Reading-Response questions for Big History by Chapter

I. How old is the known universe according to Astronomers? What are the characteristics of Cosmic Plasma? Quarks?, Hydrogen and Helium? What is so exquisite about the "Exquisite Balance?" What are the 4 fundamental forces and to what extent do we know their relationships to one another? How does light prove that distance and time interrelated in the universe? What is the primary energy of most stars? What is a supernova and how is it relevant to our solar system and the element, gold, in particular? What is the relationship between Yellow stars, Red Giants, White and Black Dwarfs, Supernovas, and Black Holes. How many "galaxy years" old is our solar system? What is string theory? Dark matter?

The Universe is 13.7 billion years old (at least that's as far as astronomers can verify using the tools they have). Cosmic Plasma is a homogeneous substance so hot that it had no known structure -- a substance that blended both energy and matter into one. A Quark is the smallest matter known to man that came together in groups of three to form protons and neutrons. Hydrogen and Helium are the simplest elements and were the first elements to form in the universe as it cooled. The "Exquisite Balance" is the interplay of the four forces (Gravity, Electromagnetic, Strong nuclear and Weak nuclear) that work together at a essential balance to allow the universe to expand at a stable rate and keep the elements in the creative combination of which everthing, including humans are a part. The greatest scientists in the world, including Einstein have not been able to understand how the four forces are related (Einstein was working on his "grand unifying theory" when he died. Light proves that distance and time are interrelated because light takes a predictable amount of time to travel in the vacuum of space. The primary energy of most stars is hydrogen and when the hydrogen is spent, stars begin burning helium, a fuel that burns hotter thereby expanding the star's size (e.g. red giant). When the helium runs out, Red Giants sometimes explode in a supernova is the explosive self-annihilation of a star, that gives birth to other stars (this is how our solar system was born). If a supernova explosion does not occur, giving rise to new elements, the opposite may occur, when the star implodes, becoming a black hole. Astronomers can not verify what happens to matter in a black hole, but some theorize that the holes could be the seed of new universes. The supernova that formed our solar system gave rise to elements higher than iron, including gold. Every spec of gold on this earth came from a supernova. Yellow stars (like our sun), Red Giants, white and black dwarfs, supernovas and black holes are all part of the life cycles of stars. Our solar system (including our planet earth) is 4.6 billion years old. The string theory is the idea that everything around us is made out of little strings of energy. Dark matter is the unknown energy that makes up everything we can't see in the universe.

II. Why is life on Earth a "shimmering mystery"? What is the significance of autopoiesis to the definition of life and the Gaia theory? How does the human body reflect the history of the universe and life on earth? (matter/energy hydrogen/carbon balance in cells, like earth; carbon and five other elements, like 99% of dry weight of all life; begins as a single cell; first cells bacteria--human body has 10X more bacteria cells than any other cells; our blood has seawater salt; 9 mos. of watery life as an embryo, temporary gills, tail; bodies 65% water -- like the earth) How did life form on earth? The Big Belch? Protocells? What is the significance of symbiotic relationships in the history of life on earth? Biota? Species? Genera? Family? Order? Pangaea? (its effect on climate and land life?) How did amphibians become reptiles and why should we be "grateful" to reptiles? What caused the dinosaurs extinction? When did the first mamals appear; and, when and why did their numbers and variety increase? What two large mamals returned to the sea when the earth's climate warmed up between 55 and 50 million years ago. What causes the shift in the earth's temperatures and climate patterns? What is the story of human development in the context of other primates? What accounts for larger brain size? How did the formation of the Great Rift Valley nurture human developments? How does the social behavior of chimpanzees and bonobos differ and how can it be seen as significant to understanding human social history?

