Tag Archives: history

The History (and Future) of the Universe

Start­ing at 10-25 seconds after the start of the uni­verse (infla­tion) and end­ing 1015 years later (with the ulti­mate fate of the uni­verse), the timeline of the uni­verse is an incom­pre­hens­ibly long and fas­cin­at­ing one. To help under­stand the forces that led to life as we know it and to get an idea of what’s going to hap­pen in the (dis­tant) future, the­or­et­ic­al astro­phys­i­cist Eth­an Siegel has broken down the details in a won­der­fully access­ible and enlight­en­ing com­plete his­tory of the uni­verse (with pic­tures!).

Those last couple of steps on the timeline are par­tic­u­larly hum­bling:

100 bil­lion years: the Uni­verse has expan­ded so much that our loc­al group, hav­ing merged into a giant ellipt­ic­al galaxy, is the only one left in the vis­ible Uni­verse!

We’ve got a long time left of stars going through the great cos­mic life-cycle, burn­ing their fuel, explod­ing, trig­ger­ing star form­a­tion, and burn­ing their new fuel. But this is lim­ited; there’s only a finite amount of hydro­gen and oth­er ele­ments to burn via nuc­le­ar fusion. The skies will even­tu­ally go com­pletely dark, as the last of the dim, red dwarf stars (the longest-lived ones) exhaust their fuel.

1015 years: the last bit of hydro­gen is burned up, and our entire Uni­verse goes dark, being pop­u­lated only by black holes, neut­ron stars, and degen­er­ate dwarf stars, which even­tu­ally them­selves cool, fade, and turn black.

And that’s the entire Uni­verse, from the very begin­ning of what we can sens­ibly say about it to the far dis­tant future!

via @Foomandoonian

The Evolutionary History of the Brain

The devel­op­ment of the human brain is intric­ately linked with almost every moment of our evol­u­tion from sea-dwell­ing anim­als to advanced, social prim­ates. That is the the over­whelm­ing theme from New Sci­ent­ist’s brief his­tory of the brain.

The enga­ging art­icle ends with a look at the con­tin­ued evol­u­tion of the human brain (“the visu­al cor­tex has grown lar­ger in people who migrated from Africa to north­ern lat­it­udes, per­haps to help make up for the dim­mer light”), and this on why our brains have stopped grow­ing:

So why did­n’t our brains get ever big­ger? It may be because we reached a point at which the advant­ages of big­ger brains star­ted to be out­weighed by the dangers of giv­ing birth to chil­dren with big heads. Or it might have been a case of dimin­ish­ing returns.

Our brains are pretty hungry, burn­ing 20 per cent of our food at a rate of about 15 watts, and any fur­ther improve­ments would be increas­ingly demand­ing. […]

One way to speed up our brain, for instance, would be to evolve neur­ons that can fire more times per second. But to sup­port a 10-fold increase in the “clock speed” of our neur­ons, our brain would need to burn energy at the same rate as Usain Bolt’s legs dur­ing a 100-metre sprint. The 10,000-calorie-a-day diet of Olympic swim­mer Michael Phelps would pale in com­par­is­on.

Not only did the growth in the size of our brains cease around 200,000 years ago, in the past 10,000 to 15,000 years the aver­age size of the human brain com­pared with our body has shrunk by 3 or 4 per cent. Some see this as no cause for con­cern. Size, after all, isn’t everything, and it’s per­fectly pos­sible that the brain has simply evolved to make bet­ter use of less grey and white mat­ter. That would seem to fit with some genet­ic stud­ies, which sug­gest that our brain’s wir­ing is more effi­cient now than it was in the past.

Oth­ers, how­ever, think this shrink­age is a sign of a slight decline in our gen­er­al men­tal abil­it­ies.

via @mocost

Media Usage Over Time (1800–2020)

Accept­ing its unscien­ti­fic’­ness, Thomas Baek­dal presents an infor­graph­ic depict­ing the usage of dif­fer­ent types of media over time—from 1800 to 2020.

In the past 210 years we have seen an amaz­ing evol­u­tion of inform­a­tion. […] But 2009 is also going to be the start of the next revolu­tion. Because everything we know is about to change.

The first and most dra­mat­ic change is the concept of Social News. Social news is quickly tak­ing over our need for stay­ing up-to-date with what goes on in the world. News is no longer being repor­ted by journ­al­ists, now it comes from every­one. And it is being repor­ted dir­ectly from the source to you – bypassing the tra­di­tion­al media chan­nels.

[…] Web­sites have a much less­er role, as their primary func­tion will be to serve as a hub for all the activ­it­ies that you do else­where. It is the place where people get the raw mater­i­al for use in oth­er places. And the web­sites and social net­works will merge into one. Your web­site and blog is your social pro­file.

via @mikearauz / @BBHLabs

History of the 160 Character Text Message

I’ve nev­er giv­en much thought to this, and maybe that’s a sign of how well it was designed and imple­men­ted: the his­tory and (high-level) tech­nic­al devel­op­ment of  text mes­saging.

Would the 160-char­ac­ter max­im­um be enough space to prove a use­ful form of com­mu­nic­a­tion? Hav­ing zero mar­ket research, [the research com­mit­ee] based their ini­tial assump­tions on two “con­vin­cing argu­ments”:

For one, they found that post­cards often con­tained few­er than 150 char­ac­ters.

Second, they ana­lyzed a set of mes­sages sent through Tel­ex, a then-pre­val­ent tele­graphy net­work for busi­ness pro­fes­sion­als. Des­pite not hav­ing a tech­nic­al lim­it­a­tion, Hil­l­eb­rand said, Tel­ex trans­mis­sions were usu­ally about the same length as post­cards. […]

[Fried­helm Hil­l­eb­rand, the ‘fath­er of text mes­saging’,] had an argu­ment with a friend about wheth­er 160 char­ac­ters provided enough space to com­mu­nic­ate most thoughts. “My friend said this was impossible for the mass mar­ket,” Hil­l­eb­rand said. “I was more optim­ist­ic.“ 

Nowadays, with the ubi­quity of text mess­ging and ser­vices such as Twit­ter I feel that there is little doubt that 160 char­ac­ters is enough to get across all but the most com­plex or import­ant mes­sages.