias Acquisition of spoken language (as here inferred); many changes in mammalian fauna of   Africa (baboons, elephants, pigs, bovids, hippopotami, sabertoothed cats, rodents)

2300000

200000

Phillip Tobias Earliest known Homo habilis fossils

2100000

100000

Phillip Tobias Earliest modern human brain form; earliest signs of marked brain enlargement in hominids.

2000000

200000

Phillip Tobias Movement of hominids from Africa to Asia and Europe

1800000

100000

Phillip Tobias Emergence of Homo erectus

1700000

400000

Phillip Tobias Acquisition of fire by H. erectus

1300000

100000

Phillip Tobias Extinction of robust and hyperrobust australopithecines

1200000

700000

Phillip Tobias Emergence of Homo sapiens

500000

390000

Phillip Tobias Earliest known “anatomically modern Homo sapiens”

110000

10000

Phillip Tobias Earliest burial of the dead

100000

60000

Phillip Tobias Emergence of “modern human culture)

40000

5000

Phillip Tobias Earliest rock art; earliest protowriting

35000

30000

Phillip Tobias Earliest writing

5000

 
David Nelson Planet earth forms

4500000000

500000000

David Nelson Planet surface cools and bombardment from space slows, so life has the possibility      of existing on the planet.  Oldest earth rocks dated by radioactivity.

4000000000

100000000

David Nelson Evidence for life seen in Greenland rocks enriched in C12 isotope. Prokaryotes diverge  from archaea. Chlorophyll and photosynthesis evolve in the bacterial lineage.

3900000000

200000000

David Nelson First banded iron formation seen. Implies oxygen made by photosynthesis

3700000000

200000000

David Nelson First stromatolites seen.

3500000000

1400000000

David Nelson First tentative evidence of a eukaryotic microfossil

2100000000

100000000

David Nelson Oxygen begins to rise in the atmosphere after oxygen sinks saturated.

2000000000

500000000

David Nelson Oxygen level in the atmosphere reaches present day level and stabilizes. More convincing evidence of eukaryotic microfossils.  Chloroplasts and mitochondria present.

1500000000

300000000

David Nelson Major eukaryotic phyla diverge. Plants branched before animals/fungi

1200000000

600000000

David Nelson Invertebrates and vertebrates diverge. Hox gene cluster exists.

600000000

70000000

David Nelson Cambrian explosion of fossil record.

530000000

130000000

David Nelson Fish and other vertebrates diverge. Plants and fungi invade the land

400000000

20000000

David Nelson Vertebrates move onto land

380000000

20000000

David Nelson Gymnosperms (naked seed plants) diverge from angiosperms (flowering plants)

360000000

60000000

David Nelson Birds and other vertebrates diverge.

300000000

120000000

David Nelson Monocots diverge from dicots

180000000

40000000

David Nelson Oldest angiosperm fossil

140000000

80000000

David Nelson Last common ancestor of all polymorphism sequences

60000000

55000000

David Nelson Chimpanzees and humans diverge

5000000

3300000

David Nelson Homo sapiens

1700000

1500000

David Nelson Last common ancestor of all human mitochondrial DNA types

200000

141000

David Nelson Modern humans

59000

 
Goran Burenhult (ed.) Purgatorius

60000000

5000000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Petrolemuridae

55000000

10000000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Adapiformes, omomylformes

45000000

5000000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Aegyptopithecus, Propliapithecus, Oligopithecus, Catopithecus

40000000

2000000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Afrotarsius

38000000

11000000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Omomylformes, Branisella

27000000

9000000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Prohylobates, Micropithecus, Afropithecus Proconsul

18000000

3000000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Kenyopithecus, Dryopithecus

15000000

4000000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Krishnapithecus

11000000

1000000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Sivapithecus

10000000

500000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Ouranopithecus

9500000

3000000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Samburu maxilla

6500000

1500000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Gigantopithecus

5000000

3200000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Orangutans, emergence of stone tools

1800000

300000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Appearance of the erectines

1500000

870000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Acheulian technology

630000

80000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Homo erectus

550000

200000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Homo heidelbergensis

350000

120000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Control of fire

230000

30000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Homo sapiens, modern humans

200000

70000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Neanderthalis

130000

60000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Mousterian technology

70000

35000

Goran Burenhult (ed.) Art

35000

 
Johanson and Edgar Ardipithecus ramidus

4400000

200000

Johanson and Edgar Australopithecus anamensis

4200000

300000

Johanson and Edgar Australopithecus afarensis

3900000

1100000

Johanson and Edgar Australopithecus africanus

2800000

100000

Johanson and Edgar Australopithecus aethiopicus

2700000

200000

Johanson and Edgar Homo sp?

