At the heart of the modern origin story is the idea of increasing complexity. How did our universe appear, and how did it generate the rich cavalcade of things, forces, and beings of which we are a part? We don’t really know what it came out of or if anything existed before the universe. But we do know that when our universe emerged from a vast foam of energy, it was extremely simple. And simplicity is still its default condition.
Timelines give some fundamental dates for the modern origin story using both approximate absolute dates and recalculated dates, as if the universe had been created 13.8 years ago instead of 13.8 billion years ago. When divided as per the amalgamation of changes and developments that have made the earth what it is today, each big period can be grouped under a threshold. This makes it easier to get a sense of the chronological shape of the story of our origin and also helps us understand how we arrived at where we are today.
THRESHOLD 1: Big bang: origin of our universe
“The bootstrap for today’s most widely accepted account of ultimate origins is the idea of a big bang. This is one of the major paradigms of modern science, like natural selection in biology or plate tectonics in geology.”
THRESHOLD 2: The first stars begin to glow
“Free energy drove the emergence of the first large structures: galaxies and stars. The crucial source of free energy for this part of our origin story was gravity. …….Together, gravity and matter provided the Goldilocks conditions for the emergence of stars and galaxies.”
THRESHOLD 3: New elements forged in dying large stars
“Our third threshold of increasing complexity yielded new forms of matter: all the other elements of the periodic table. A universe with more than ninety distinct elements could do so much more than a universe with just hydrogen and helium.”
THRESHOLD 4: Our sun and solar system form
“Planetary bodies were chemically richer than stars, and much cooler, so they offered ideal Goldilocks environments for complex chemistry. And on at least one planet (our own), and probably on many more, that chemistry would eventually generate life.”
THRESHOLD 5: Earliest life on Earth
“Life as we know it arose from exotic chemistry in the element-rich environments of the young planet Earth almost four billion years ago. …….. life is built from billions of intricate molecular nanomachines.”
THRESHOLD 6: First evidence of our species, Homo sapiens
“The appearance of humans in our origin story is a big deal. We arrived just a few hundred thousand years ago, but today we are beginning to transform the biosphere.”
THRESHOLD 7: End of last ice age, beginning of Holocene, earliest signs of farming
“Our ancestors lived as foragers for the first two hundred thousand years or more of our history. ……. In the past ten thousand years, human lifeways were transformed by a cascade of innovations that we describe as farming or agriculture .”
THRESHOLD 8: Fossil fuels revolution begins
“In just a century or two….. we humans have stumbled into the role of planetary pilots without really knowing what instruments we should be looking at, what buttons we should be pressing, or where we are trying to land.”
THRESHOLD 9: A sustainable world order?
“If we successfully manage the transition to a more sustainable world, it will become apparent that human history really constitutes a single threshold of increasing complexity culminating in the conscious management of an entire biosphere.”
The sun dies
“After a long period as a red giant, it will eventually blow away its outer layers, turn into a white dwarf, migrate to the bottom of the Hertzsprung- Russell diagram, and then sit there, cooling, for hundreds of billions of years.”
The universe fades to darkness; entropy wins
“It will turn out that everything that seemed permanent in our universe was actually ephemeral. Maybe even space and time will turn out to be mere forms, mere wavelets in a larger multiverse. Entropy will have finally destroyed all structure and order. At least in one universe. But perhaps there are more to get working on.”
Origin Story: A Big History of Everything reveals what we learn about human existence when we consider it from a universal scale.