By Natural Philosopher Mike Prestwood
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The Ideas Timeline

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The story of human thought.

Philosophy Series: 1. Big Picture | 2. Ideas | 3. Philosophers | 4. Publications
Filter To: 2a. All Ideas | 2b. Empirical | 2c. Rational | 2d. Irrational | 2e. Mind Blowing

Ideas: From 30 Philosophers: “An idea in everyday conversation is a mental construct that describes something. It is a bit nebulous and overarching, so I use it in that manner. In the Idea of Ideas framework:

“An Idea is a mental construct that stems from impressions, describing concrete objects or abstract entities of the material world or beyond.”

Notice ideas stem from impressions, but do not originate from them. They are not direct live impressions; live impressions of the senses do not directly become ideas. Ideas are a result of recalled impressions involving cognitive processes. When a recalled impression manifests as a memory paired with interpretation or labeling, it qualifies as an idea. For instance, merely revisiting the raw sensation of anger is not an idea. But when you feel that anger and label it as bad, it evolves into an idea. When you are startled, that’s not an idea. The urge to run because you are startled, that’s an idea.”

  • Empirical Ideas: Direct observations of the universe.
  • Rational: Indirect ideas about empirical ideas.
  • Irrational: New ideas, speculation, and the disproven.
  • Rediscoveries: Forgotten, then returned to our “current” Grand Rational Framework of common knowledge.

The Ideas Timeline

Big Bang Expansion
Big Bang Expansion
13.8 Billion Years Ago
Verified. Empirically supported and rationally deduced.

30 Phil, Chapter 1 Touchstone 1 of 80: Big Bang.

Immediately following the state of the singularity, the universe entered a phase of rapid expansion and cooling, known as the Big Bang Expansion. This critical period signifies not an explosion in space but the very expansion of space itself, from an incomprehensibly dense point known as a singularity. For more, check out: The Expanding Universe Explained.

Big History Thresholds: 1=Big Bang | 2=Stars&Galaxies | 3=Chemicals | 4=Solar System | 5=First Life | 6=TI | 7=Agrarian | 8=Science

Big Bang: Threshold 1 in Big History is the creation, or beginning, of our universe.

Free Will
Free Will

30 Phil, Chapter 1 Touchstone 2: Free Will.

There are two basic types of Free Will. Determinism says everything that happens is set in stone and can’t be changed; in contrast, indeterminism says people and animals make choices. There are four basic types: scientific determinism, scientific indeterminism, fatalism, and providence.

Evolution
Evolution

30 Phil, Chapter 1 Touchstone 3: Evolution.

In 1859, the naturalist Charles Darwin revolutionized the scientific world with his seminal publication, “On the Origin of Species.” In it he formulated his scientific theory of evolution by natural selection. The process by which new species arise is well-understood. It proposed that changes in species occur gradually over time. With each generation, the offspring produce small variations, which accumulate over generations, resulting in advantages and disadvantages. 

Cultural Transmission
Cultural Transmission

30 Phil, Chapter 1 Touchstone 4: Cultural Transmission.

Cultural transmission, perhaps more than any other trait, sets humans apart from other animals. It’s the ability to pass behaviors, traditions, and knowledge to the next generation. Cultural transmission has likely been a feature of our direct-line hominin mind for millions of years. Returning to what we have in common with chimps, both species possess this ability.

Great Apes: Medicine Emerges
Great Apes: Medicine Emerges
18 Million Years Ago (+/- 5 million years)

While speculative, it is reasonable to position the occassional use of proto-medicine as emerging in the great apes sometime around 18 million years ago. Modern orangutans, apes, and chimpanzees treat wounds, digestive issues, and even use insect repellant. The Great Apes LCA lived around 18 million years ago, so using the Occam Approach, this implies that’s around the time such traits emerged. This demonstration of chronoception, a sense of time, is interesting.

This, of course, is only a guess as dog’s and cat’s, which evolved much earlier, frequently eat specific plants to settle their stomach. Some insects, like Ants, use plant extracts to treat fungal infections in their colonies. While the dog and cat example is likely an example of convergent evolution, the ant example for sure is.

Imagined image: By around this time, the great apes could experience time the way we do. They remember the past while living in the present and anticipating the future. In this case, an early great ape is applying mud to a wound he just experienced while anticipating the mud will soothe the pain and help him feel better in the future.  

Early Stone Tools
Early Stone Tools
3.3 Million BCE
Hominins

The earliest known stone tools date back to at least 3.3 million years ago. They are identified by their purposeful flaking patterns, sharp edges, and location with other more identifiable artifacts or fossils. They are then verified with microscopic analysis confirming repetitive use. 

Possible Stone-Tool Progression:
By 3.4 mya: Hammerstones, no modification, used for pounding seeds, nuts, or breaking bones.
By 3.3 mya: Lomekwi stone tools. Stone cores, rock flakes removed to reshape, narrow, or sharpen.
By 2.6 mya: Oldowan tools; first definite tools. Stone flakes with sharp edges would used for cutting meat, scraping hides, chopping plants, and wood whittling.
By 2.4 mya: Refinement of Oldowan tools, with more controlled flaking and sharper edges.
By 1.76 mya: Acheulean hand axes, iconic tools with a distinctive teardrop or oval shape for chopping wood, butchering animals, digging, and scraping.
By 1.76 mya: Larger cutting tools such as cleavers for butchering large animals, or heavy-duty scrapers for processing hides or wood.
By 500,000 ya: Middle Paleolithic tools, including pointed hand axes, side scrapers, knife-like tools, and awls for piercing.
By 300,000 ya: Diverse materials such as bone and antler start surviving the test of time. Earliest evidence of composite tools using multiple materials combined to produce tools with specific functions.
By 200,000 ya: Hafted tools, where stone tips are attached to wooden handles, significantly enhancing their effectiveness and range of use.

