عصير كتاب: تاريخ مُختصر لكل شيء تقريبا A Short History of Nearly Everything

Posted: نوفمبر 10, 2015 in تاريخ عام, عصير الكتب

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson

Short-History

Introduction

· Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level. For all their devoted attention, your atoms don’t actually care about you—indeed, don’t even know that you are there. They don’t even know that they are there. They are mindless particles, after all, and not even themselves alive. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 102-104). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The bad news is that atoms are fickle and their time of devotion is fleeting—fleeting indeed. Even a long human life adds up to only about 650,000 hours. And when that modest milestone flashes into view, or at some other point thereabouts, for reasons unknown your atoms will close you down, then silently disassemble and go off to be other things. And that’s it for you. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 107-109). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Generally speaking, in the universe it doesn’t, so far as we can tell. This is decidedly odd because the atoms that so liberally and congenially flock together to form living things on Earth are exactly the same atoms that decline to do it elsewhere. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 110-112). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· at the level of chemistry life is fantastically mundane: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, a little calcium, a dash of sulphur, a light dusting of other very ordinary elements—nothing you wouldn’t find in any ordinary pharmacy—and that’s all you need. The only thing special about the atoms that make you is that they make you. That is, of course, the miracle of life. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 112-115). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· There is no law that requires the universe to fill itself with small particles of matter or to produce light and gravity and the other properties on which our existence hinges. There needn’t actually be a universe at all. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 118-120). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Of the billions and billions of species of living things that have existed since the dawn of time, most—99.99 per cent, it has been suggested—are no longer around. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 124-125). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· It is a curious feature of our existence that we come from a planet that is very good at promoting life but even better at extinguishing it. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 125-126). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· So at various periods over the last 3.8 billion years you have abhorred oxygen and then doted on it, grown fins and limbs and jaunty sails, laid eggs, flicked the air with a forked tongue, been sleek, been furry, lived underground, lived in trees, been as big as a deer and as small as a mouse, and a million things more. The tiniest deviation from any of these evolutionary imperatives and you might now be licking algae from cave walls or lolling walrus-like on some stony shore or disgorging air through a blowhole in the top of your head before diving sixty feet for a mouthful of delicious sandworms. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 131-135). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