2500000

100000

Johanson and Edgar Homo rudolfensis

2400000

100000

Johanson and Edgar Australopithecus boisei

2300000

400000

Johanson and Edgar Homo habilis / Australopithecus habilis

1900000

100000

Johanson and Edgar Homo ergaster

1800000

600000

Johanson and Edgar Homo erectus

1200000

600000

Johanson and Edgar Homo heldelbergensis

600000

300000

Johanson and Edgar Homo neanderthalensis

300000

200000

Johanson and Edgar Homo sapiens

100000

 
Modis 2002 Big Bang / quarks / protons & neutrons / atoms of elements

15000000000

3000000000

Modis 2002 First stars

12000000000

7400000000

Modis 2002 First planets / rock solidification / solar system

4600000000

800000000

Modis 2002 First life / cooling of Earth / formation of first rocks / water forms

3800000000

2800000000

Modis 2002 First multicellular life (sponges, seaweeds)

1000000000

470000000

Modis 2002 Cambrian explosion / invertebrates / vertebrates

530000000

330000000

Modis 2002 First mammals

200000000

135000000

Modis 2002 First primates / asteroid collision

65000000

48000000

Modis 2002 First orangutan

17000000

11000000

Modis 2002 First hominids

6000000

3400000

Modis 2002 First stone tools

2600000

1600000

Modis 2002 Development of speech / Homo sapiens

1000000

500000

Modis 2002 Discovery of fire / hunting gathering society

500000

400000

Modis 2002 Emergence of “modern humans” / earliest burial of the dead / agrarian pastoral   / sociocultural systems

100000

65000

Modis 2002 Rock art / protowriting

35000

25000

Modis 2002 Agriculture / prehistoric nomadic bands / techniques for starting fire

10000

5000

Modis 2002 Discovery of the wheel / writing / archaic empires / large civilizations / Egypt     / Mesopotamia

5000

2500

Modis 2002 Democracy / city states / Greeks / Buddha

2500

500

Modis 2002 Christianity

2000

1325

Modis 2002 Gunpowder

675

175

Modis 2002 Renaissance (printing press) / discovery of new world / the scientific method

500

275

Modis 2002 Industrial revolution (steam engine) / political revolutions (French, USA)

225

125

Modis 2002 Modern physics / radio / electricity / automobile / airplane / capitalism & colonialism

100

50

Modis 2002 DNA / transistor / nuclear energy / W.W.II / cold war / sputnik

50

45

Modis 2002 Internet / human genome sequenced

5

 
Richard Coren Big Bang

15000000000

11500000000

Richard Coren Solidification of Earth Prokaryotic life

3500000000

2750000000

Richard Coren Eukaryotic radiation

750000000

575000000

Richard Coren Appearance of class Mammalia

175000000

142500000

Richard Coren Appearance of superfamily Hominoidea

32500000

25500000

Richard Coren Appearance of family Hominidae

7000000

5250000

Richard Coren Appearance of genus Homo

1750000

1500000

Richard Coren Appearance of archaic Homo sapiens

250000

180000

Richard Coren Appearance of H. sapiens sapiens

70000

55000

Richard Coren Development of communal villages

15000

11000

Richard Coren Development of writing

4000

3441

Richard Coren Development of printing

559

500

Richard Coren Development of digital electronics and computing

59

 
Modis 2003 Big Bang

15500000000

5500000000

Modis 2003 Origin of Milky Way

10000000000

6000000000

Modis 2003 Origin of life on Earth

4000000000

2000000000

Modis 2003 First eukaryotes

2000000000

1000000000

Modis 2003 First multicellular life

1000000000

570000000

Modis 2003 Cambrian explosion

430000000

220000000

Modis 2003 First mammals

210000000

71000000

Modis 2003 First flowering plants

139000000

84400000

Modis 2003 Asteroid collision

54600000

26100000

Modis 2003 First hominids

28500000

12000000

Modis 2003 First orangutan

16500000

11400000

Modis 2003 Chimpanzees and humans diverge

5100000

2900000

Modis 2003 First stone tools

2200000

1645000

Modis 2003 Emergence of Homo Sapiens

555000

230000

Modis 2003 Domestication of fire

325000

125000

Modis 2003 Differentiation of human DNA types

200000

94300

Modis 2003 Emergence of “modern humans”

