Monday, April 30, 2012

Big History--I Mean BIG History

I finished listening to Professor David Christian's Big History course from the Teaching Company (courtesy of ICPL). When he says "big" he means from the Big Bang (now pegged about 13.7 billion years ago) to peering deep into the future (where does this story stop?). This project, and he's now one of many that are pursuing this new line of thinking, is really quite entertaining and fascinating. You may recall that I posted on his TED Talk on the subject, but in this course he gives 48 one-half hour lectures. They are organized around theme of complexity, how from the Big Bang, the simple in the universe has become more complex, entropy notwithstanding. The early science is interesting, but I'm most into the human history, and Christian does a fine job here. Of course, as human society has become more complex, so the story tends to back load. That is, since about 1700, and the oncoming of modernity, change to humanity has come fast and furious (literally furious in some arenas). In fact, one measure of how complex we have become is the density of energy use. Of course, this may prove our downfall, as well. We shall see: the story isn't over yet! If like me, you're in the car and have more than enough news, why not take a trip down memory lane! This was enjoyable and informative. Recommended. (And thank you, ICPL!)

You Go Girls!

The recent chastisement (could there be a better word for it) of American nuns by the Vatican has brought out some very interesting commentary. From my read on it, almost anyone who has any first hand experience with nuns has, on the whole, a great deal of admiration for them and the work that they perform on behalf of the Church and the Gospel. I think that nuns, rather than priests and the Vatican, are held in much greater admiration today by most folks. The opinions have certainly been strongly put. Garry Wills, in addition to advising that nuns are interested in "the powerless" and priests in "power", also writes warmly of his experience as a student for some of his years in a Catholic grade school. Nicholas Kristof and Maureen Dowd both chime in on the topic in the NYT today, both very much on the side of the nuns (both are from Catholic backgrounds, although I don't know their status as practitioners; Wills is very much a practitioner of the faith). (One reservation that Iowa Guru pointed out viz. Dowd: she couldn't resist the stereotypical comment at the end about a wrap on the knuckles, going for cute when she could have done without.) Of course, the best source on the subject are the nuns themselves and the nun (Sister Simone Campbell) who spoke on NPR. No, don't mess with those nuns! (Thanks for Africa Girl for the initial point to the NPR interview and the whole fracus.)

Fine Flick Alert: Chimpanzee

Think of some of the most enthralling, poignant, and memorable movies you've began seeing as a child, you'll probably think of a nature movie, and one probably released by Disney. Well, good news, they've done it again. Chimpanzee is a study of a young chimp in the wild of Africa (they do not specify where). The shots of life among these chimps is amazing, and these simian cousins of ours provided fascinating viewing. So close and yet so far from us. However, even as we realize the differences, we see so much of ourselves in their social interactions, bonds, cooperation, rivalries, and warfare. Understand: life is not cuddly and fun, and war (let's call it that, although one might argue that it's a bit too anthropomorphic) occurs. We see Mom and Machiavelli. Anyway, fascinating and worthwhile for almost all age groups.