Hand Axe
Hand Axe
1.76 Million BCE
70,400 Generations Ago (from 2020 CE)

By about 1.76 million BCE, early humans began to create hand axes. They would strike really large flakes, then continue to shape them around the edges. On the right, the hand axe pictured dates to circa 1.1 million BCE. It was found at Isampur, India.

 

Fire-Altered Stone Tools
Fire-Altered Stone Tools
790,000 BCE
Genus Homo
31,600 Generations Ago

Burned flint tools dated to circa 790,000 BCE were discovered at Gesher Benot Ya’aquov, Israel. Control of fire is one of the key traits of the genus Homo.

 

Oldest Surviving Spear
Oldest Surviving Spear
350,000 BCE
400,000 to 300,000 BCE
14,000 Generations Ago

Homo heidelbergensis: Long spears made hunting large animals more safe. The oldest wooden spears found so far were found in Germany and dates to circa 400,000 BCE. In fact, they are currently the oldest known wooden artifacts. The find included 3 wooden spears, stone tools, and the butchered remains of more than 10 horses.

These spears have the same qualities as modern tournament javelins and can be thrown over 200 feet. The workmanlike qualities of the heavily worked wood were similar to modern javelins where the heaviest thickest part of the spear, the center of gravity, is in the front third.

The Invention of Bread
Assortment of baked bread
Before 14,400 BCE
Middle East

Since grain is easy to grow, does this suggest agriculture might have started a few thousand years earlier? Under study, but the discovery of bread-making from around 14,000 years ago indeed suggests that humans were experimenting with grains before the widespread adoption of agriculture, which is traditionally dated to about 12,000 years ago with the Neolithic Revolution. 

In the shadow of history, nestled within the Black Desert of northeastern Jordan, lies the cradle of one of humanity’s most enduring culinary and cultural achievements: the invention of bread. Around 14,000 years ago, long before the dawn of agriculture and the domestication of cereal grains, the Natufian hunter-gatherers embarked on a gastronomic adventure that would forever change the course of human society.

Corn
Glass Gem Flint Corn
Before 9000 BCE
Mexico

In the highlands of Mexico, the story of maize, or corn, begins with its ancestor, teosinte. Through centuries of selective breeding, Indigenous peoples transform this humble grass into corn.

Plaster Invented
wall, decay, plaster
before 9000 BCE

The earliest known use of plaster dates back to around 9000 BCE, with evidence from the ancient site of Çatalhöyük in modern-day Turkey. Here, Neolithic inhabitants utilized plaster made from lime to coat the floors, walls, and even ceilings of their mud-brick houses. This early application of plaster represents a significant technological innovation, indicating a sophisticated understanding of construction materials and their protective and aesthetic properties. The use of plaster enhanced the durability and appearance of architectural structures and had practical health benefits, such as preventing infestations and regulating indoor climates.

The Domestication of Rice
Bali Rice Fields
circa 8000 BCE
China

In the lush, fertile lands of the Yangtze River Valley in ancient China, early inhabitants achieved a milestone that would revolutionize human society: the domestication of rice. Around 8,000 BCE, these innovative communities began to cultivate wild rice, laying the groundwork for sedentary agriculture and complex civilizations. This agricultural breakthrough not only provided a stable food source but also spurred social and technological advancements, leading to the rise of sophisticated cultures and the eventual emergence of the Chinese civilization, one of the world’s oldest continuous cultures.

Cheese
Delicious Cheese board. Assortment of cheese, camembert, brie, Gorgonzola, parmesan, olives
Before 5500 BCE
Poland

In the Neolithic villages of Poland, milk, a nourishing gift from domesticated animals, is left to curdle, giving rise to the earliest form of cheese.

Man Made Glass
blue green and red heart shaped stone
3500 BCE

The earliest known man made glass dates back to circa 3500 BCE and to Egypt and Eastern Mesopotamia. Discovery of glassblowing around 1st century BC was a major breakthrough in glass making.

Beer, Ale
glass of beer, sausages and bread on the table
circa 3000 BCE
Sumerians; 3400–2900 BCE

The Ale of Progress: On the riverbanks of ancient Mesopotamia, Sumerians fermented grains into beer, a beverage derived from bread. It became a cornerstone of their civilization. It’s a drink for the gods, a nutritious staple, and perhaps the world’s first social lubricant.

Knowledge Framework
Knowledge Framework

30 Phil, Chapter 2 Touchstone 5: Knowledge Framework.

In philosophy, the study of knowledge is called epistemology. It’s important because knowledge describes reality, and understanding how we craft knowledge brings philosophical clarity. Each of us maintains a personal knowledge framework that arranges the knowledge we accumulate. You can think of it as a personalized dictionary. But unlike a dictionary, the definitions are far from sterile. Each entry is imbued with your unique perspective including a tapestry of direct and indirect experiences, retained memories and emotions.