105700

69900

Modis 2003 Rock art, protowriting

35800

16600

Modis 2003 Invention of agriculture

19200

8200

Modis 2003 Techniques for starting fire

11000

6093

Modis 2003 Development of the wheel, writing

4907

2470

Modis 2003 Democracy

2437

997

Modis 2003 Zero and decimals invented in Indian arithmetic

1440

901

Modis 2003 Renaissance (printing press)

539

314

Modis 2003 Industrial Revolution (steam engine)

225

125

Modis 2003 Modern physics

100

50

Modis 2003 DNA structure described, transistor invented, nuclear energy

50

45

Modis 2003 Internet, human genome sequenced

5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no such thing as limited resources, there is only unlimited resourcefulness.

People often claim that infinite economic growth is impossible in a closed system. Besides the fact that planet Earth is not a closed system, a thousand tons of cosmic material falls onto Earth each year, it is not the confines of this system that constraints our growth, yet. Growth is by all practical scales and timeframes regulated by an open system, namely our brains. Its creativity and ingenuity knows no theoretical bounds and can be considered infinite. The cumulative knowledge it has been building has been growing for ever and continues to do so at a mindboggling pace of yearly doublings. It is this growth that has been paramount to our economic development.

When rivers flowed idly, its energy preserved in the flow, it was the knowledge of the waterwheel that enabled us to use part of that energy. The windmill provided means to tap into the energy of moving air. Coal was used in Roman times as jewelry, an increase in knowledge enabled its energetic potential and kickstarted the Industrial Revolution. Oil was a nuisance for many farmers in the 19th century, until technologic progress unlocked its energy, and it powered the Oil age. Uranium knew practically no use, until science cracked nuclear fission.

 The basic flaw of the impossible infinite economic growth claim above is that it fails to recognize what our fundamental resource is. Because our fundamental resource is not oil or gas, nor had it been coal, wood, water or wind, our fundamental resource is our brains. When people were struggling in the Middle Ages to obtain food to not die of hunger, it was not due to lack of resources, but due to the lack of knowledge how to make use of these resources. The difference between the economy now and the economy a thousand years ago is not that there are more resources now, but that we have more knowledge to extract and effectively use resources. And when people in Africa are in danger of starvation, it is not due lack of (physical) resources, because its lands are bountiful, but again, a lack of knowledge and knowhow how to extract, obtain and use these resources effectively.

Of course our infinite creativity operates within the finite boundaries of our planet, but on system Earth so much energy circulates, that the impending end of the Oil Age, need not to be seen as the impending end of energetic and economic growth.

Look at the following graphic depiction of energy availability. The finite resources are in total amounts of energy, the renewables in yearly numbers, with a small reference for yearly energy consumption. The potential for solar is immense.

  

The practice of extracting this enormous potential of the suns energy, has begun rather recently, but it has grown explosively since. 

 

Solar power generating capacity grew by 73.3% in 2011. Total capacity grew by 29.3 GW to reach 63.4 GW. Capacity has grown almost ten-fold over the past 5 years and had been growing for an exponential rate for 35 years already, doubling every 2 years. Below I plotted the cumulative solar output up to 2009 and extrapolated it onwards and a rough estimate of the world energy use is also shown, in a logarithmic scale. Bar the fact that cumulative output over the years can not be simply added up to provide a grant total, it does give a feel of the enormous strides being made in the field of solar production.

And solar is not the only renewable that is growing, other renewables show similar trends.

  

The potential of solar is big, but when we would talk fusion, the energy potential of planet Earth takes on an incomprehensible size. Below I plotted the yearly contribution of the sun of the energy of system Earth again, now together with a circle representing nuclear fusion. Where the sun is about a mm in diameter, the diameter of the energy available from fusion is 6 meter, and only a fraction can be shown. In fact, given current energy use and taking it as constant, fusion from deuterium from sea water only, would be enough to provide us with 75 billion years of energy supply or roughly 5 times the age of the universe. Again, it is not the physical boundaries that are constraining us, but the lack of knowledge to perform fusion effectively is holding us back.

For fusion it is always said that it is 30 years away and always will be. I believe this not to be so, but let’s take a look at energy supply now, its growth and direction, and bring the discussion back to understandable and practical dimensions.