Life on earth is a "shimmering mystery" because we have only vague ideas of how life “shimmered ” its way into existence from nothing. Autopoiesis is the ability for an organism maintain stability while undergoing change, kind of like “self-maintenance.” This applies to the Gaia theory which states the earth itself is alive, maintaining stability while constantly changing. The human body reflects the history of the universe and life on earth? (matter/energy hydrogen/carbon balance in cells, like earth; carbon and five other elements, like 99% of dry weight of all life; begins as a single cell; first cells bacteria--human body has 10X more bacteria cells than any other cells; our blood has seawater salt; 9 mos. of watery life as an embryo, temporary gills, tail; bodies 65% water -- like the earth. Life formed on earth but know that the first basic cells to form were bacteria. The Big Belch occured when Nitrogen, argon, neon, and carbondioxide was released through the movement of continents. Scientists theorize that some types of bubbles (carbon, hydrogen, potasium, and sodium) formed the first protocells. Sybiotic relationships underly the development of cells and structures within those cells, in ecosystems. A biota is a community of bacteria. Species is the narrowist category of organisms that link them through sexual reproduction. Genus (homo) is the next level of categorization for related species. Family (hominid) is the next order up, Order (mammals) are the next levels up of categorization. Pangea is a period of time around 250 million years ago when the continents came together and dinosours rose and fell during Pangea. Initially the coming together of the ocean currents cooled the climate because the land no longer directed water to the north. Reptiles are the first to use penatrative sex for reproduction. A meteoric impact may have caused a mini ice age that killed dinosoars. The first mammals probably looked like rodents or squirels. After the dinosoars died out mammal populations increased. Whales and dophins are two large mammals that returned to sea. The shape of the earth's orbit around the sun (from round to elliptical) and the wobble of the earth's axis every 50,000 years. The story of human development in the context of other primates is that we walk on two legs to survive on the grasslands. A larger brain capacity gave humans more capabilities in language and tool making. A longer childhood. Chimpanzees are more agressive, warlike and male dominated while the bonobos are female dominated and unwarlike, resoving confilct through sexual contact.

III. What makes the hominids different form other primates, while we share 98% of the same genes? walking upright (Australopithecus), using stone tools and an extended childhood, bigger heads (Homohabilis), using stone tools and some fire, increasing phonemes (Homoerectus), making fire and art (Homosapiens). Why was Africa, and the Great Rift Valley so significant? What makes us so human?! Terms: Homoerectus migrations, Java Man, Peking Man (controversy and discuss Japanese film, Peking Genjin), Neanderthals (Why did they go extinct?), HomoSapienSapiens (What's so clever about them/us?-- from 20 species to one over five million years). Larnyx and Adam's apple for a complex voice, can't drink and breath like other animals. Be able to identify migration routes and time periods to each of the continents and Polynesia (1500 y.a.). Larger cycles of global warming cooling based on earth's "wobble" (every 41,000 years) and earth's orbit from circle to an elipse (every 90,000 years). 10 ice ages over the last million years.

Overview the last 6 million years of human (Hominid) development. What makes the hominids different form other primates, while we share 98% of the same genes? walking upright (Australopithecus), using stone tools and an extended childhood, bigger heads (Homohabilis), using stone tools and some fire, increasing phonemes (Homoerectus), making fire and art (Homosapiens). Why was Africa, and the Great Rift Valley so significant? What makes us so human?! Terms: Homoerectus migrations, Java Man, Peking Man (controversy and discuss Japanese film, Peking Genjin), Neanderthals (Why did they go extinct?), HomoSapienSapiens (What's so clever about them/us?-- from 20 species to one over five million years). Larnyx and Adam's apple for a complex voice, can't drink and breath like other animals. Be able to identify migration routes and time periods to each of the continents and Polynesia (1500 y.a.). Larger cycles of global warming cooling based on earth's "wobble" (every 41,000 years) and earth's orbit from circle to an elipse (every 90,000 years). 10 ice ages over the last million years.

