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    • #2282
      Dr. Rich Blundell

      Dear Deeptimers,

      I am a PhD candidate whose dissertation explores the transformative potential of Big History from personal to cultural levels. I have been considering an idea that is integral to my dissertation and I am wondering if it makes sense. So I am hoping to get feedback from this community.

      Here is the argument (FYI my background is as a scientist and philosopher of science):

      There seems to be a preoccupation with establishing the validity of Big History, or that BH won’t be taken seriously unless it is as rigorous as science. I agree with this to a point. But if we are not careful, and we try to oversell what BH can explain scientifically, then we run the risk of promoting BH as science. I’m not opposed to this in principle, except we already have a science of cosmic evolution. It is called the science of Cosmic Evolution.

      So what I am suggesting is that there needs to be a “hermeneutic turn” when it comes to Big History, especially when it applies to education and communication practice. In other words, I propose a move toward Big History as an interpreter of science, but NOT SCIENCE. One big reason is stated above (there already is a science of cosmic evolution).

      But here is another thing to consider, recall that Big History is a child of World History, and World History is a child of History. The job of the Historian is hermeneutics (which means to interpret texts). So my proposal toward interpretation for Big History seems to makes sense of disciplinary grounds too because a BH that interprets as its primary function, carries over the pedigree of hermeneutics of history scholarship.

      So I think I’ll be adding this little proposal to my dissertation. To propose the “hermeneutic turn.” What this should do is not only clear up some confusion but also clear a path for the kind of work I’d like to see Big History be doing in culture. That is, making meaning of the science of cosmic evolution. I think that is the real open niche (as opposed to a new science). If we are really concerned about BH being taken seriously in academia, it seems the worst thing to do is confuse it with a science that already exists.

      Does this make sense? Please let me know your thoughts.

      Rich Blundell
      PhD Candidate Macquarie University

    • #2286
      Orla Hazra

      Hi Rich!
      Congratulations on getting this far addressing the moribund system of schooling happening globally….it itself is moribund and produces (the mechanical universe as its base!) students who are like parrots with a huge void inside. Keep fine tuning what you want to say. Systems of schooling now are very hard to change as as been my experience when i have approached schools to engage with big history/universe story. BUT we all know there are pockets around and the movement is growing…it has to….that is how the cosmos works! I invite you to read my dissertation (fordham 2009) on this site and see what i did as far as addressing the importance of our story and placeing it in conversation with the wisdoms of religion, indigenous and women to heal our bio/psych/social/spiritual alienation. Also be aware that the same school that awarded me the dissertation is not offering a course in it……they want to make money….even as an elective they are not interested. But ….nothing stops me from chipping away, presenting the facts and jumping for joy when someone opens the door! congratulations

    • #2289
      Jennifer Morgan

      Really interesting post, Rich, proposing a hermeneutic turn for Big History. It seems that there are some in Big History who would like to take that turn, but others who wouldn’t, and there may be good reasons on both sides.

      Cosmic Evolution is a lineage started by natural scientists, while Big History was founded by historians, so the starting places are quite different. Big History starts with the human and moves backward and brings something quite new to the whole story of evolution. I’m not sure I would equate Big History, even now with its objective scientific orientation with Cosmic Evolution . . . there’s something substantially added by Big History to the depth of the human history inside of cosmic history.

      The founders of Big History have viewed Big History as a social science, more than as a humanity. The goals, as laid out by Cynthia Brown, in a Big History newsletter reinforce the idea of Big History strives to create an objective scientifically-based narrative.

      On the Deep Time Journey Network, we’re attempting to include all lineages focused on an evolving universe as the primary context, and to make distinctions between different lineages, while seeing all the lineages as part of a larger whole that is enriched by the different approaches.

