Rated 5 out of 5 by Paint SPACIOUS
Yet again, another stellal course from TGC. Big History is a must have. The interdisciplinary dissection of past, present, and future utilized by Professor Christian left me very motivated to learn "the details" of the broad subjectect matter covered by his course. After disc 4 - I was inspired to jump into Biological Anthropology (course no. 1573). Also, Big History fueled my interests in the Earth Sciences which has me watching Professor Wysession and his course on Geological Wonders (course no. 1712). I have no complaints with this course at all; it was really well rounded. For a new customer to this site, I'd highly recommend this as your first course.
November 21, 2013
Rated 4 out of 5 by AA747 Big History - Could do better
Firstly, I totally agree with Prof. Christian that this is a very important area of study. However in places this course is muddled and unhelpful. Therefore, I hope the prof. can revisit the course material and make some corrections. I am neither an astrophysicist, nor a geologist, nor a paleontologist not a historian, and I haven't time to research and correct all the weaknesses myself.
Some reviewers are critical of the failure to cover things like the Higgs Boson or String Theory - but those are irrelevant. The mechanism of gravity does not need to be known, only the effect. As for String Theory, it is just that at the moment, a theory, it is far from established, and it hardly reveals any historical perspectives.
Other reviewers complain about the 3-way repetition of preface-say it- summary, but I didn't find that as annoying as the desire to constantly make generalisations in a vain attempt to add value to a material that clearly isn't his.
Although I was suprised by some of the repetition. At one point he says:
"Let me give you an example. Here's an example, for example ...".
I dreaded him talking about population 'millions', sounding like Fagin in Oliver Twist, but thankfully he got out of that habit after a while.
I also dreaded hearing him mention "energy flows". Its at times like that that prof. Christian's lack of a hard scientific background shows. After all, what does that mean, exactly? Can you write an equation for it? Its just a nice wooly concept. It may be a helpful idea, but its not something to obsess over as if you've established some new scientific theorem. (It fails the two criteria of disprovability and abiltiy to predict).
I felt the same about the "collective learning" concept. The prof. wants to say that the internet and its connectivity introduces a step change in the complexity - but then why not distinguish the creation of writing, then the printing press then the telephone as well? It is hard to see how the professor's "collective learning" is any different from "language" and that is a word that everyone can immediately understand. Its as if he's inventing new terms in a desperate attempt to give his study credence. And the thing is, everyone from Noam Chomsky to your local retailer can agree that the introduction of human language is a key milestone in this universe time span.
I think the Summary Timeline at the end of the booklet needs pruning. Notably he ommits to put the invention of language in the timeline, one of the most significant events. Again too much focus on generalities at the expense of real knowledge. There are around 18 milestones from the Big Bang till HomoSapiens, then after that it is mostly normal human history which many people may already know. I feel that if this was done more clearly, then the end of the course, listeners could remember most of those fundamental 18 milestones, that describe how we got here. That's the kind of thing you want to explain to an inquisitive child.
I will now list the areas in which this course is muddled and needs clarification. I will date events from After Big Bang (ABB) because then the relationships are more clear.
1. In the steps for the creation of our solar system, and the whole sense of geneology is lost. By geneology I mean, how many generations of solar systems could there have been in the 9B years before our solar system formed? In his timeline he shows the first start appearing 200m years ABB, then the first supernovae creating the elements we come from 2 billion years ABB. Then he has a gap of 7B years with nothing happening! I just wonder how many lifecycles of element producing stars could there be in that time?
Well to produce our Earth, with heavy and useful elements like Silver and Lead and Uranium, you need a star that turns supernova. To get that you need one with a mass of 1.5 to 3 times that of our sun (a Huge Star) or larger (a Giant Star) but not too large or it will end in a black hole.
The lifespan of element producing stars is about 2.5B to 3.5B years. Our solar system formed 9B years after the BB, and our advanced life appeared about 5B years after that, which is actually very quick, when you look at it. So either our solar system formed from one of the first stars after a gap of about 6.5B years, or it is formed later, from a star formed anytime in the first 6.5B years. The significance of this is that we are probably not the first generation of living creatures in the universe. There has been time for other solar systems to form, and still time for them to take 5B years to develop intelligent life like ours, before we even got here. There has even been time for their sun to become a red giant and destroy their entire solar system before we even got here. However, although we may not be first intelligent life in the universe, we are definitely here very near the beginning (of what will be a very long life).
2. In lecture 16 I found the description of Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes confusing. Perhaps the video version is better? Still, there could have been a diagram in the book. It would have been much simpler to say that Prokaryotes are unstructured, relatively homogeneous single cells, whereas Eukaryotes have internal struture, principally a nucleus (then add that they also contain mitochondria). Its one of the principal stages so we need to be clear about it. There is a lot of faffing about and talk about Darwin between lectures 10 and 16, which doesn't need to be so belaboured for a modern reader. In any case, putting the distinction between cells with and without a nucleus in lecture 16, rendered part of lecture 10 meaningless.
3. In Lecture 10 he names the 4 eons of the Earth, to which I have tried to add helpful description. The dates are from the start of our solar system, or 9B years ABB
Hadean: 0.0B - 0.7B years (no life forms)
Archaean: 0.7B - 2.0B years ((I think)=first life appears as single celled Prokaryotes)
Proterozoic: 2.0B - 4.0B years (?)
