Oberlin Big History Project

Students' Comments in the 2018 academic year

HUMAN EXISTENCE
IN THE COSMOS

09/18/2018 
Lecture 1 Introduction

Even though there was consciousness of “myself being a Japanese” until now because I had never been conscious of “being an earthling ...,” I felt that it was fresh, it gave me a creepy feeling or a feeling like a hole in my heart. Since I just took a class of Astronomy, I think a lot. At the same time, I currently take a course of An Introduction to Japanese History and am learning about the evolution of humankind. Originally human beings came from the same species and were “a part of the Earth,” but now I don’t have a feeling of “being part of the Earth.” Rather, I feel that only “humankind” is isolated from the Earth, nature, and such feeling. “At the moment” I am living to work and to serve society [in the future], but after today's class, I can’t help but think about “what I should do.” I also begin to feel that it might not be good for me to finish my life only with a small perspective in a small place called Japan. In the class of An Introduction to Japanese History, I was taught that “the best civilization would not last 200 years.” Now I feel that we are so wasteful with the “best civilization.” I hope that I will find at least one answer to the question “What should I do?” in 15 lectures. (4th-year student Y)

Looking at the picture of the Earth seen from the Moon [the Earthrise], my heart was greatly moved though it was no more than one picture projected by one projector in one classroom. I felt the unusual beauty of the Earth as well as isolation left behind in the vast empty space. Although it must be a vast space, I felt a sense of liberation and a sense of limitation at the same time. It was a mysterious feeling. Considering the universe, I feel as if my consciousness were floating above my body for a moment. Seeing a so splendid scenery, I feel disconsolate though I don’t know why. It is interesting that I also feel excited. (2nd-year student I)

I think that life, the universe, and human beings are the same mechanism if they are broadly seen from afar: «Birth → Growth (Evolution) → Mutation → Termination». Although none of life, the cosmos, and humans have ended, is not the rough flow the same? Although this is just an imagination and there is no basis to support it at all, perhaps if we line up what happened up to now [milestones] with compressing each of these three [the histories of life, the cosmos, and humans] down to 100 hours, does not it turn out that the key changes happened at the same ratio? Is not this ratio applicable to not only these three fields but all? I am thinking about it. (2nd-year student S)

handwritten timelines Handwritten timelines

Matters and life, which derived from the big oneness of the big bang, increased in complexity by becoming subdivided. But during the last 500 years, cultures and societies on the Earth have connected and began to influence each other. Now problems at a global scale that cannot be solved by local viewpoints have appeared, so I am very convinced that we need a magnificent human history of big history. (2nd-year ? [anonym])

I think that to know big history is to know ourselves. To not know big history means that we do not know what happened and how they made us reach the present state. It is scary to live without knowing anything about that. ... I do not even know much about the Moon nearest to the Earth. The latest news says that Mr. Maezawa of ZOZOTOWN will participate in the tour around the Moon. The Moon is surely getting within reach. It is a new development that space I saw as the distant thing is getting closer to us. I feel fairly sure that the big history enabled it and will connect our future with the big history. Because I see Big History as, in a sense, a freestyle of studies, I’m looking forward to attending the coming lectures. (2nd-year student M)

I was originally interested in elementary particle physics and personally did a search for some related topics. However, I have never caught it from a wide transdisciplinary perspective like Big History. Once I regarded academic inquiries as what only professional scholars pursue. Yet during my learning liberal arts as a cluster of disciplines, I got to have an idea, “It might be good if I apply what I learned in this major to that discipline.” I felt such a sense had shaped a form as Big History. Somebody who belonged to one of the majors of humanities told me, "Scientists just want to explain everything." Yet, I expect that, by teaching an essential theme, such as the title of Gauguin’s painting [Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?], without a boundary between science and humanities, a different way of understanding would appear. (3rd-year student S)

09/25/2018 
Lecture 2 Big Bang: The Beginning of the Universe

When I was a junior high school student, I loved looking at the periodic table of elements with beautiful illustrations. Among beautiful jewels and minerals lined up there, I felt “C,” carbon, was the most beautiful. Although the fact that the illustration of carbon was diamonds might also affect my impression, the most attractive thing for me was that all living organisms were made up of carbon. In other words, carbon exists in all living organisms. Thinking that carbon exists, say, within me, my hamster I had as a pet, and my classmates sitting next to me, I got excited inexplicably. “Humans are made of the same material as the stars.” This word in today’s lecture surprised me. Sure it is. When I had been a junior high school student, I had been impressed by “the substance that exists in all living organism.” Yet, [today’s lecture made me notice that] carbon also exists in the Earth and other many stars, which means that the same things are within us and stars. So I was quite excited. I felt like it brought back the feelings and the impression in my junior high school days. (1st-year student A)

As I major in psychology, when I think something in a way of liberal arts, it is naturally connected with my knowledge of psychology. If I give some examples from psychology that are similar to the “fluctuation of the universe” and “dark matter” mentioned as “what is needed to make to the first stars,” the equivalents could be “the fluctuation of heartbeat” and “heart.” The “fluctuation of heartbeat” literally means that the rhythm of the heartbeat is not uniform. By analyzing this rhythm, we can understand the mental condition etc. There is a fact that if the rhythm of someone’s heartbeat becomes uniform, s/he dies in about several days. I felt that this is also another similarity that all of these “need differences.” The reason why I see the equivalent of “dark matter” as “heart” is that they have a commonality that they have influence though we can’t see them. (3rd-year student S)