1 How to build a Universe

· In either case, get ready for a really big bang. Naturally, you will wish to retire to a safe place to observe the spectacle. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to retire to because outside the singularity there is no where. When the universe begins to expand, it won’t be spreading out to fill a larger emptiness. The only space that exists is the space it creates as it goes. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 220-222). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· It is natural but wrong to visualize the singularity as a kind of pregnant dot hanging in a dark, boundless void. But there is no space, no darkness. The singularity has no around around it. There is no space for it to occupy, no place for it to be. We can’t even ask how long it has been there—whether it has just lately popped into being, like a good idea, or whether it has been there for ever, quietly awaiting the right moment. Time doesn’t exist. There is no past for it to emerge from. And so, from nothing, our universe begins. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 223-226). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The first lively second (a second that many cosmologists will devote careers to shaving into ever-finer wafers) produces gravity and the other forces that govern physics. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 228-229). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· When this moment happened is a matter of some debate. Cosmologists have long argued over whether the moment of creation was ten billion years ago or twice that or something in between. The consensus seems to be heading for a figure of about 13.7 billion years, but these things are notoriously difficult to measure, as we shall see further on. All that can really be said is that at some indeterminate point in the very distant past, for reasons unknown, there came the moment known to science as t = 0. We were on our way. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 233-237). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· It seems impossible that you could get something from nothing, but the fact that once there was nothing and now there is a universe is evident proof that you can. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 288-289). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· It is enough to know that in a single cracking instant we were endowed with a universe that was vast—at least a hundred billion light years across, according to the theory, but possibly any size up to infinite—and perfectly arrayed for the creation of stars, galaxies and other complex systems. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 314-316). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· What is extraordinary from our point of view is how well it turned out for us. If the universe had formed just a tiny bit differently—if gravity were fractionally stronger or weaker, if the expansion had proceeded just a little more slowly or swiftly—then there might never have been stable elements to make you and me and the ground we stand on. Had gravity been a trifle stronger, the universe itself might have collapsed like a badly erected tent without precisely the right values to give it the necessary dimensions and density and component parts. Had it been weaker, however, nothing would have coalesced. The universe would have remained forever a dull, scattered void. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 317-319). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· For the universe to exist as it does requires that hydrogen be converted to helium in a precise but comparatively stately manner. Tweak the numbers even slightly and we would not be here. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 335-337). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Rees maintains that six numbers in particular govern our universe, and that if any of these values were changed even very slightly things could not be as they are. For example, for the universe to exist as it does requires that hydrogen be converted to helium in a precise but comparatively stately manner—specifically, in a way that converts seven one-thousandths of its mass to energy. Lower that value very slightly—from 0.007 per cent to 0.006 per cent, say—and no transformation could take place: the universe would consist of hydrogen and nothing else. Raise the value very slightly—to 0.008 per cent—and bonding would be so wildly prolific that the hydrogen would long since have been exhausted. In either case, with the slightest tweaking of the numbers the universe as we know and need it would not be here. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 340-346). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· In the long term, gravity may turn out to be a little too strong; one day it may halt the expansion of the universe and bring it collapsing in upon itself, until it crushes itself down into another singularity, possibly to start the whole process over again. On the other hand, it may be too weak, in which case the universe will keep racing away for ever until everything is so far apart that there is no chance of material interactions, so that the universe becomes a place that is very roomy, but inert and dead. The third option is that gravity is perfectly pitched—“critical density” is the cosmologists’ term for it—and that it will hold the universe together at just the right dimensions to allow things to go on indefinitely. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 347-352). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Cosmologists, in their lighter moments, sometimes call this the “Goldilocks effect”—that everything is just right. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 352). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· We are all at the center of it all. Actually, we don’t know that for sure; we can’t prove it mathematically Scientists just assume that we can’t really be the center of the universe—think what that would imply—but that the phenomenon must be the same for all observers in all places. Still, we don’t actually know. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 369-372). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Based on what we know now and can reasonably imagine, there is absolutely no prospect that any human being will ever visit the edge of our own solar system—ever. It is just too far. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 538-539). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The basic unit of measure in the solar system is the Astronomical Unit, or AU, representing the distance from the Sun to the Earth. Pluto is about 40 AUs from us, the heart of the Oort cloud about fifty thousand. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 543-544). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

3 The Reverend Evans’s Universe

· Surprisingly little of the universe is visible to us when we incline our heads to the sky. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 685). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· At this point, about 4.4 billion years ago, an object the size of Mars crashed into the Earth, blowing out enough material to form a companion sphere, the Moon. Within weeks, it is thought, the flung material had reassembled itself into a single clump, and within a year it had formed into the spherical rock that companions us yet. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 805-808). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Carbon dioxide is a powerful greenhouse gas. This was a good thing, because the Sun was significantly dimmer back then. Had we not had the benefit of a greenhouse effect, the Earth might well have frozen over permanently, and life might never have got a toehold. But somehow life did. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 812-814). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