Philosophy
Philosophy

30 Phil, Chapter 2 Touchstone 6: Philosophy.

Philosophy is the systematic study of fundamental questions concerning existence, knowledge, values, and meaning. It’s a discipline guided by reason and the evaluation of evidence. A central question is “How should we live?” While there is a general agreement on overarching principles, as always, the devil is in the details. In general, philosophy encourages you to continually refine your mental, emotional, and physical self—a task that involves not just understanding words but grappling with the experiences and emotions they represent. It also urges you to be content with who you are now, while fostering a genuine desire to help others. Philosophy doesn’t just address the “what” of our lives; it also delves into the “why” and the “how should we proceed.” It’s good advice, a possible explanation for the unknown, or an exploration of the unknowable.

Major Religion: Hinduism
Major Religion: Hinduism
2300 BCE
172 Generations Ago

Hinduism was founded sometime between 2300 and 1500 BCE, but does not have a founder so the exact date is difficult to specify. Like most ancient religions, it is a synthesis of various traditions. Hinduism today is generally centered around the Vedas, ancient sacred texts.

Creation date: 155 Trillion Years ago.
Hindu cosmology presents a cyclic model of the universe that undergoes periodic creation and destruction. Texts like the Puranas describe cycles of creation that span billions of years. According to some interpretations of Hindu scriptures, the current universe is about 155.52 trillion years old, and we are in the 51st year of the present Brahma, making it roughly 155.52 trillion years since the creation of the cosmos.

Some of my favorite Hindu sayings:

  • Every day you should sit quietly and affirm, with deep conviction.
  • You become that which you believe you can become.
  • The entire universe is to be looked upon as the Lord.
Chocolate
Cocoa powder and cocoa beans
Before 1900 BCE
Mesoamerica

In the tropical rainforests of Mesoamerica, the ancient Olmecs unlock the secrets of the cacao pod. By fermenting, roasting, and grinding the seeds, they create the bitter beverage chocolate. This divine elixir lays the foundation for chocolate’s enduring legacy, cherished by the Mayans and Aztecs as a ceremonial drink, a currency, and a medicine.

Oldest Known Monotheistic Religion: Atenism
Oldest Known Monotheistic Religion: Atenism
1344 BCE
circa 1340 to 1320 BCE

In the ninth year of the reign of Akhenaten, he declared the traditional supreme God Aten to be the only God of Egypt with himself as the sole communicator to Aten, kind of like an early Pope. This early attempt at monotheism failed after about 20 years and Egypt returned to their traditional polytheistic religion.

About the image: Akhenaton and Nefertiti seated, holding 3 of their daughters, under the rays of the sun god Aten giving Ankh-symbols to them (Picture provided by ArchaiOptix).

Ontology
Ontology

30 Phil, Chapter 3 Touchstone 7: Ontology.

Ontology: The Nature of Being: When we’re alive, life feels endless, stretching beyond the horizon of our imagination. The realization that it must end is not easily accepted. We’re not just sentient beings; we are self-aware. For many, the notion that we cease to exist after death is unbearable. We can’t help but wonder if we’re special; if something inside us continues even when our bodies stop. It’s about the human instinct for self-preservation extending beyond life. We lean into beliefs that promise we might continue in some form. This sphere of thought is called Ontology.

Holism
Holism

30 Phil, Chapter 3 Touchstone 8: Holism.

Holism views things as a whole, emphasizing interconnectedness and interdependence, and values unity and synthesis. It is essential for fully understanding complex systems like living organisms and ecosystems. This notion of an underlying, unifying essence mirrors the intricacies of the natural world, where each element, though distinct, harmoniously contributes to the grander mosaic of existence.

The Birth of Logic
The Birth of Logic
624 BCE
Circa 624-546 BCE

In the vibrant intellectual climate of Ancient Greece, the 6th century BCE marks the embryonic stage of formal logic, attributed to the philosopher Thales of Miletus (around 624-546 BCE). Thales, recognized as the first of the Seven Sages of Greece, embarked on a quest that laid the foundational stones of logical thought. He shifted the explanation of natural phenomena away from mythological interpretations towards rational principles.

Spherical Earth
Realistic Earth Planet against the the star sky
600 BCE

The Greeks knew the Earth is spherical. For example, Pythagoras (570-495 BCE), Aristotle (384-322 BCE), and Euclid (circa 450 BCE) wrote about the Earth as a sphere. Eratosthenes (276-194 BCE) even calculated the circumference of the Earth to within 1%. He also wrote about the idea that India could be reached by sailing westward from Spain.

Nearly 2,000 years later during the time Columbus sailed the ocean blue, most religious nuts believed the Earth was flat and he would fall off. What happened to truth? Although many educated people knew all along, the dogma of the brainwashed religious nuts over the centuries suppressed and terrorized the masses into believing things like the Earth is flat, the Earth is only a few thousand years old, women are property, and other such nonsense. The harm caused by formal religions over the eons is incalculable.