We talked solar, and solar is poised to become big. Already growing exponentially for 35 years straight, it will soon become a significant part of our energy supply. But not only solar has been growing, in fact, practically all sources of energy have seen increased production also those with finite reserves. If resources become ever more scarce the more we mine them, how come we produce more of it now than ever before?

One way of looking at resource extraction is as if it were a pyramid. The oil on top is of prime quality, achieved through unlikely and lengthy purification processes; it is both very pure and highly accessible, think of the oil that surfaced in Texas beginning of the 20th century. Going downwards in the pyramid, oils of lesser quality and/or lesser accessibility are found, but these are also more plentiful, e.g. deep sea oil drilling. Further down oil has had practically no purification and remains within the so-called source rock, e.g. the Canadian tarsands.
Our ability to extract oil will then be related to two variables: the physical reality of how oil is present within Earth; the pyramid, versus our improving skills to find and extract oil. If our knowledge increases faster than that the pyramid empties, we will continuously increase our output. And judging our production of oil, which reached a new high in 2011, this is exactly what is happening.

 

Our ability to produce oil increases so fast, that every year the amount of proven reserves is actually increasing. And the years that we have oil left has risen from an estimated 30 years of proven reserves left in 1980, to 45 years left, 30 years later in 2010.

 

Natural gas can also be presented as a pyramid, here one with the reserves the lower 48 states of the US.

Also here productivity is foremost related to ingenuity, and ingenuity recently opened up new possibilities; fracking  and horizontal drilling enabled small pockets of gas within shales to be extracted that previously remained out of reach. So gas production has been sharply rising as well.

 

Coal use is growing as well, in fact all sources of energy show growth except for nuclear, which suffers from social backlash and safety concerns.

Picture our energy production as the mind’s competition with the physical, the mind over matter. In this system Earth we can get our energy from many different places. Solar might be cheapest in sunny areas, coal in areas where externalities are neglected, hydro electricity where rivers have might and gas where reserves are plenty. Many resources can substitute each other, some are mobile and all can produce electricity.

 Our energy use is not and never has been a function of the actual physical availability of resources, it has always been a function of increasing knowledge. The enormous amounts of energy available, its great variety in appearances, together with the exponentially increasing cumulative knowledge, leads to an ever increasing accessibility of energy for us humans. That’s why total energy use and even the energy per capita have been increasing as far back as we can measure them.

All things come to an end, especially bubbles.
Below the schematic representation of the way bubbles develop and deflate and what phases they go through. Below  it, a graph showing the rise and rise of silver during the last 8 years in a weekly graph of the price of the stuff in dollars per troy ounce. And for those who did not put two and two together, the graphs combined in the bottom graph.

The top we have had, denial we have heard and the bull trap ran its course. We are now returning to “normal”, meaning going back to the new “paradigm” we’ve established, that is: “Silver is not overpriced, it should be this expensive, the world has changed, this time it is different, we will never go back to the era of cheap silver, etc.”
But during the next slump this certainty will turn to fear, fear to capitulation, capitulation to despair.
I am sharpening my knives to ride this snake..  (That’s a disclaimer, I am not holding a position in silver at the moment.)

Mockingly did Homo Economicus (“Rational man”) take notice of the somewhat overenthusiastic predictions done by Harold Camping. The End of Times, originally planned on September 1994, was, after careful recalculation, shifted to the 21st of May, a day that passed like every other. Now we can look forward to the 21st of October as the actual date, I can’t wait… Of course, this is nothing new, predictions about the end of time have been made for centuries already and all have been proved false. One would not blame us for not taking the next claim by a self styled prophet that seriously.

But Homo Economicus is also not always that rational and in a somewhat other branch of doomsaying there are practically as many wrong predictions, but new predictions are treated with reverence and respect and the long list of failed predictions does not diminish the perceived importance of the new ones. I am talking about this so called Peak Everything; Peak Oil, Peak Coal, Peak Copper, Peak Gold, Peak Food, etc. and how it will be the end of our progress. These predictions are in line with our intuition (probably just like the predictions of mr. Camping are in line with the intuition of religious zealots) and we hold them as inevitable truths, no matter how many predictions fail to materialize.

The site http://rayharvey.org/index.php/2010/01/peak-oil/  lists some of those predictions on Peak Oil. Lines like:

“Reserves to last only thirteen years” (1939, Department of the Interior).