      While based on a science narrative, the universe story/new story/new cosmology/journey of the universe lineage is more oriented toward interpretation, or hermenuetics. Montessori Cosmic Education also includes quite a bit of interpretation, such as its focus on human meaning through the idea of cosmic task/gift. Inside Montessori Cosmic Education, our job is to evolve the universe . . . using education to increase consciousness and create a new world.

      So . . . it would be interesting to see how many Big History people might share your view. My hunch is that there’s a strong leaning away from taking a hermeneutic turn. Cynthia Brown and other Big History people on this site may want to weigh in. And while I personally am very interested in interpretation, and have worked extensively with people focused on interpretation, I find that the place to do that is inside the other lineages. I also wholeheartedly see the value in having one lineage stick to telling the objective story because that story can serve as a concrete basis for other lineages to interpret. I’m wondering if you allow Big History to take a hermeneutic turn, would the clarity of Big History as it is now defined become too murky. I don’t know. I certainly understand your desire for interpretation, and your focus on the transformational value of Big History is crucial for understanding if/how students engage in Big History. I wonder if that means that Big History should redefine it’s parameters. Really good question. Thoughts from other people???

    • #2291
      Jennifer Morgan

      It’s difficult for me to respond to this big topic in a short reply, but I’ll try. I think it’s a mistake to think of Big History as coming from historians only—it includes contributions from many disciplines, notably from Eric Chaisson and Fred Spier in science. It has to be a creation across disciplines or we won’t succeed in getting out of disciplinary silos into a real synthesis of science and history. But, of course, the minute anyone constructs a story, narrative, or epic, one must be interpreting, if only by the choice of topics, words, sequence, etc. So interpretation and meaning are necessarily part of Big History. It’s important for us to be as transparent as possible about what we think the meaning is. I’m working on that, and many of us are. So I’m all in favor of working on meaning, although I resist the language of “hermeneutic turn”—maybe it works for a dissertation! All best wishes to you, Rich; I hope I’ll see you in August at the IBHA conference.

    • #2304
      Dr. Rich Blundell

      Dear Orla, Jennifer, and Cynthia,

      Thank your for the thoughtful replies and links to resources. I am perusing them now.

      You are right, this is a Big Topic with a lot of voices. As a grad-student, trying to carve out a niche, it feels like I’m in a disciplinary meat grinder. There are multiple rigor-bars that need to be reached, and legacy-hoops that need to be jumped through for each discipline I touch. Don’t get me wrong, I am relishing the challenge, but there are a lot of risks – as there should be. I can’t imagine anything more important and exciting.

      My initial question, then, seems to be settling into the distinction between Big History research AS a historical research pursuit and Big History as the SUBJECT of research. This boils down to the nuts and bolts of research, but this stuff really needs to be sorted out, especially at the level of a PhD dissertation. So, the more I think about it, “hermeneutic turn” may actually be the wrong term. It’s too inclusive, as if the whole field needs to shift. That’s not quite right. Perhaps, it’s more like the development of a “hermeneutic strand” that acknowledges how interpretation takes on different meanings for the different pursuits. In other words, interpretation has a different role to play in a Big History AS research method context then it does in a more educational or social science pursuit with Big History as the subject. Either way, it’s got to be rigorous enough to survive in a fragmented academic landscape. That is a tough challenge.

      This makes more sense and I’ll continue to think about it…. Great conversation. Thanks!

      And yes Cynthia, I hope to present not only the results of some empirical work in transformative learning at the IBHA, but also part of my creative practice. Looking forward to seeing you all there!


    • #2321
      Lawrence Edwards

      Hi Rich and all you wonderful folks,
      I think you said it well, “it’s got to be rigorous enough to survive in a fragmented academic landscape. That is a tough challenge.” The fragmented academic landscape has caused much inefficiency in our understanding the Universe, Earth, and certainly ourselves. Yet we humans can handle just so much information, concepts, theories, etc. We are limited and the Universe/Earth is so far unlimited. So we have academic departments.
      Given that, my take is that history is what happened in the past. As an academic pursuit it also generally refers to the study of the events of the fairly recent past. As Jennifer wrote, Big History started with “classical” historians generally those in academic history departments. (Cynthia correctly noted that now many non-classical historians are now engaged in it.) And now their history is bigger. Makes perfect sense.