IV. How can the period of hunting and gathering in human history be considered an "age of affluence"? What was the average size of hunter-gatherer communities? Men's and women's roles? Why was disease less of a factor for hunter-gatherers than for farmers? Explain the predominance of the female figure in the earliest artistic representations between 25,000 to 23,000 y.a.? Cordage, spear throwers, needles 20,000 y.a. Seven Sisters constellation signficance? (3 areas of the world, evidencing early migratory connections) Protolanguage in S.Africa? (gutteral, clicking) 12,000 y.a. Ganges, Yellow, Indus, Tigris/Euphretes flow change? Bospurous Straight opens-up/Great Flood. Discuss why did women, potentially, have more status during the hunting and gathering dimension of human existence.


V. 1) Why was the agricultural revolution such a huge watershed in world history (consider the backdrops of 200,000 years and 5 million years)? 2) Why did people make the shift to an agricultural-based lifestyle considering the relative drop in food variety and increase health risks? 3) How do scientists know about climate change and changes in human diet? 4) How did the domestication of some animals proceed and contribute toward the agricultural revolution? 5) What is complex foraging? 6) Why are women usually given credit for domesticating wild plants? 7) What does the linguistic evidence say about the way that lifeways changed in the Mid-east, Europe and Southern Asia? 8) Draw a map of the plant and animal domestication in the world, including the most recent domesticated plants in North America. 9) Based on the evidence presented regarding Catal Huyuk, what type of agrarian-society did it have? 10) How did agriculture change human society? 11) Why were goddess figures associated with the earth from Europe to Asia? 12) Why did some peoples in the world not make a shift to agriculture? 13) What gave the horse nomads of the Eurasian Steppe advantages from 500 BCE? 14) What was the epic of Gilgamesh about and how does it sybolize the reservations people had changing from from hunter-gathering way of life to farming? 15) When and where does the garden of Eden story originate and how does it, like Gilgamesh reflect the reservations humans had over the transition to farming? 16) Cain and Abel?