Wu-wei or “non-action”
Wu-wei or “non-action”

30 Phil, Chapter 4, Laozi, Touchstone 9: Wu-wei or “non-action”

The term wu-wei is often translated as “non-action.” It is a general concept. It is the idea that the universe has a flow, and it is better to ride that flow than to fight it. Wu-wei is non-action, effortless action, or inaction, but does not mean laziness or passive behavior. It refers to the practice of avoiding conflict or competition, but it does not mean you do not engage. Instead, you accept the natural order of things rather than trying to force your will or desire upon the world.

 

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Ziran, Authenticity, or Authentic Self
Ziran, Authenticity, or Authentic Self

30 Phil, Chapter 4, Laozi, Touchstone 10: Authenticity.

Ziran is often translates to “of its own.” Living in accordance with Ziran means you embrace naturalness. You welcome the spontaneous aspects of existence. With Ziran, you flow with nature while embracing your true self and innate tendencies, your authentic self. Living in accordance with Ziran is you attaining a state of inner peace, balance, and harmony. By cultivating a deep connection with the natural world and allowing things to unfold organically, you can experience the intrinsic flow of the Dao. For example, a conversation that unfolds without order and a musician improvising both exemplify Ziran.

Unknowable Dao
Unknowable Dao

30 Phil, Chapter 4, Laozi, Touchstone 12: Unknowable Dao.

The “unknowable Dao” is the skeptical belief that the true nature of reality is unknowable. The Unknowable Dao is a mysterious universal reality that transcends both language and thought; it encapsulates the ultimate reality and its inherent natural order. It’s the idea that the Dao cannot be fully comprehended nor expressed in words. It resonates in modern times. What we perceive as reality is merely a shadow of the full scope of what reality actually is. Consider, for instance, the concept of visible and non-visible light. You perceive visible light and may think it’s the whole spectrum, but science tells us it’s not.

Normalcy, Normal, and Abnormal
Normalcy, Normal, and Abnormal

30 Phil, Chapter 5, Confucius, Touchstone 13: Normalcy.

Normalcy refers to the standards or patterns established through repeated experiences and societal norms, serving as a baseline for judging deviations. Our concept of “normal” influences how we label and react to the world, shaping our perceptions of what is good, bad, or different. These norms are formed from personal and collective experiences, and they can evolve as we challenge ingrained prejudices and expand our acceptance of diversity. Understanding normalcy helps us recognize how our labels impact our interactions and views of the world.

Schemas
Schemas

30 Phil, Chapter 5, Confucius, Touchstone 14: Schemas.

A schema is a mental structure we employ to organize and interpret information. We classify things into schemas, which we can then modify by adding or removing elements. Schemas help us simplify life. Once things are categorized as normal or abnormal, we utilize our cognitive processes, such as memory and association, to attach emotional or value judgments like good, bad, great, horrible, delicious, gross, and so on, to these “normal” or “abnormal” classifications.

Non-Self or Anatman and Self or Atman
Non-Self or Anatman and Self or Atman

30 Phil, Chapter 6, Buddhism, Touchstone 15: Illusion: Self and Non-self.

The Buddhist terms of Atman and Anatman relate to the idea of “Self,” or “Atman,” your eternal soul and the Buddhist doctrine of “Non-Self,” or “Anātman.” To understand non-self, you have to understand the concept of “emptiness,” which refers to the idea that nothing lasts forever. “Non-self” says what we consider our “self” does not exist. What we perceive as an unchanging “self” or “soul,” is actually a collection of ever-changing physical and mental components, such as form, sensations, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. There is no enduring “I,” existing independently of these aggregates.

Nondualism and Dualism
Nondualism and Dualism

30 Phil, Chapter 6, Buddhism, Touchstone 16: Nondualism-Dualism.

Nondualism and dualism help to explore the many variations and nuances within the overarching discussion of our nature, whether we have a soul, what happens to it, etc. Dualism says the mind and the body are distinct entities from each other and from the universe. How they interact with the universe is a separate question. Nondualism says reality is a singular, indivisible, and all-encompassing entity, and any apparent divisions, such as the separation between the mind and body, are merely illusory. These schemas are used in many frameworks across various disciplines, including philosophy, science, and psychology to explore topics such as consciousness, the self, and reality, as well as the basis of personal identity and interconnectedness. 

Impermanence and Flux
Impermanence and Flux

30 Phil, Chapter 7, Heraclitus, Touchstone 17: Impermanence and Flux.

Impermanence as Flux is the idea of an ever-changing nature of life and the interconnectedness of all things. It is summed up as:

“Everything is in flux.”

Like the idea a “river,” everything flows. The only constant is change, and to resist it is to resist the natural order of things.

Worldview
Worldview

30 Phil, Chapter 7, Heraclitus, Touchstone 17: Worldview.

A worldview is your current knowledge, perspectives, beliefs, and values, which evolves with experience and influences your interpretation of reality and self. Your worldview is comprised of all the frameworks you’ve embraced, and a good place to start your exploration is with the three major ones: language, religion, and philosophy. They give it structure, and your schemas thread through them, acting as filters for how you perceive reality.