4 The Measure of Things

· This was astounding—like someone saying he had found a cure for cancer but couldn’t remember where he had put the formula. Pressed by Halley, Newton agreed to redo the calculations and produce a paper. He did as promised, but then did much more. He retired for two years of intensive reflection and scribbling, and at length produced his masterwork: the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematical or Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, better known as the Principia. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 907-910). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Once in a great while, a few times in history, a human mind produces an observation so acute and unexpected that people can’t quite decide which is the more amazing—the fact or the thinking of it. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 911-912). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Because the British were the most active in the early years of the discipline, British names are predominant in the geological lexicon. Devonian is of course from the English county of Devon. Cambrian comes from the Roman name for Wales, while Ordovician and Silurian recall ancient Welsh tribes, the Ordovices and Silures. But with the rise of geological prospecting elsewhere, names began to creep in from all over. Jurassic refers to the Jura Mountains on the border of France and Switzerland. Permian recalls the former Russian province of Perm in the Ural Mountains. For Cretaceous (from the Latin for chalk) we are indebted to a Belgian geologist with the perky name of J. J. d’Omalius d’Halloy. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 1392-1397). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Nowadays, and speaking very generally, geological time is divided first into four great chunks known as eras: Precambrian, Palaeozoic (from the Greek meaning “old life”), Mesozoic (“middle life”) and Cenozoic (“recent life”). These four eras are further divided into anywhere from a dozen to twenty subgroups, usually called periods though sometimes known as systems. Most of these are also reasonably well known: Cretaceous, Jurassic, Triassic, Silurian and so on. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 1409-1413). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Although there was no reliable way of dating periods, there was no shortage of people willing to try. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 1433-1434). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The most well-known early attempt was made in 1650, when Archbishop James Ussher of the Church of Ireland made a careful study of the Bible and other historical sources and concluded, in a hefty tome called Annals of the Old Testament, that the Earth had been created at midday on 23 October 4004 BC, an assertion that has amused historians and textbook writers ever since. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 1434-1437). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Darwin and his geological friends needed the Earth to be old, but no-one could come up with a way to make it so. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 1468-1469). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

6 Science Red Tooth and Claw

· Indeed, the bone excited so little interest that it was put in a storeroom and eventually disappeared altogether. So the first dinosaur bone ever found was also the first to be lost. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 1533-1535). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· For religious people, including Cuvier himself, the idea raised uncomfortable implications since it suggested an unaccountable casualness on the part of Providence. To what end would God create species only to wipe them out later? The notion was contrary to the belief in the Great Chain of Being, which held that the world was carefully ordered and that every living thing within it had a place and purpose, and always had and always would. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 1578-1581). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· If Earth were really only twenty million years old or so, as the great Lord Kelvin insisted, then whole orders of ancient creatures must have come into being and gone out again practically in the same geological instant. It just made no sense. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 1844-1845). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· This instantly showed one set of relationships when read up and down and another when read from side to side. Specifically, the vertical columns put together chemicals that have similar properties. Thus copper sits on top of silver and silver sits on top of gold because of their chemical affinities as metals, while helium, neon and argon are in a column made up of gases. (The actual, formal determinant in the ordering is something called their electron valences, and if you want to understand them you will have to enrol in evening classes.) The horizontal rows, meanwhile, arrange the chemicals in ascending order by the number of protons in their nuclei—what is known as their atomic number. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2063-2067). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· For most of us, the Periodic Table is a thing of beauty in the abstract, but for chemists it established an immediate orderliness and clarity that can hardly be overstated. “Without a doubt, the Periodic Table of the Chemical Elements is the most elegant organizational chart ever devised,” wrote Robert E. Krebs in The History and Use of Our Earth’s Chemical Elements—and you can find similar sentiments in virtually every history of chemistry in print. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2080-2084). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· In Mendeleyev’s day just sixty-three elements were known, but part of his cleverness was to realize that the elements as then known didn’t make a complete picture, that many pieces were missing. His table predicted, with pleasing accuracy, where new elements would slot in when they were found. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2086-2088). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