I learned the idea of Laplace's demon in the course An Introduction to Physics. The idea is that the future can be known if the movement of all molecules can be known, as the future has already been confirmed. In fact the weather forecast gets quite accurate. This is predictable because there are quite a few data up to now. But it is not perfect. There are still contradictions in physics, and furthermore, we don’t know about all the kinds and states of molecules. Alike, in the [Japanese sci-fi] animation PSYCHO-PASS, many human brains are gathered [to construct the Sybil System, a ubiquitous network of psychometric scanners,] to measure the Crime Coefficient [of the population that detects the latent criminals], but it is not perfect. In other words, no matter how far humans today know the past, the future is unknown. I think this is a wonderful thing. The fact that you do not know the future means that we can have hope. I think that learning big history enables us to foresee the future of humanity, the Earth, the universe with more specifics and hope. (2nd-year student K)

At the College of Arts and Sciences, J.F. Oberlin University, I can learn various things in a wide field, from literature to dynamics, without a barrier between humanities and science. In handling such a wide variety of knowledge, big history would be a lamp to illuminate a workplace of thought in mind. It is because that, by touching Big History, we get a cosmic view and we get to be able to think about all the events from a cosmic point of view. At the moment, we still do the processing of various kinds of knowledge with Homo sapiens thinking. But I do believe that if we do that with cosmic thinking, we get to be able to process the knowledge hidden in the dark. I felt that a human way of thinking to see the future is similar to [a way of observing] the universe. It is because that the farther you see the universe, the more you can see the past. When humans think about the far-away, that is, the future of themselves, they think ahead by looking at their past experiences. I felt that the essence was similar than I had expected. Big history that leads me to a cosmic view beyond humans has ignited my heart. (2nd-year student I)

10/02/2018 
Lecture 3 The Formation of the Solar System and the Earth

When it comes to life, it is often said that the earth is miraculously conditioned. But it seems that it goes by ourselves and ignores exceptions. To us, H2O and C, water and carbon are essential for maintaining physical composition and life activity. However, I suppose that in this vast universe there are living organisms that look improbable from our common sense. I have imagined it sometimes since my high school days that such organisms might exist that substitute “ammonia” for water and atomic “gold” for carbon that make us. (2nd-year student A)

I heard that there were trials to find habitable planets except for the Earth. Yet, hearing about the migration plan, I question how seriously they consider a problem to abandon only familiar planet for us. There are real people who can not return to their hometown due to the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. I imagine that I would unduly feel empty if I can hardly recognize my hometown where weeds and woods flourish and only artifacts remain the same. I do not want to even imagine abandoning my hometown. If I abandon it, my own days in my country would disappear over time. If I’m forced to abandon it by inevitable reasons, I have no choice other than that, but yet, I do not want to do that. (4th-year student S)

10/09/2018 
Lecture 4 The Emergence of Life

I think that “genes” are indispensable for the definition of living organisms and life. Is not the existence of genes a core of living organisms and life as we know it today? At least the creatures we can obviously see as living organisms almost always have genes. In this lecture, it was pointed out that AI might be included in the definition of life, but in my view, it is improbable. It is because AI is made as a copy of the human mind by human intelligence and therefore humans, not AI itself, give birth to it. I think that AI is a tool and not a living organism. (1st-year student N)

You mean that once we uncover the origin of life, we would be able to artificially make human babies, don’t you? In my humble opinion, it would be more preferable that the origin of life will never be elucidated. It is because, if humans figure out it and come to produce many humans and pet animals [in a completely artificial way], they are likely to disrespect a value of life than they do now. Humans easily buy pets just because they look cute. And they abandon pets just because having pets is hard for them. Perhaps we might try to know what we should not know. Nevertheless, if we can use it for something like a medical purpose, that might be fine. (4th-year student Y)

In the Bible, the creation of heaven and earth seems like a blink of an eye. However, a certain growth period has been set for humans, living things, and even planets, so nothing is completed from the beginning. As a student of theology, I wonder why God set such a process for completion instead of creating finished products, even though God is omnipotent and capable of doing anything. (3rd-year student F)

It looks certain that we can deny the existence of God if we can figure out the mechanism of the emergence of life. We can say that the argument that humans are creatures made by God wants nothing more than entrusting a black box of life to God. There is a method of classic Greek dramas called deus ex machina. It is a plot mechanism that, when a scene of the drama faces something beyond human control, God comes to save it. Greek tragedies have timeless attractiveness, but especially, a habit of making a wish to a god has not changed since a long time ago. For that reason, we can say that a value of the scenario has not changed too. However, I imagine that another age comes in which such value and viewpoint change if an age comes in which the existence of God is denied. I like the conception of God as it is full of romance, while I would like to see a moment that natural sciences kill God if possible. (2nd-year student Y)

In the [Japanese sci-fi] animation Knights of Sidonia, human survivors, who [fled the destroyed Earth and] live in a spaceship integrated with a big rock mass, produce energy in the body by photosynthesis without foods. Do you [Prof. Miyawaki] think that such evolution could happen if humans will have to live in vacant space? (1st-year student I)

10/16/2018 
Lecture 5 The History of Evolution of Life ( 1 )

10/23/2018 
Lecture 6 Special Lecture ( 1 )

10/30/2018 
Lecture 7 The History of Evolution of Life ( 2 )

11/06/2018 
Lecture 8 The Emergence of Humankinds

11/13/2018 
Lecture 9 The Origins of Agriculture

11/20/2018 
Lecture 10 Special Lecture ( 2 )

11/27/2018 
Lecture 11 Modernization

12/04/2018 
Lecture 12 In a Time of the Anthropocene

12/11/2018 
Lecture 13 Extra-terrestrial Life

12/18/2018 
Lecture 14 Special Lecture ( 3 )

01/15/2019 
Lecture 15 Wrap-up

2017