One of the more interesting things I did in the past year was to follow an online course on a subject called Big History. It takes the 200 years of modern human society and puts them in the perspective of several different timelines – among others the 200.000 years of the human species, the 3.5 billion years of life on earth, the 4.5 billion years of planet Earth and the 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang. It explores the dynamics of this evolution and pulls on research in many different scientific branches like nuclear physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, biology and genetics to tell a coherent story of the universe and human existence in it. Pretty mind boggling stuff. It is humbling to see how microscopic the history of human civilisation is in this perspective, yet surprising to discover how immensely complex it is compared to anything else going on in the universe as we know it.
While there are several ways to access the field of Big History, I found the most fascinating to be the long version: 48 half hour lectures on The Great Courses. However, as an introduction, the 17 minute version below is pretty efficient. It a TED talk by David Christian, one of the pioneers of looking at history in this extreme perspective.