Identity
Identity

30 Phil, Chapter 7, Heraclitus, Touchstone 17: Identity.

Identity is the personal mosaic of attributes that set you apart as an individual. Your identity is shaped by the worldview you embrace and mold. It encompasses the world you were born into — encompassing aspects like gender, ethnicity, and nationality — and extends to your personal choices, including affiliations, accumulated knowledge, and even your preferences in entertainment. It also includes aspects that evolve and change on your journey including such things as your current age, where you choose to live, and how you make a living. It’s a complex interplay of internal and external factors. You are born without a predetermined essence or nature. It’s only through our experiences—through the act of living—that we define our essence, our identity.

Earliest Known Magnification
crystal lens ball in a woman’s hand, with a refracted view of a misty country lane
65 CE

The earliest known magnification dates back to the first century. These simple early magnification devices consisted of using natural crystals or a glass globe filled with water. It is reasonable to assume the use of natural crystals for magnification was around for many thousands of years. One possible specimen is the Nimrud lens dating back to 750 BCE.

Although man-made glass was in common use about 3500 BCE, eye glasses would have to wait about 4,500 years later. Eye glasses were invented in the 13th century. A few centuries earlier, a reading glass was in common use. A piece of glass you set on a page of text to magnify the letters well enough to read easily.

These early devices provided a max of about 2x, or perhaps 3x, magnification. The microworld of cells and large bacteria would have to wait for the invention of good quality microscopes about 1630. The nanoworld of smaller bacteria, viruses, proteins, and molecules would have to wait for the invention of the electron microscope in 1931.

Touchstone: Senses & Perceptions
Olfaction or Sense of Smell Study.

How we perceive an external world starts to become clear. A 30 Philosophers touchstone: Chapter 17, “Alhazen and the Senses.” Since Alhazen and his pioneering work around 1020 CE, we have made significant advancements in understanding our senses and perceptions. Prior to Alhazen, most people on Earth believed in magical light-emitting-flashlight eyes.

Hourglass
Hourglass on the Beach

Hourglasses, also known as sandglasses or sand timers, were first used in the 14th century, although it is unclear exactly when they were invented. The earliest written reference to an hourglass dates back to the early 14th century in Europe, but they may have been used earlier in other parts of the world. Hourglasses were used as a reliable way to measure time, especially for tasks that required precise timing such as navigation at sea, cooking, and scientific experiments.

Microscope Invented = Microworld Discovered!
Various bacteria cells in microscope. Streptococcus pneumonia, p

With the invention of the microscope, humanity became aware of the microworld which is defined as 1 to 1000 microns. A micron is equal to one thousands of a millimeter. A cell is about 10 microns wide. Paper is about 100 microns thick. The unaided human eye can see items as small as 50 microns, or about half the width of a piece of paper.

Scientists use three scales when talking about the biological world: the milliworld, microworld, and the nanoworld. The milliworld contains all visible items down to 1 millimeter and includes very small things such as ants, fleas, and grains of sand.

By 1640, the microscope was perfected to the point that allowed the introduction of the microworld to humanity. The microworld contains items with a diameter from 1 millimeter to 1 micrometer, or 1 micron. The microworld contains things like single celled organisms as well as the largest bacteria. By 1640, humanity started it’s introduction to trillions of organisms living everywhere including nearly everything you touch, in the ground, inside plants, and even inside humans. Humans host over 10,000 species of organisms in, on, and through the human body — known as the human microbiome. Every human no matter how clean you think you are is playing host to 10-100 trillion organisms. This fact gradually changed how every human on Earth views life.

The nanoworld which includes smaller bacteria as well as viruses, proteins, and molecules would have to wait for the invention of the electron microscope in 1931. 

Note: The micron and micrometer are the same size, but you use microns (μ) when measuring thickness, and micrometers (μm) when measuring the distance between things. So you can say a cell is 10 microns wide, or you can say the diameter of a cell is 10 micrometers. The term nanomicron, which would be equal to a nanometer, is not currently in regular use.

Relativity Principle
Relativity Principle

The Relativity Principle states that the laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion relative to one another. This means that the passage of time, the length of objects, and the speed of light are the same for everyone, regardless of their relative motion.

Introduced by Galileo Galilei and detailed in his 1632 work “Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences,” the Relativity Principle posits that the laws of physics are the same in any system moving at a constant speed in a straight line, regardless of its particular speed or direction. This principle laid the groundwork for understanding that motion is relative to the observer’s frame of reference.

Protozoa Discovered: Microbiology Founded
Protozoa Discovered: Microbiology Founded

Although protozoa evolved from eukaryotes about 2 billion years ago, it was 1674 that humanity saw them for the first time. That’s when Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, using his meticulously crafted microscopes, discovered protozoa—the first microscopic observation of single-celled organisms. His detailed observations and descriptions of what he called “animalcules” in a drop of pond water opened a completely new world to scientific study, fundamentally transforming our understanding of life on Earth. This discovery not only marked the birth of microbiology as a science but also challenged existing views on the complexity and diversity of life, laying the groundwork for the exploration of biological processes at the cellular level. Little did Antonie know, he was looking at the descendants of the ancestor to plants, animals, and fungi! Later, in the 1990s, scientists put together the following timing:

  • 1.7 billion years ago: Plants diverge from the common protozoa ancestor.
  • 1.5 billion years ago: Fungi and animal branch emerges.
  • 1.3 billion years ago: Fungi diverge from the common fungi-animal ancestor.

