Here is my understanding of what the scientists are telling us. This is the ‘big picture’ and the backdrop for all other discussion about what is going on our world. I invite you to correct or add to my understanding.
We are start with the Big Bang and count time in a forward direction. For our physical reality that we all share, this is the heart of the matter:
We started someplace, and time moves forward.
That is the reality we live in. Yes, it leaves the very interesting question of before the start of time, but we leave that for another posting. It also leaves unanswered what is really going on at the quantum level.
This is our time table:
13.8 Billion years ago …… The Big Bang, whatever that was
10 Billion years ago ……. Our sun comes into existence (collection of matter).
4.45 Billion years ago ……. Earth forms, more collection of matter
4 Billion years ago ….. life starts on earth.
How life started is still one of the biggest mysteries in our search for truth and knowledge.
2 Billion year period of Prokaryotes: Bacteria and Archaea
700 Million years ago …. Eukaryotes are formed and the biological evolution of life really takes off.
300 Million years ago .… after an explosion of life in the sea, life comes ashore in vegetation and the development of photosynthesis
65 Million years ago ..… dinosaurs die out and age of mammals begins.
10 Million years ago …… mammals evolved to primates (backbones, brains, life styles)
At this point we want to look in more detail at the last ten million years. But first take note:
· The enormity of time. Human civilization (not yet existent at 10 million years ago) is about 15000 years old. Consider that versus the Universe (13.8 BILLION), or the Earth (4.45 BILLION), or life, or even primates (10 MILLION). Huge time, and we humans are very late in the game.
· Science can back up all of these points in many ways, and through many fields (physics, astrophysics and cosmology, biology, geology, etc.). While there may be unknowns and arguments about details, this chronology is well established.
· The two biggest mysteries are the origin of life and how does thinking/consciousness work. For the record, language, even proto-type languages did not yet exist. Sound and Language are the key elements that led to civilization.
Now let’s back up and look at what happened at the Big Bang and afterwards. Not in the chronological sense, but rather the physical sense:
physics, chemistry, biology (life).
The scientific worldview encompasses everything from free energy, sub-atomic particles, atoms, molecules, compounds, macromolecules, life, lots of life, evolution, and on to us. Science can explain it all. Certainly not in full detail; there are still huge unknowns out there, but the framework and physical structure of our world can be explained.
A rudimentary understanding of the journey from free energy to material existence is necessary in understanding our world. We start with Free Energy (which no one can define). As the value or intensity of Free Energy lowers it moves into material existence in the form of subatomic particles. This is deep into particle physics and way beyond the scope of this essay. I refer readers to work on the CERN particle accelerator. But there is definitely a relationship in which energy becomes matter and matter can be converted to energy. E=mc2 (Einstein).
I will make this point, the CERN atomic accelerator (and all other particle accelerators) operate by speeding up the subatomic problems to high speeds, smashing them together and looking at the traces of particles that result. Sub atomic particles can dance in and out existence at high energy levels.
Once we have matter, we are on the journey to life, to advanced forms of primates and other beings, to us (humans, civilization).
At the time of the Big Bang, subatomic particles combined to form other subatomic particles such as protons. Protons are made of quarks. Quarks are unstable but when joined in the right configuration, they make up a proton and protons last forever. Smaller unstable particles combine to become stable, persist through time and have new emergent properties.
So at the Big Bang, or thereabouts, huge amounts of energy were trapped as matter, “created”, or converted from Free Energy to protons and other stable particles. How all this happened is fun to think about but way too deep, again, for this essay.
The Big Bang was the formation or creation of matter which then exploded and expanded, which continues to this day. The particles (protons and lots of others) moved outwards in space, creating space and time.
Eventually, these subatomic particles and atomic particles collected, that is, came together and through forces of attraction (gravity, electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear) and bonding (ionic, valence, electromagnetic). Stars and planets came into existence. Cosmology can explain all this, including how starts are born, how galaxies came about, etc. Astrophysics and chemistry can explain the structure of the elements.
Three Billion years after the Big Bang, our sun came together and because of the forces of physics started to burn and give off heat and light. Again, there are mysteries here, but the big picture is well understood.
So in order to get to life and to us, we need to go from subatomic particles to bigger forms. First protons, neutrons, and electrons came together to form atoms. Atoms were once thought to be the smallest units, but they have been broken down in smaller components and forces.
A Hydrogen atom is one proton and one electron. Helium is two protons and two electrons and so on. The whole periodic table is built up by adding protons and electrons. We started with physics but have now climbed into chemistry and new properties and new organizational situations.
I need to make two points here:
· Stability, structure and organization
· Higher level systems and emergence and new properties
Stability, et al:
A common principle or guideline that you see is components coming together to form a new structure or organization such that this new entity is stable over time. Organize and Stabilize. We see this all the time as we progress to higher level systems.
Quarks came together to form protons. Protons and electrons came together to form atoms. Atoms joined to form molecules and compounds. Organization and Stability lead to something new.
And as each new system level is attained, new properties and rules of behavior emerge.