1) The last 10,000 years, since the agricultural revolution, represents only 5% of the 200,000 years homosapiens have been in existence. From a backdrop of the last 5 million years (the history of hominids), the last 10,000 years only represents less than 1/2 of one percent. Considering the rise in population since humans began raising grains and animals exclusive of the wild foods they gathered for the large majority of human history, the agricultural revolution is huge in human history, and probably more importantly, the history of life on earth. Few other events in the earth's history, aside from impacts from meteors, have altered the life systems on the planet to the extent that the agricultural revolution. 2) People had to adapt to a changing environment in most cases, especially the regions that experienced the most revolutionary changes--the ones that led to urban centers and long-distance trade. At 100,000 years ago (the time of human migration out of Africa), the population was approximately 50,000. By 10,000 y.a., the population was between 5 and 6 million. The land dried-up as the sea levels rose from about 9,000 years ago. A square mile of cultivated land could support a 100 times greater population than a hunter-gatherer approach would support. (one hunter-gatherer needed approximately 10 sqare miles of useful wildlands to support himself). By 4000 BCE, the population was close to 10 million; by 1000BCE, 50 to 100 million. 3) Scientists take core samples in dry regions of the world to analyze deposits of plant pollen which tells the story of how regional ecologies changed over thousands of years. Bone and dung fossils, including human and animal specimins, give further clues to chaning lifeways of people and animals. 4) Domestication of animals proceeded with the human migrations into the Americas on which the dog certainly made a contribution to their hunting success circa. 11,000 BCE. The domestication of cats proceeded as grain storage required rodent control from around 1000 BCE. Sheep, goats, cows, pigs, and horses, two kinds of camels, donkeys, llamas, reindeer, water buffulo, yaks, and Bali cattle entered earlier into the agrarian order, approximately around 8000-6000 BCE. Most of these animals were herdable animals that could be easily adapted under human control. Sheep and goats are the best examples of full dometication because of their dependence on humans for survival. Oats and rye were well suited for northern European climates/soils. 5) Complex foraging is when village settlement is possible even without largescale agriculture. Enough wild plants could be collected and stored to supplement hunting and allow for a permanent settlement. 6) Women are usually given credit for domesticating wild plants because they were the ones that had to stay closer to one location, nursing the children, and gathering local foodstuffs to be processed into dried or roasted grain products and fiber for clothing. 7) The spread of the Indo-European languages from a central area in the Mid-East, or Anatolia (Turkey) to southern Asia and northern Europe show that farmers from the mideast moved into surrounding areas. 8) Judging from the evidence at Catal Huyuk, the society was mixed-agricultural with a significant amount of hunting and farming, but at a small enough scale that women still played a significant, and probably political role. The main artistic representations of humans were almost always elaborately decorated, heavy (fertile) women. Women were also given more ceremonial burials than men. The Catal Huyuk settlement propbably represents a transitional society before the rise of large urban centers and slave-base agriculture, further removed from the hunter-gatherer past. 9) Agriculture changed human society tremendously because it required a larger degree of managment. From grain storage and distribution to defense of an productive piece of land, agriculture forced societies to develop laws and beuracracies to enforce them. Manufacturing, storing and distributing salt also became more and more important as wild meat was consumed less. TB came from cows and goats; measles and small pox from cattle, a form of malaria from birds; influenza from pigs and ducks. Famon from variations in weather became a big factor. 10) Goddess figures, with big breasts and buttocks, were associated with the earth because of the productivity of women and the earth. The Greek goddess Gaia was the Earth Goddess and Dewi Sri, the rice goddess in Indonesia. 11) Many parts of the world were simply not suitable for agriculture and human societes did not, therefore, make the move to agriculture. The Smohalla in the Pacific Northwest is an example given. Suitable grasses for domestication were simply not present, nor was the ideal rainfall and temperature. In some cases, there was such abundance, farming was not necessary. 12) The stirrup gave the Eurasian nomads a huge advantage that upset the urban/agricultural political orders across Afro-Eurasia. 13) The epic of Gilgamesh represents the wrestling of the urban king with the mountain man, and related lifestyles. Enkidu, the mountain man, was lured into the city and defeated by Gilgamesh, but before he fatefully defeats him, he cuts down forests and angers the gods. People during this period in Mesopotamia also wrestled with the decisions, or impudence of cutting down vast forests for the sake of agriculture. They also lamented the loss of the older, more innocent mountain ways, represented by Enkidu. 14) The Garden of Eden, like the Gilgamesh story, shows the transition to an agricultural life while lamenting the older hunter-gatherer days; but lays blame on the woman for her "original sin" of plant domestication and the new decisions that man humans have to distinguish what is "good" (productive) and "evil" (counterproductive) in the cultivation of crops, including the apple tree, one of the first fruit trees to be domesticated. The potential loss of humility in the shift to agricutlure is the "original sin." Considering God's "punishment" for humans -- to have to work by the sweat of his brow, never returning to the Garden of Eden -- highlights the man's attempt at the time to explain the hardships of farming, compared to the "good-old-days" of hunting-and-gathering in "Garden of Eden." 15) The story of Cain and Abel similarly reflects the transition to agriculture and the feelings people had that the hunter was favored by God. Cain, like the Hebrews was forced to wander again.


VI. Early Cities (3500-800BCE). 1) What is the definition of civilization and why do some historians have a problem with using it? 2) Where were the first four urban civilizations and why did they develop along rivers? 3) What was, and remains, a problem for flood-irrigation over decades and centuries? 4) If the earth is the female element of creation, what is the male element, and why did the Sumerians think so? 5) What explains the downfall of sumer and its written language cuniform? 6) What do we retain from Sumer in our own culture? 7) What was the significance of Venus, or Inanna, to the Sumerians? 8) Why do we remember some of the kings, like Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE) and Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BCE) after Sumer's downfall? 9) What is signficiant about the Indus Valley civilization? 10) Why is more remembered about Egypt than the Indus valley? 11) What technology increased the potential for empires to rise? 12) What was so rare, about the Phonecian alphabet and what languages did it forshadow? 13) Why did the rise of cities lead to the rise of patriarchy? 14) What has recent recearch concluded regarding "diffusionst" theories of civilization spreading from one place to the rest of the world (i.e., Mesopotamia as the center)? 15) Why did the thesis of Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization cause so much controversy among scholars?