Analysis: The discovery of protozoa brought to light the vast, previously invisible world of microorganisms, reshaping biological and medical sciences by introducing the concept that life extends far beyond what is visible to the naked eye. This revelation had profound implications, leading to advances in disease control, understanding ecological interactions, and even prompting discussions on the origins of life. 

The Invention of Calculus
geometry, mathematics, volume

Invented by Newton in the 1660s (pub. 1687) and independently by Leibniz in the 1680s (pub. 1684). Both built on Galileo’s popularizing the idea of the infinitesimal.

Calculus, the mathematical study of continuous change, introduced the concepts of differentiation and integration, providing tools to model and analyze motion, growth, and the infinitesimal. Newton, working primarily in England, utilized calculus to formulate his laws of motion and gravitation, fundamentally altering our understanding of the physical universe. Simultaneously, Leibniz developed a similar set of mathematical tools, contributing a notation system that remains in use to this day. He introduced the integral sign (∫) and the differential operator (d), foundational in calculus for representing integration and infinitesimal changes, respectively. His “dy/dx” notation for derivatives elegantly describes rates of change, all of which remain central to calculus today.

Black Holes Proposed
Black Holes Proposed

While black holes were first proposed in the 18th century, they were not seriously proposed until 1916 with Albert Einstein’s General Relativity. The concept of a “black hole” has its roots in the 18th century when John Michell and Pierre-Simon Laplace independently speculated about the existence of “dark stars” — celestial bodies whose gravity is so strong that not even light could escape from them. However, the modern concept of black holes is largely based on the solutions to Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

The term “black hole” was not used until much later, but the theoretical foundation was laid in 1916 by Karl Schwarzschild, who found a solution to Einstein’s field equations that described such an object. This solution implied the existence of a singularity, where curvature of spacetime becomes infinite. In 1939, Robert Oppenheimer and others predicted that neutron stars beyond a certain mass would collapse into black holes.

Doppler Effect for Sound and Light
Doppler Effect for Sound and Light

The Doppler effect is the apparent difference between the frequency at which sound or light waves leave a source and that at which they reach an observer, caused by relative motion of the observer and the wave source.

The Doppler effect for sound was first described by the Austrian physicist Christian Doppler in 1842. He presented his ideas in a paper titled “On the Coloured Light of the Double Stars and Certain Other Stars of the Heavens,” proposing that the observed frequency of waves depends on the relative speed of the source and the observer. This principle was later confirmed experimentally by the Dutch scientist Christophorus Buys Ballot in 1845.

Doppler Effect Observed for Stars
Doppler Effect Observed for Stars

In 1848,French physicist Hippolyte Fizeau observed a shift in the spectral lines of stars, hinting at a similar effect for light waves.

Electromagnetic Radiation Theory
Electromagnetic Radiation Theory
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)

James Clerk Maxwell predicted electromagnetic waves, but he did not perform experiments to prove their existence. His prediction was based on his work on the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, which unified electricity, magnetism, and light as different manifestations of the same phenomenon. Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism predicted the existence of waves of oscillating electric and magnetic fields that travel through empty space at a speed that could be predicted from simple electrical experiments. The existence of electromagnetic waves was later experimentally confirmed by Heinrich Hertz in 1887.

  • 1831: Michael Faraday discovers electromagnetic induction: electric current in a wire.
  • 1864: James Clerk Maxwell publishes “A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field,” where he predicts the existence of electromagnetic waves, including radio waves.
  • 1887: Heinrich Hertz experimentally demonstrates the existence of radio waves, confirming Maxwell’s theories.
  • 1895: Guglielmo Marconi, first practical use, radio waves to transmit Morse code without wires.
  • 1906: Reginald Fessenden, first radio broadcast of audio (both music and speech) on Christmas Eve.
  • 1920s: Radio becomes a popular medium for entertainment and news
Radiometric Dating
Iodine 131(I-131)Radioactive isotopes used for hyperthyroidism treatment are stored in Lead boxes
5 Generations Ago

In 1905, radiometric dating was discovered. It is a method used to date rocks and other objects based on the known decay rate of radioactive isotopes. This technique is used to date rocks. Paleontologists regularly order discoveries in chronological order and estimate their age. Knowing the age of rocks allows paleontologists to assign known values to rocks and fossils to firm up the known historical calendar.

Special Relativity
Special Relativity

Special Relativity explains the relationship between space, time, mass, and energy. It shows that time and space are not separate entities but are connected as a single entity called spacetime. Additionally, it introduced the famous equation E=mc², which demonstrates that mass is engergy, energy is mass. They are equivalent and can be converted into each other. 

Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, published in June 1905, revolutionized physics by introducing concepts like time dilation and length contraction, showing that the speed of light in a vacuum is constant and independent of the motion of all observers. It showed that as objects approach the speed of light, time slows down, lengths contract, and mass increases. This theory provided a new framework for all of physics by proposing that space and time are interwoven into a single continuum known as spacetime.

First Analog Radio Transmission
First Analog Radio Transmission

In 1906, Reginald Fessenden achieved the first analog transmission of sound over radio waves on Christmas Eve. An analog transmission is like a flowing river that continuously changes its speed and depth to carry things along its path. In analog communication, sounds or images are directly transformed into continuous signals that mimic the original. For example, if you shout into a microphone, the resulting signal fluctuates exactly like your voice waves, getting higher and lower with the pitch and volume of your shout.