After we reach chemical compounds, we start to grow larger molecules and structures and things start to get more interesting. To understand this, consider chemical bonding and the carbon atom. There are several key atoms in the periodic table (oxygen, hydrogen), but carbon is the most significant for life. Hydrogen is everywhere and super crucial, but it is the bonding characteristics that make carbon so important.
Atoms join together through several types of bonds. The physics of this bonding is understood, and we will leave that for another time. Hydrogen can bond with only one other atom at a time. Carbon can bond with four atoms. One of the atoms it can bond with is another carbon atom which allows for carbon chains. We have started on the path to life.
This point of bonding and chains requires a detailed understanding of atoms and their parts and the energies that hold them together. The laws of physics provide the guidelines and base ‘rules’ for the physical reality in which we exist.
Without full explanation, I simply state carbon can form long chains of carbon atoms. In these chains, each carbon atom can use two bonds to attach to other carbon atoms. Each carbon atom will still have two bonds to join with other atoms or chemical compounds.
Organize and stabilize. As we move into longer chains and more complicated molecules we build macromolecules that have measurable size, that can fold in or around itself, that can develop physical structures, and that have new emergent properties. Those physical structures, macro-molecules and macro-molecule compounds that can stabilize (not disassemble spontaneously) will persist and form a new higher level system with new properties. As “organic” (as in carbon based) molecules grow, evolution has started. Or, at least, the biochemical reactions will continue according to the laws of physics and this will lead to changes, growth, new forms, and a pre-biological evolution on the journey to life.
From here, we could go into the origins of life, but that topic is way too big for us, here, except to say that we can envision an soup of hot organic molecules coming together to form stable compounds that have the property of growth and replication. Exactly how all this came together is not known, and is topic of much discussion, but the results are obvious. We are here.
We know that life started, that macro-molecules formed compounds that developed a relationship with the larger environment that used energy to maintain a metabolic process. Life.
Very briefly, the sequence was the original life (3.8 billion years ago), microbes, came about. They evolved and eventually came together to form single cell creatures (prokaryotes): bacteria and archaea. Once that happened, biological evolution was one its way. Much later (700 million years ago) two prokaryotes seem to have “come together” to form Eukaryotes and evolution really took off.
The scientific view includes all these items and nearly full explanations of every part of it. As mentioned, there are still mysteries, particularly, all the individual steps that were needed for the start of metabolic processes.
There is scientific explanation for biological evolution and all the natural processes. There are holes and gaps, with missing detail and evidence never to be found. But the big scientific picture is fairly solid.
In the timeline above, we have reached a point about 10 million years ago. In our discussion of physical processes, we have collected material (planets), original life (metabolic process of organic chemical compounds that interact with the physical environment and persist through time.) We also can trace the evolution of original life to single cells and then to all of natural life up to the time of primates.
Next, then, we want consider the last 10 million years and the development of humans and our civilization. These are the crucial steps and they happened from 10 million years to about 70,000 years ago:
· Bipedalism — two legs, frees the hands and lengthens the neck.
· Control of Fire and sheltering — social animals living together in larger groups
· Control of Fire and better diets and use of protein, larger brains
· Sociability and the development and the development of language
· Societal Organization — tribes, clans, religions
Again, there are all sorts of scientific fields that address and confirm this general plan. Paleontology, Human Origins, Anthropology, Archeology, etc.
To go from primates to Homo sapiens, let’s focus on sociability and language. The controlling of fire, (not the discovery or invention of fire, but the controlling of fire) led to sheltering together and the assignment of roles (fire keeper, fuel gatherer, hunter etc.). And it led to language.
Sheltering and groups working together gave the family/tribe/clan an evolutionary advantage that helped with survival. The better diet from preserved meat and may have been crucial in the development of large brains. Large brains were needed for enhanced language and thought. Larger brains may have been caused by learning language and thought processes.
Consciousness and thinking are a huge mystery in science and currently under tremendous investigation: neuroscience and all aspects of brain research including cognition and knowledge, logic, and emotional activity. How did we get from no language to civilization and how do our brains work and what is consciousness? Science is looking at it all. And science can explain a huge amount about what is happening in our brains.
Primates, millions of years before Homo sapiens, developed skeletons, brains, sounds and hearings, and emotional responses. All this had evolved as vertebrates evolved from whatever precursors we came from. As primates, we had no tools (or only very primitive and limited set of tools). We had sound communication and likely different sounds with different meanings. But all this was fairly limited in scope.
So consider this: by standing up, we elongated our necks and gave room for vocal cords to grow and expand and became better. And consider this: sound, that is the transmission of sound, requires very little energy at close ranges.
This point is crucial: when sheltering and grouping started, the close proximity made sound very useful and easy to pass information, that is, communicate and collaborate and work together. (I have previously posted an essay on Sounds and Civilization that explores the connection from sheltering to low-energy communication, to language and brain development).
I have also previously published here on Medium my simplified Overview of Thinking.
I am stopping at this point, because this summary of how we came to be is my basis for all other discussions that I might get into here on Medium.
I would welcome comment on this high-level look at our world and how we got here. Again, I post this not as new material but rather as a synthesis of scientific worldview. I expect to use it a reference in future essays on the subjects addressed herein.