Big History and The Dawn of Everything

What is the relationship between the two?

2021-12-13 [Dan Allosso] Since Big History generally includes events that took place well before the existence of Homo sapiens, I would argue that while similar in its intention to expand our thinking beyond the topics and sources of typical histories, Dawn is not a Big History.

2021-12-13 #ChrisAldrich: I’ll generally agree with #DCA that The Dawn of Everything is not a stand-alone Big History text writ large as many of these types of texts cover the full 13.9 billion years of the existence of time.

I do suspect that it will cover a tremendously large swath of the existence of Homo sapiens (and potentially their earlier animal ancestors) in comparison to most history texts which focus on a single person, event, or short time period spanning a day to several hundreds of years. Some Big History texts break the timeline of the Universe into eight thresholds, and this one portends to cover parts of thresholds 5 and 8 with the bulk of the material centered on thresholds 6 and 7.

One of the other hallmarks of the subject of big history is that it covers material in a highly multi-disciplinary way often using ideas from physics, chemistry, biology, archaeology, anthropology, etc. to make arguments about the shape of history and potential predictions about where we’re going.

From this perspective, in terms of coverage of both time and multi-disciplinarity, I would preliminarily argue that this work fits into the pantheon of the Big History space along with titles like Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond.

Follow up:

Another hallmark of the Big History perspective is that of complexity theory and emergent properties and behaviors, which I think is a piece of what I expect we’ll see in this book, though perhaps not framed from the rigorous perspective of mathematicians and physicists. For most of Occidental civilization, we’ve largely followed in the Aristotelian tradition which has resulted in a viewpoint dominated by the scala naturae or Great Chain of Being which has placed a definite hierarchy on modern life that we seem to be struggling to free ourselves from. (Somehow we’ve overthrown the Ptolemaic model of the universe, but not the rest.) Many indigenous cultures haven’t labored under this burden, but instead have had a much more integrative and holistic view of life which also subsequently may have allowed many of them to live successfully, peacefully, and with greater levels of equality. Given the starting conditions of the scala naturae and capitalism what human behaviors emerge? What if we can re-run this human experiment with different starting conditions? (With anthropology and other societies we can take a look at some results.) Now combine other starting conditions with the luck/fortune of the West from a geographical point of view as described in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel - The Fate of Human Societies and how might things have played out differently?


2021-12-13 : Copied from the book club Obsidian space for The Dawn of Everything - A New History of Humanity


links: big history The Dawn of Everything - A New History of Humanity

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December 13, 2021