      So I propose that we honor our traditional use of the word history (with whatever adjective is helpful) to mean what happened in the past. Also we might continue to use history to refer to the study of the fairly recent past that has traditionally involved classical historians.

      Science is involved in how the historical events are discovered and characterized. Geologists, then biologists, now many scientific specialists have studied the past for at least several centuries without, generally, using the word history. (History was for the historians and they were in a different department.) But of course it is indeed history that the scientists were piecing together. It is just that the methodology of discovering and characterizing the events has been radically different. So even though the methodology has been scientific, what has been discovered/characterized is not science. It is history. Let me give an example.

      The Topa volcano eruption took place about 77,000 years ago. It seems that it almost made Homo sapiens extinct. That eruption was discovered/characterized through science. But the volcano itself is not science. Neither is the eruption. They are both activities/processes of Universe/Earth. They were discovered and characterized by the methodology of science, but are not science.

      A more personal example might be the following. Suppose a physician scans my pre-frontal cortex and discovers/characterizes my neuronic activities as I watch some photos on a computer. The physician then draws some interesting conclusions about the activity of my pre-frontal cortex. My pre-fontal cortex don’t suddenly become science. But the conclusions of the physician are rightfully considered scientific.

      So some folks will want to determine just the historical facts, ie as Jennifer writes “an objective scientifically-based narrative”. Some folks will be interested only in understanding the physical-chemical-biological processes of the history. And some folks will want to extract meaning from the events. I whole-heartedly welcome all three.

    • #2338
      Sam Guarnaccia

      Dear Rich, Cynthia, Orla, Jennifer, and Lawrence (ALL seems contrary to the essence of my brief offering to this wonderful dialogue!),
      There is so much here, that brevity and simplicity seem the best strategy. Two things arise for me (among others):1. Fritjof Capra, in speaking of living systems (which CANNOT be understood by ‘analysis’ (taking them apart), talks about membranes, that they are ‘boundaries of identity, NOT separation’. This wonderful distinction is immensely helpful in a multitude of ways. Let it sink in as a paradigm for what some call ‘Natural Design’, the way life really ‘works’, by making possible RELATIONSHIP within an irreducible and inseparable unity. It is so beautiful!! What can I say?…..I tend to think musically, and this great mystery is what makes it all so gorgeous. So, the ‘problem’ of how we understand the ‘boundaries of identity’ in academia/education/culture, etc., can be elevated to an advantage. But then there is this: 2. Courage. It takes courage to break out when trapped (and we all are) within a limited system of understanding. It is easy for me to be courageous since my ‘future’ doesn’t depend as yours may, on writing a PhD thesis, and relatively easy for me to say that the expectations of ‘rigor’ from a ‘failed’ system should be dismissed in favor of courageously proposing a different kind of ‘rigor’, one based on the way the universe REALLY works. Your work is admirable, and the time is coming when exploratory creativity and emergent phenomena will revolutionize institutional learning. It is exciting!

    • #2374
      Jean L. Edwards

      Hi Rich,

      I admire your courage to bring this much needed dimension of meaning to the university level. My interest as an educator has been to ponder, dialogue, and uncover with others, the enormous implications for personal and cultural change now possible that flows from our Universe Story.
      I have used the following attached article with many groups at Genesis Farm during the Earth Literacy Programs over the years. We have listened to many graduate students struggling with how to contribute new insights flowing from science and yet have to work within a system that separates. I know I am not really answering your quest directly but couldn’t help responding to your interest. The possible changes are unbelievably huge.
      My resource paper was taken from Ralph Metzner, Green Psychology, and Thomas Berry, Dream of the Earth.

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