1) Civilization is derived from the Latin word, civitas, or city; but many historians had problems using it because the term, "uncivilized" was used derogatoraly to demean the people who the Romans or Europeans. After a century of warfare among "civilized nations," the most violent warfare in the history of humankind, many historians have begun to question wheter "civilized" people are actually more savage than hunter-gatherers. David Christian uses the term, agrarian civilization to connote the dependency of urban areas on rural hinterlands. 2) The first four urban civilizations were centered along the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Indus, and the Yellow rivers. These rivers provided the irrigation necessary for largescale farming and the mobility of the rivers themselves for transportation. 3) Salinization, or salt build-up in the soil was and remains a problem with larg-scale flood irrigation. Salinification can sterilize the soil. 4) Water was considered the male element, like sperm in the reproductive combination between male and female. 6) Historians and paleontologists speculate that drought and increased salinization from too much irrigation, pressures from the steppe horse nomads (Assyrians and Persians) were responsible for Sumer's collapse. The language continued as a trading language. 6) We retain parts of the Sumerian counting system based on 12 in our clock, calendar, degrees of a circle. 7) Venus, the brightest light in the West after the sun sets, was the goddess of love to the Sumerians. 8) Hammurabi created the first legal code that has reflections in Hebrew law as well. Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562BCE) captured Jerusalem and deported many Hebrews to Babolynia for what is known to Hebrews as the "Babolynian Captivitiy." Their enslavement lasted until Cyrus the Great led the Persians into Babylon and set the captives free. 9) The Indus is one of the first four agrarian civilizations in Afro-Eurasia. It had the first working sewer system, it laid the foundation for Hinduism, the sacredness of the cow; and the Indus, like Mesopotamia, it experienced salinization and deforestation which probably contributed to its downfall. 10) The written language of Egypt was deciphered while the Indus was not. The Egyptian civilization lasted at least a thousand years longer than the Indus and it played a large role in Hebrew history and was recorded in the Bible. Egyptian economy and culture was also central to much of the Mediteranean before the Roman Empire 11) The horse and chariot increased the potential for empires to rise because it improved military strategy and effectiveness against enemies, not longafter the horse (1500BCE), the smelting of iron (900BCE) and subsequent expansion of military capacity of empirial power even more. 12) The Phonecian alphabet was rare because it was based on phonetic sounds and not symbols for inherent meaning. The phonetic basis for the alphabet allowed it to be used by a number of languages, brom Hebrew to Greek and Arabic. It allowed sacred texts like the Hebrew Torah to become mobile, hence, liberating God from one location. In contrast, Chinese, Cuniform, Mayan, and Aztec languages remained based on pictographic symbols. 13) The rise of cities coincided with the rise of patriarchy because the surpluses generated by large-scale farms had to be protected militarily and managed with an ever increasing level of production in mind to support the military and a growing beuracracy. Women gave up power to more patriarchal institutions in part because of the privatization, and militarization of land, the need for more laborers (more babies). The increased production of calories made more babies possible and women became increasingly delegated to homelife. The myths of this time of transition showed the male gods increasingly dominant, exemplified in the story of the god-king Marduk waging war on Tiamat, the mother of all things, hacking her body to peices and fashioning a new world. The Hebrews rejected a goddess completely, calling the Canaanite fertility goddess, Astarte, an abomination to God. In Greek mythology, women become, not the parent to the child, but the nurse of the new planted seed that grows ("the parent is he who mounts"). 14) Recent research on civilization, especially evindence proving that civilizations in far-reaching parts of the world developed simultaneously with one another (not diffusing from one to another), basically shatterd the old "diffusionist" theory of civilization originating in one place (Mesopotamia) first and then moving to the rest of the world. 15) The thesis of Black Athena was controversial first of all because it proposed something that most of the European-centered scholarship for the last two centuries had not considered: the influence of Asia and Africa on the development of classical Greek and Roman civilizations. Ironically, thesis may have taken a position as extreme as the one it sought to disprove. That Europe developed a classical high political/philosophical/religious culture exclusive of influence from Africa (Egypt) and Asia (the Mid-East and Persia) is as narrow-minded as the Black Athena position that posits that almost everything in Greco-Roman culture comes from Africa and Asia. Reality must be in between the two positions.

