What is the Cosmic Evolution Project? – click to expand or collapse
The project is a work in progress by Dr. Bob Field, Cal Poly physicist and research scholar in residence. As such, it has not been professionally reviewed by specialists in each and every field that is within its scope and in fact a major goal of going live online is to make the content and format accessible to potential reviewers around the world. So that is the caveat in using this material for research or advanced studies along with the obvious point that references and footnotes have been kept to a minimum to maintain the flow of big ideas.
The new project is an expansion of the Global Evolution Education Project which focuses on the five billion year natural history of planet Earth. This project and other natural history and natural science projects were extensively documented on his outdated faculty website at www.calpoly.edu/~rfield. Many students and a number of faculty have participated in this effort and their activities will be described as this website matures.
The cosmic evolution project provides educational resources to help students, educators, and the general public investigate the composition, structure, formation, and evolution of the universe in four overlapping domains: universe, solar system, Earth and geobiosphere, and brains and tools. The project provides timelines showing the sequence of key events in the evolutionary history of each of these domains.
The project supports upper division undergraduate student projects and courses and informal science education. The story of cosmic evolution involves astrophysical and biogeochemical materials and processes and emphasizes what nature does, not what scientists do. The National Academy of Science says that it is the role of science to provide plausible natural explanations of natural phenomena. That is to say that invoking unknown unobservable supernatural agents and processes is out of scope for a scientific endeavor until all other explanations have been definitively eliminated. And even then, a supernatural explanation would have to meet a set of plausibility criteria above and beyond mere supposition.
Unlike the wonderful Cosmos series on TV, this project focuses on the sequence of natural events themselves, rather than the role of science and scientists in discovering nature’s secrets. Cosmic evolution asks how stars and galaxies and life itself emerged from nothing. The ultimate question in Earth system history is how did a cold dilute cloud of gas and dust evolve into astronauts in a spacecraft orbiting a planet orbiting a star?
Universe – click to expand or collapse
The universe already has a 13.7 billion year evolutionary history from the Big Bang and the release of particles of energy and matter to the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies and the mysterious nature of dark energy and dark matter. Its history determines its ultimate fate in the distant future. A logarithmic timeline of the universe will be necessary to show the details of the early expansion while encompassing the vast time scale to the present and the ultimate future.
Solar System – click to expand or collapse
The five billion year history of the solar system involves the formation and evolution of the Sun, planets, moons, planetesimals, asteroids, comets, interplanetary gas, and dust. Transformations of energy and matter in the interior of the Sun and planets involve gravitational, electromagnetic and nuclear forces. Heat transport may involve thermal conduction, convection, and radiation. A logarithmic timeline best depicts this domain.
Earth and geobiosphere – click to expand or collapse
The five billion year history of the Earth and geobiosphere is best depicted by a linear timeline in equal 100 million year intervals depicting Earth's physical, chemical, and biological history including changes at major nodes in Blair Hedges molecular timescales. The timeline highlights the rarely discussed extraordinary events in the Proterozoic era and features plausible natural explanations of the underlying astrophysical, geophysical, biogeochemical, and ecological causes and/or consequences of molecular and metabolic evolution.
The emphasis is on the thermal structure and distribution and flows of energy and matter within the Earth’s lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere, as well as the influence of the Sun, the Earth’s deep interior, other planets, and inflows of particles and objects. This domain encompasses the water cycle, carbon and other element cycles, biogeochemical processes, and the origin and evolution of the molecular, metabolic, and structural building blocks of life. Interactions of energy and matter drive microbial ecology, the evolution of complex cells and multicellular organisms, and the origin of kingdoms and phyla.
Brains and Tools – click to expand or collapse
Brains and tools involve the composition, structure, and evolution of neurons and biological and artificial neural networks from the simplest animals to the human brain, their ability to process sensory input and to control motor functions, and the development of tools to analyze, observe, and control the environment and transform the Earth and its lifeforms. A reverse order logarithmic timeline covers the evolutionary history of brains and tools from 3.4 billion year old bacterial membrane proteins that controlled the flow of ions to two billion year old eukaryote cells that generated electrical signals to 600 million year neural networks to complex animal brains to modern machines with exceptional computational powers.