Before that, Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor, transmitted the first analog radio signals in 1895, using a process where a continuous signal, like a wave, is modified to represent information. 

In the 1940s, the first digital transmission occurred. A digital transmission is like sending a message using Morse code, where everything is broken down into a series of beeps (dots and dashes). In digital communication, sounds or images are converted into a series of numbers (0s and 1s). This digital code represents the sound or image but in a format that’s either on or off, much like flipping a switch. This makes digital signals easier to send without loss of quality, even over long distances.

General Relativity
General Relativity

General Relativity incorporated gravity into the mix. It describes gravity not as a force, but as the curvature of spacetime caused by massive objects. According to General Relativity, the curvature of spacetime around an object like the Earth causes objects to fall towards its center, which we experience as gravity. 

In November 1915, Einstein expanded on his Special Theory of Relativity with his General Theory of Relativity, which he published formally in 1916. This theory introduced the concept that gravity is not a force as traditionally conceived but rather a curvature of spacetime itself, caused by mass and energy. General Relativity provides a comprehensive description of gravitational phenomena and has been confirmed by numerous experiments and observations, including the bending of light by gravity and the precise orbit of planets.

Galaxies Discovered! Doppler Effect used to measure distance!!
Galaxies Discovered! Doppler Effect used to measure distance!!

By 1929, an important time in cosmology, Edwin Hubble used the spiral nebulae data collected by Vesto Slipher from 1912 to 1925 to introduce the world to galaxies.

Prior to the 20th century, astronomers debated whether spiral nebulae were merely gaseous clouds within the Milky Way, possibly forming solar systems. This view changed dramatically following the “Great Debate” in 1920 between Harlow Shapley, who believed the Milky Way constituted the entire universe, and Heber Curtis, who argued these nebulae were distant “island universes” or separate galaxies. This debate was conclusively settled by Edwin Hubble in the mid-1920s through his observations using the 100-inch Hooker Telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory. By identifying Cepheid variable stars in the Andromeda nebula between 1923 and 1924, Hubble determined Andromeda’s considerable distance from the Milky Way, thus supporting Curtis’s hypothesis. By 1929, Hubble had not only confirmed that spiral nebulae were independent galaxies but also discovered the relationship between a galaxy’s redshift and its distance, formulating Hubble’s Law and providing strong evidence for the expanding universe—a cornerstone of the Big Bang theory.

Electron Microscope = Nanoworld Discovered!
pathogen virus background

Starting in 1931 with the invention of the electron microscope, the nanoworld became visible to us. The nanoworld contains items as small in diameter as 1 micrometer (1 micron) to a diameter 1,000 times smaller, a diameter of 1 nanometer. The nanoworld includes the smallest single celled organisms, the smallest bacteria as well as viruses, proteins, and molecules.

Note: The virus was discovered in 1892 through scientific experiments and first seen in the 1930s.

Oort Cloud
Oort Cloud

Rationally predicted, unconfirmed: The Oort Cloud is a theoretical vast sphere of icy objects believed to surround our solar system at distances ranging from about 2,000 to 100,000 astronomical units from the Sun. Conceived by the Dutch astronomer Jan Oort in 1950, this distant cloud is thought to be the source of long-period comets that occasionally visit the inner solar system. Oort proposed this model to explain why comets appear with seemingly random and highly elongated orbits, suggesting that they originate in this remote cloud, pushed towards the Sun by gravitational interactions with passing stars or galactic tides. Though the Oort Cloud remains unseen, the behavior and trajectories of these comets provide indirect evidence supporting its existence, hinting at a reservoir of comet-like bodies that shapes our understanding of the solar system’s boundaries and early history.

Current Debate: Proposed by Ernst Öpik in 1932 as the source of long-period comets, and then revised by Jan Oort in 1950. The Oort Cloud has not been directly observed, and its existence is still a topic of debate.

Radiocarbon Dating
We all need a little CAFFEINE

In 1946, Willard Libby created the method for dating organic materials by measuring their content of carbon-14, a newly discovered radioactive isotope of carbon. This dating technique provides objective age estimates within a few decades for carbon-based objects that originated from living organisms.

Rediscovery: City of Catalhoyuk, circa 7100 BCE
Rediscovery: City of Catalhoyuk, circa 7100 BCE

The ancient site of Çatalhöyük was not continuously known through historical records and was rediscovered in the modern era. It was first excavated by James Mellaart in 1958, who conducted major excavations between 1961 and 1965. These excavations revealed a wealth of information about Neolithic life and brought significant attention to the site. Its discovery significantly expanded understanding of Neolithic societies, particularly their complex architectural and social structures. The extensive preservation of buildings, artifacts, and art at Çatalhöyük has provided critical insights into early urban development, making it one of the most important archaeological sites for studying prehistoric human society.

Hand Axes 1.7 Million Years Ago
Hand Axes 1.7 Million Years Ago

“By 1.76 million years ago, early humans began to create hand axes.”

This seemingly simple statement about hand axes is mind-opening and philosophically significant for a few reasons. It highlights the ingenuity of early humans. Crafting tools from stone requires planning, foresight, and understanding of cause and effect. It also represents a critical leap in technological development. These tools allowed early humans to interact with their environment in entirely new ways, signifying a turning point in their evolution. Finally, it prompts us to consider the vast timeframe involved. Hand axes are a tangible reminder of our distant past and the remarkable cognitive development that laid the groundwork for our current existence.