Phanerozoic: 4.0B - 4.5B years ((I think)=start of Cambrian i.e. multi-cellular animals found)
So we are told of an entire 2B year period, the Proterozoic, with no indication of what it was about! Did they just stick a pin in the time line and give it a name? I think it is actually the period of the Eukaryotes, or when the single celled organisms gained a nucleus and mitochondria. If you list the eons in this way, with their corresponding biological progressions, it is suddenly very clear: the names of the eons correspond to the key complexity milestones we are identifying.
4. The invention of Fire could have got a mention. It was more than just a convenience. I read somewhere else that the cooking of food enables more complex chemicals to be created and digested, and that in turn may have allowed our brains and bodies to develop to a more advanced state. Is that true? I've no idea; I'm not the paid professor.
5. Instead of talking endlessly about "collective learning", it would have been nicer to just focus on the language question. For example, at what point did the physiology of our throats change to allow us to create the more complex sounds that the no other animals can produce? At some point, didn't our vocal chords migrate along the trachea? Also, taking cues from some of Chomsky's work, it would be nice to point out that a particular part of the brain developed to process language, that that language exists internally even when we aren't speaking, and that that genetic variation in one person must have somehow spread extremely widely. Also, in most people, the language learning component shuts down around puberty - which shows just how specialised and remarkable this evolutionary component is.
Finally, the Professors peeks into the future are embarrassing. As other reviewers have mentioned, he knows his politically correct narratives, and again, it does seem like a struggle to add value. But if we are going to talk about the end of times, I'd have thought that a reflection on some of the fundamental, systemic, ideological battles that are going on, would be in order, and whatsmore wouldn't be telling people something they already know. For example, the conflict between the open, free society, and the closed theocratic one (Iran). Or the debate between small government and socialist central planning (causing the end of the USSR). Or the friction between the democratic capitalist model (USA), and the autocratic capitalist one (China).
It would be worth reflecting that Democracy as we currently understand it (full suffrage), with all its attendant freedoms, has only been around for 100 years - a blink of the eye - whereas Islam has been a strong political movement for 1400 years. We need to disabuse ourselves of this impression of permanence, and realise that perhaps, these freedoms and rights we currently enjoy in the West, will be just a brief honeymoon in the history of human society. Alternatively we can just bring out all the old tropes as the Professor does, about Global Warming (sorry, Climate Change) and Nuclear War (but we only make caring noises; we don't do anything about Iran going nuclear). God give me strength.
That's enough for now. I hope Prof. Christian, or anyone in fact, can be encouraged to revisit this subject, clarify and re-organise it, and re-release the course.
July 29, 2015
Rated 1 out of 5 by JinxCAR Disappointing and dull
For the past six months, I have sat through these lectures. I wanted to like this course. Indeed, this type of course is just the type of material that I have been developing and teaching: an integrated approach to the sciences. In the end, however, I simply cannot recommend this to others. First, David Christian's lecture style is dull dull dull. Every lecture felt interminable. I told myself they were only 30 minutes. I bribed myself to finish. And, yet, I still would pause as my mind wandered. Second, he would regularly say, "This is what we are going to do" and then a few minutes later having asserted something, he would say, "as we have seen . . ." Third, many times, he would present some data and say, "this data is tentative" and then later rely on this data to make some conclusion that seemed speculative at best, and still later rely on it to bolster his argument.
I did buy his book. Maybe it will be better. We need this kind of integrated approach. For my money, I would suggest Hazen's Joy of Science course over this one.
July 28, 2015
Rated 1 out of 5 by Appreciator A Creation Tale for the Politically Correct
As have many other people reviewing this course, I heard about it through a NYT article about Bill Gates' excitement about it. I am sorry to say that Mr. Gates and I part ways over the value of this course. I watched every episode. I noted that a couple of Dr. Christian's slides contain misspellings and should be corrected. I put up w/ the most annoying habit Dr. Christian has of telling you what he's going to tell you, then telling you, then telling you what he told you. Perhaps the current crop of university student need this but I find it annoying. Plus, it does seriously erode the time allowed for the meat of the course.
I watched all the episodes that are cosmology, astronomy and geology w/ great interest. It's been a while since I had much intense review of those subjects.But I did find myselt getting antsy, eager to get to the history. I am an old anthropology major who has kept up w/ popular reading in the field of Early Man, but the review was nice. It was of concern that by the time we got to actual recorded history, 30 episodes were over. But it was a shock for the epoch described as Early Agrarian to be the last survey of world history. The Late Agrarian touched down on various places but nothing - NOTHING - of any of the classical, medieval, Renaissance European development w/ the exception of trading was mentioned. The emphasis was on other parts of the world. Not to be rude but the development of what Dr. Christian calls the Australian and Pacific Islander civilisations is simply not a story of invention and cultural advancement.
Then we jumped to the year 1700, and jumped back and forth for a lecture or two. Then the shift was from the story of human development to the evils of the modern age. The last few lectures were all the current politically correct blaming and struggle to be inclusive. The point at which Dr. Christian jumped to the future was incredibly egregious nonsense - hypothetical depictions of how technology has led the human species to seize control of the world and how this will all come to a bad end.
I'd send this back and ask for a refund if I could. Lacking that, I'll simply throw it in the trash.
June 24, 2015