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.