Analysis: Around 1960, paleoanthropology started uncovering early human cognitive abilities due to Leakeys’ discovery and promotion of Homo habilis. Homo habilis was associated with the Oldowan tools found in Olduvai Gorge, demonstrating early human tool use and cognitive abilities starting around 2.6 million years ago. This discovery was foundational in reshaping our understanding of early human intelligence and technological skill.

Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB)
Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB)

In 1965, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, two radio astronomers at Bell Telephone Laboratories, stumbled upon a mysterious and persistent background noise that pervaded their radio telescope. After much investigation and the elimination of potential terrestrial and instrumental sources, they concluded that this noise was cosmic in origin. Their findings, published on May 20, 1965, identified this radiation as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) — the afterglow of the Big Bang, providing critical empirical support for the Big Bang theory of the universe’s origin. This discovery, serendipitous as it was, marked a monumental advancement in cosmology, transforming our understanding of the universe’s earliest moments.

Rediscovery of the Library of Ebla: circa 2350 BCE
Rediscovery of the Library of Ebla: circa 2350 BCE

In 1975, Italian archaeologist Paolo Matthiae and his team unearthed the remarkable Library of Ebla at Tell Mardikh, Syria, revealing a trove of around 20,000 clay tablets and fragments. This discovery dramatically expanded our understanding of ancient Near Eastern civilizations, introducing Eblaite as a previously unknown Semitic language and providing unprecedented insights into the culture, economy, politics, and diplomatic relations of Ebla. The tablets’ contents, ranging from administrative records to diplomatic correspondence and literary texts, have offered scholars a unique window into the early Bronze Age, highlighting the sophistication and interconnectedness of ancient societies. The rediscovery of the Ebla library stands as a milestone in archaeological and historical scholarship, underscoring the complexity of human civilization in the third millennium BCE.

Ancient Spears 350,000 Years Ago
Ancient Spears 350,000 Years Ago

“By 350,000 years ago, early humans crafted javelin-quality spears.”

This revelation about ancient spears is profoundly enlightening as it demonstrates the advanced cognitive abilities and social cooperation among early humans. Crafting spears of this quality involves not only selecting the right materials and understanding the physics of balancing and sharpening but also strategic planning for hunting, which implies a sophisticated level of communal and cooperative behavior. This innovation marks a significant evolution in hunting tactics, enabling early humans to handle larger prey and gain a strategic advantage in their environment. The introduction of spears signifies not just technological progress but also a crucial adaptation in human survival strategies.

Analysis: In 1994, these artifacts were confirmed through stratigraphic analysis and radiometric dating which placed them solidly within the Middle Pleistocene. The archaeological community received a substantial boost in understanding human prehistory with the discovery of wooden spears from Schöningen, Germany. These well-preserved spears, associated with Homo heidelbergensis, represent some of the earliest clear evidence of purpose-built hunting weapons by humans. The spears indicated not only the use of complex tool-making skills but also early collaborative hunting. This discovery significantly extended our understanding of the technological and cognitive capabilities of Homo heidelbergensis.

Discovery: Neanderthal Symbolic Thought
Discovery: Neanderthal Symbolic Thought

It’s clear: neanderthals created art. The discovery of cave paintings in Spain, dated to over 64,000 years ago, marked a profound shift in our understanding of Neanderthals. This corrected the longstanding perception that Neanderthals lacked symbolic thought and artistic expression. To learn more, check out Beyond Human Bias: Reassessing Neanderthal Intelligence.

Bread Making Pushed Back
Various bread with grain in a bowl on the table.

The groundbreaking discovery that humans were making bread 14,000 years ago, before the advent of agriculture, was published in 2018. Since grain is easy to grow, does this suggest agriculture might have started a few thousand years earlier? Under study, but the discovery of bread-making from around 14,000 years ago indeed suggests that humans were experimenting with grains before the widespread adoption of agriculture, which is traditionally dated to about 12,000 years ago with the Neolithic Revolution. 

Researchers analyzing charred food remains from a Natufian hunter-gatherer site called Shubayqa 1 in northeastern Jordan found evidence of bread-like products. This finding was significant because it pushed back the earliest known use of cereal grains and highlighted the complexity of pre-agricultural human societies. The study, revealing the preparation and consumption of bread from wild cereals, provided crucial insights into the dietary habits of Natufian societies and offered new perspectives on the transition to agricultural life.

Black Holes Confirmed
Black Holes Confirmed

The first image of a black hole was captured in 2019 by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration. Before that, the first observational evidence was discovered in 1964 with the detection of the X-ray source Cygnus X-1, which was later interpreted as material accreting onto a black hole from a companion star. In 1971, Cygnus X-1 was proposed as the first robust observational evidence of a black hole by astronomers Tom Bolton and Louise Webster.

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4 Minutes with Mike Prestwood: Weekly Wisdom Builder
May 26, 2024 Edition
Time Left: 
Wisdom at the crossroads of knowledge.

Wisdom emerges from the consistent exploration of the intersections of philosophy, science, critical thinking, and history.

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