“Reserves to last thirteen years” (1951, Department of the Interior, Oil and Gas Division).

“We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade” (President Jimmy Carter speaking in 1978 to the entire world).

Are in hindsight quite amusing, but were seen as genuinely valid and dire predictions at the time. In the meanwhile the production of oil has increased almost continuously, right through all predictions of Peak Oil. Just like Harold Camping the date of Peak “Resource of Choice” is moved ever further into the future, but it would be more honest for most people to admit that frankly they don’t have a clue what is going on. The book Peak Everything by Richard Heinberg is a good example of the commonly held view, it shows many graphs of different resources which have become more abundantly available until now and will show a decline in the near future. In other words, all reality (the past) points towards increase and all subjective predictions (the future) points towards decrease. President Carter probably made his above statement based on an exactly similar looking graph, with the peak placed in 1978.

The problem with all these false predictions is the concept called paradigm. A paradigm can be defined as a point of reference with which the reality is experienced. When in 1900 oil flowed from the shallow earth, that was your reality. That oil could be extracted five thousand meters beneath the ocean floor, would’ve been impossible to realize. We are, in fact, constantly trapped within our paradigm, in which it is by definition impossible to see the solutions of tomorrow for the problems of today. Constantly we see the boundaries, the end of growth, and constantly we apparently do not see our historic ability to overcome those boundaries would we ever threaten to reach them. Because that is what has always happen, approach the boundary, market mechanisms explode the price of resources, remarkable creativity and ingenuity is used to overcome those boundaries, the paradigm is shifted and we see a new boundary on the horizon again.

This process is what gives us our intuition of Peak Resource and what makes it impossible to ever fully determine the absolute limits of resources of Earth, because the estimate is based on the limited knowledge of the now.

What does this all mean for the future? Technological progress improves faster than resource reserves diminish. This was the case when coal was our primary energy source, when wood was it and when flint was it. That is why the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones and the Oil Age will not end because we run out of oil. Through all paradigm shifts, electricity becomes ever cheaper, e.g. the price per kWh taking in account inflation, decreased by 95% in the 20th century. Metals have been cheapening for centuries and the commodity price index is down to 30% since 1845.

We have been underestimating human ingenuity and our problem solving abilities since the beginning of time and many voices can be heard today that problems appear insolvable. Now resource prices are anomalously high, due to the fact that Asia has linked up with the global market, sparking fears that resources will be too few. But also Asians will prove to be more problem solvers, than problem creators, just like the Western world and electricity and metals will become ever cheaper in the 21st century. Earth can provide ample, it is only lack of imagination and an acceptance of the reigning boundaries that blinds us.

Only one resource truly matters and that is the human mind.

Goklany, Indur M. The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives On a Cleaner Planet (2007)

 

The Economist, Feb 10th 2005

 

Richard Heinberg, Peak Everything

The human mind is our fundamental resource

- J.F.Kennedy, 20-02-1961

 After the last Ice Age rising sea levels flooded the land bridge between Tasmania and Australia and effectively separated the islanders from the mainland. When Abel Tasman discovered the island 8000 years later, five thousand Aborigines were living there. Isolated, they had not only missed the progress of the mainland, but they had collectively lost knowledge. They did not use bone tools anymore, but made their tools of stone once again and they did not wear clothes, but rubbed their bodies with seal fat to keep warm. A collective of five thousand people was unable to maintain their level of knowledge, let alone be able to move it forward: technological regression.

 

Malthusian Catastrophe, AKA This time it’s different

In 1798 Thomas Malthus wrote his Essay on the Principle of Population and the Malthusian school of thought was born; population growth is exponential, Earth’s resources are limited and one of these days this equation will run amuck evoking a catastrophe of enormous proportions. Since then every era has had his envisioned limits and its intellectuals seeing the end of progress because of them. In 1865 William Jevons predicted in The Coal Question Peak Coal. He foresaw the end of progress and stated “I must point out the painful fact that such a rate of growth will before long render our consumption of coal comparable with the total supply. In the increasing depth and difficulty of coal mining we shall meet that vague, but inevitable boundary that will stop our progress.” Paul Ehrlich visioned starvation a hundred years later, stating “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.” (from: Population Bomb, 1971). England had Peak Coal, but progress did not stop there and Paul Ehrlich’s book just got its first print and the Green Revolution was well underway, the percentage of malnourished people shrank from 37% in 1970 to 17% in 2007 even as the population of the World doubled.

