Wednesday 27 November, 2013 – Perspectives on Progress public lecture

Is there progress in the history of the Universe?

Prof. David Christian, Macquarie University

Prof David ChristianThe idea of progress assumes that we can find directions in historical change and assign values to those directions. It also assumes a point-of-view; what is good for me may be bad for you. Most of the atoms in our bodies were forged in exploding stars, which was good for us, but not so good for the stars. So can we discuss progress at cosmological time scales? Big History raises such questions because it tries to place human history within the larger histories of the Earth and the Universe. Though a young field, Big History has already identified some large and interesting patterns at the largest possible scales.

According to the Boston astronomer, Eric Chaisson, the highest level of complexity has risen in the 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang. Yet the second law of thermodynamics tells us that the arrow of time should point downwards, towards greater simplicity. In the depths of inter-galactic space that is, indeed, how things work. But in distant refuges, deep inside galaxies, and close to stars, where the ‘Goldilocks conditions’ were just right, more complex entities evolved, from stars to molecules, and around at least one star the sequence continues to include living organisms and humans. Today’s global human society represents perhaps the highest level of complexity we know of. Is there any sense in which we can call this progress?

  • Time: 6 – 7:30 pm, Wednesday 27 November 2013
  • Venue: Abel Smith Lecture Theatre, The University of Queensland
  • For more information click here.
  • Questions: Please direct any questions to Wesley.
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