VII. The Afro-Eurasian Network (800 BCE--200CE)

1) How did the caste system develop in India, and what features did it have that convinced most people to accept the socio-economic immobility (include consideration of varnas, atman, and karma)? 2) What and who challenged the existing caste system? 3) Why was Siddharth Gautama nicknamed, "the Enlightened One"? 4) What are bodhisattvas and to what extent are they comparable to saints in Christianity? 5) What was the course of Indian history after the birth of Buddhism -- Alexander the Great to Asoka the Great? 6) Why was the crossbow so important in early Chinese history? 7)To what extent was Confucianism comparable to Hinduism? 8) What qualified people for beauraucratic positions in Han China? 9) To what extent is Taoism comparable to Buddhism? 10) What was the significance of silk in Eurasia and to human history?

The caste sytem developed out of the invasions around 1500 BCE from the north (through the Kyber Pass) by the Aryas, a lighter-skinned who came off of the steppe (Iran) on horseback. They established a caste system (four main sections, or varnas) consisting of thousands of subcastes and castes. People accepted the premises of the system in part because it rewarded people for following the rules of their caste by allowing them to rise-up to the next caste according to their actions, or karma. Each person's atman, or soul, migrated at death either up or down a caste level according to their actions, or karma. 2) Practitioners of Yoga, or physical and mental discipline began to offer alternatives to the caste system; but it was not until Siddhartha Gautama (563-483BCE) that an organized alternative to Hinduism developed in the form of Buddhism. 3) He may have gotten the nickname, "Enlightened One" because he sought to reduce and elliminate suffering by living modestly and minimizing desire through self-discipline and meditation. His goal was to achieve Nirvana, or "snuffing out the flame" of reincarnation. 4) Bodhisattvas are comparable to saints in Christiantity to the extent that they are individuals who help others achieve enlightenment rather than going off alone to enjoy their wisdom. 5) India was invaded by Alexander the Great and then united under Asoka the Great, who became a Buddhist to atone for the acts of war he committed in uniting the country. In order to practice non-violence, he outlawed animal sacrifice and gave up hunting. The wheel of law symbol remains on Indias flag today. 6) The crossbow was the weapon of choice to defend themselves from invastions from horsement off of the Mongolian steppe. 7) Both philosophies stressed the importantce of following in the path of your place in society, however, Confucianism stressed your social relationships (e.g., brother to brother, young to old, husband to wife, parent to child, and king to subject), rather than one's social place in a particular social caste, based on occupation. 8) One's knowledge of Confucian philosophy qualified or disqualified applicants for positions in the government. 9) Lao Tsu, 50 years Confucius's senior did not appreciate beuraucratic hierarchy as something for which to strive. Rather, one should follow one's own path (the Tao) to right conduct. Taoism's emphasis on individual striving for Right Conduct is similar to Buddhism, however, most Buddhists (Mahayana) stress the Middle Path, a life not withdrawn from worldly concerns, but not caught up in them nonetheless. 10) The significance of silk in world history was great because bolts of silk served as a kind of currency on the Eurasian Steppe between the Han Chinese and Roman Empires. In the process of exchange on the silk road, things like horses and other specialties from Asia and Europe were exchanged. For example, peaches and apricots went from China to the Mediteranean; and grapes and alphalfa traveled from Europe to Asia. Inventions like the crossbow and paper also went from Asia to Europe. And perhaps most significantly, diseases were exchanged between the major urban centers accross Eurasia.