Nowadays, concern about overpopulation is the intellectual norm. Supposedly the Earth is not able to sustain this many people, let alone an even bigger population. And if Peak Oil will not be our end, surely the use of that oil and the carbon emitted will. But the opposite was true in the past, the larger the population, the better we all had it. What makes this time different? Why would the envisioned limits really be the constraint this time?

 

The more, the merrier

Since Malthus published his book the world population showed a seven fold increase. In the meantime quality of life made huge strides forward. In Indur Goklany’s excellent Improving State of the World a wealth of data is used to show that the human condition improved tremendously the last few centuries. In the face of all the doomsayers’ predictions nearly every human related measurable parameter has improved and is in better shape than ever. Healthy longevity, food availability, child mortality, maternal mortality, mobility, illiteracy, poverty, child labour, amount of worked hours, suffrage and freedom; all showed massive worldwide improvements. Recently even air and water quality have been improving in the developed world. Also forests and nature reserves have been growing, with many animals flourishing again, this in contrast with the popular opinion that economic growth necessarily comes at the cost of the environment. In the meanwhile, prices of resources become ever cheaper or put differently, we use an ever smaller portion of our income to buy energy, food, water and metals.

 

Limits of planet Earth

The limits of planet Earth are not absolute; they are solely constraint by the reigning paradigm. Wood, peat, coal, but also oxes, horses, wind and water energy (in the Middle Ages) were all used in their paradigm to their absolute maximum, than they were substituted by a new energy source through innovation and progress continued robustly. By definition one cannot see beyond your paradigm, which provides a sense of finiteness to the people living in the paradigm. This feeling is totally unjustified when looking at the facts. Of all energy circulating on planet Earth, we only use a tiny fraction. In fact, if we compare the World’s energy consumption with the energy the Earth receives from the sun alone, we only use 0.01%, or put differently, each year the Earth receives twice as much energy from the sun as all fossil and uranium reserves put together. It is only a lack of imagination that this energy is not up for grabs.

At this moment the paradigm shift is happening, the solar energy sector is the fastest growing energy sector in the world, doubling output every two years, for thirty five years already, in twenty more years the sun will provide all our energy needs.

 

Why should we want more people?

Man is a problem solver. We are intrinsically wired to want to solve problems, from puzzles to mathematical problems to curing diseases. The bigger the population the more we can create, build, innovate and solve. The more we can specialize and use our brains as efficiently as possible for ever more complex problems. But also, the more we are, the more music, movies and art we will make. The more Einsteins, Mozarts and Peles we will come to know.

All major problems mankind is facing, problems like cancer, aids, food, water and energy supply and global warming, we will solve sooner with more people than with less. This is because the limits are not defined by the Earth yet, but only by our creativity. In its essence every new person is primarily a problem solver, not a problem. That’s why up to now the bigger the population, the better we all have it and that’s why we are allowed  to embrace every new human being with rejoice and not need to fear a growing population. Like the average human being in existence, a new baby will probably be a net problem solver, an enrichment to the lives surrounding it and a contributor to the World’s wealth. In other words, a welcome addition to team human.

 

The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones

There are caves in the Netherlands, tens of meters beneath the ground, kilometres long where my ancestors in the Stone Age were digging for pieces of flint. Possibly they were also afraid that they would run out of their essential resource, their way of making fire and tools, trapped as they were in their paradigm. Also they would not be able to see the solutions of tomorrow for the problems of today and also they could not presume there was only one resource fundamental for our progress. That resource is the most complex object in the known universe. It is the ultimate resource: our brains and their  potential for creativity is infinite.

 

Ehrlich, Paul R. The Population Bomb. (1971).

 Goklany, Indur M. The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives On a Cleaner Planet (2007)

 Jevons, William Stanley ,The Coal Question; An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal Mines (1865)

 Malthus, Thomas R. An Essay On The Principle Of Population (1798)

 Ridley, Matt, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (2010)

Welcome to WordPress.com. After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above. Or hit Add New on the left (of the admin dashboard) to start a fresh post.

Here are some suggestions for your first post.

  1. You can find new ideas for what to blog about by reading the Daily Post.
  2. Add PressThis to your browser. It creates a new blog post for you about any interesting  page you read on the web.
  3. Make some changes to this page, and then hit preview on the right. You can alway preview any post or edit you before you share it to the world.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 80 other followers