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Glossary: What Is Big History?

All of the following terms appear in this unit. The terms are arranged here in alphabetical order.
adapt — Make fit for, or change to suit a new purpose; adapt or conform oneself to new or different conditions
ancestor — Someone from whom you are descended (but usually more remote than a grandparent)
astrophysics — The study of the properties and interactions of planets, stars, galaxies, and other astronomical objects.
Big Bang — A theory, first articulated in the 1920s, proposing that the Universe started out extremely hot and dense and gradually cooled off as it expanded.
Big History — A unified account of the entire history of the Universe that uses evidence and ideas from many disciplines to create a broad context for understanding humanity; a modern scientific origin story.
century — A period of 100 years
challenge — Issue a challenge to; a demanding or stimulating situation; a call to engage in a contest or fight; questioning a statement and demanding an explanation
complexity — A quality of an object or system that has diverse components precisely arranged in connection with one another (so that new properties emerge which did not exist in the components alone).
cosmology — The study of the Universe on its largest scales, including its origin.
creation — The even that occurred at the beginning of something; the act of starting something for the first time; the human act of creating; (theology) God's act of bringing the Universe into existence; everything that exists anywhere
creature — A living organism characterized by voluntary movement;
emergent properties — Properties of a complex system that are not present within its parts but that emerge only when those parts are combined.
entropy (the law of) — The natural tendency of all things to move from order to disorder. (Note: Although often called the law of entropy, it is more accurate to refer to it as the second law of thermodynamics.)
goddess — A female deity
Goldilocks Conditions — Specific set of conditions necessary to enable greater complexity. The reference is to the fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, in which Goldilocks looks for the porridge, chair, and bed that are “just right.”
history — The study of past events.
human — Relating to a person; having human form or attributes as opposed to those of animals or divine beings; any living or extinct member of the family Hominidae characterized by superior intelligence, articulate speech, and erect carriage; characteristic of humanity
ingredients — Components that are put together to form something new and more complex.
interdisciplinary approach — An approach to a subject that uses the viewpoints of many different kinds of scholars about the same topic. For instance, Big History relies on information from cosmologists, astrophysicists, geologists, chemists, paleontologists, biologists, anthropologists, and historians, as well as experts in other disciplines, to learn about the past.
origin story — A narrative about the beginning of the Universe and humanity.
religion — A set of beliefs and practices that concern humanity’s relationship with the spiritual, the supernatural, and reality.
scale — Degrees of magnification, or perspective, used to measure time, space, and size.
science — An approach to discovering knowledge about the natural world that relies on testing ideas through observation or experiment.
scientific notation — A method of expressing very large and very small numbers to avoid using the many zeros that would be required otherwise.
thresholds of increasing complexity — Moments in the history of the Universe when specific ingredients under the right “Goldilocks Conditions” come together to create something new and more complex.
Universe — All the matter and energy in existence, as well as the space that contains it.
version — An interpretation of a matter from a particular viewpoint; something a little different from others of the same type

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