8 Einstein’s Universe

· In 1900, now a theoretical physicist at the University of Berlin, and at the somewhat advanced age of forty-two, Planck unveiled a new “quantum theory,” which posited that energy is not a continuous thing like flowing water but comes in individualized packets, which he called quanta. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2264-2266). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· (E = mc2) what the equation is saying is that there is a huge amount—a really huge amount—of energy bound up in every material thing. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 306-2307). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· You may not feel outstandingly robust, but if you are an average-sized adult you will contain within your modest frame no less than 7 × 1018 joules of potential energy—enough to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2307-2310). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Among much else, Einstein’s theory explained how radiation worked: how a lump of uranium could throw out constant streams of high-level energy without melting away like an ice cube. (It could do it by converting mass to energy extremely efficiently à la E = mc2.) It explained how stars could burn for billions of years without racing through their fuel. (Ditto.) At a stroke, in a simple formula, Einstein endowed geologists and astronomers with the luxury of billions of years. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2312-2316). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Above all, the special theory showed that the speed of light was constant and supreme. Nothing could overtake it. It brought light (no pun intended exactly) to the very heart of our understanding of the nature of the universe. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2316-2317). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· When a journalist asked the British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington if it was true that he was one of only three people in the world who could understand Einstein’s relativity theories, Eddington considered deeply for a moment and replied: “I am trying to think who the third person is.” [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2351-2353). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· In essence what relativity says is that space and time are not absolute, but relative both to the observer and to the thing being observed, and the faster one moves the more pronounced these effects become. We can never accelerate ourselves to the speed of light, and the harder we try (and the faster we go) the more distorted we will become, relative to an outside observer. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2355-2358). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Among much else, Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity suggested that the universe must be either expanding or contracting. But Einstein was not a cosmologist and he accepted the prevailing wisdom that the universe was fixed and eternal. More or less reflexively, he dropped into his equations something called the cosmological constant, which arbitrarily counterbalanced the effects of gravity, serving as a kind of mathematical pause button. Books on the history of science always forgive Einstein this lapse, but it was actually a fairly appalling piece of science and he knew it. He called it “the biggest blunder of my life.” [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2397-2401). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· In 1919, when Hubble first put his head to the eyepiece, the number of these galaxies that were known to us was exactly one: The Milky Way. Everything else was thought to be either part of the Milky Way itself or one of many distant, peripheral puffs of gas. Hubble quickly demonstrated how wrong that belief was. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2441-2443). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Over the next decade, Hubble tackled two of the most fundamental questions of the universe: how old is it, and how big? To answer both it is necessary to know two things—how far away certain galaxies are and how fast they are flying away from us (what is known as their recessional velocity). The red shift gives the speed at which galaxies are retiring, but doesn’t tell us how far away they are to begin with. For that you need what are known as “standard candles”—stars whose brightness can be reliably calculated and used as a benchmark to measure the brightness (and hence relative distance) of other stars. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2447-2451). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The chemistry of red giants is a little weighty for our purposes here (it requires an appreciation for the properties of singly ionized helium atoms, among quite a lot else), but put simply it means that they burn their remaining fuel in a way that produces a very rhythmic, very reliable brightening and dimming. Leavitt’s genius was to realize that by comparing the relative magnitudes of Cepheids at different points in the sky you could work out where they were in relation to each other. They could be used as standard candles—a term she coined and still in universal use. The method provided only relative distances, not absolute distances, but even so it was the first time that anyone had come up with a usable way to measure the large-scale universe. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2465-2471). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Using Mount Wilson’s new 100-inch Hooker telescope and some clever inferences, by the early 1930s he had worked out that all the galaxies in the sky (except for our own local cluster) are moving away from us. Moreover, their speed and distance were neatly proportional: the further away the galaxy, the faster it was moving. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2482-2485). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· This was truly startling. The universe was expanding, swiftly and evenly in all directions. It didn’t take a huge amount of imagination to read backwards from this and realize that it must therefore have started from some central point. Far from being the stable, fixed, eternal void that everyone had always assumed, this was a universe that had a beginning. It might therefore also have an end. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2485-2488). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Hubble was a much better observer than a thinker [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2495-2496). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· At all events, Hubble failed to make theoretical hay when the chance was there. Instead, it was left to a Belgian priest-scholar (with a PhD from MIT) named Georges Lemaître to bring together the two strands in his own “fireworks theory,” which suggested that the universe began as a geometrical point, a “primeval atom,” which burst into glory and had been moving apart ever since. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2500-2502). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

9 The Mighty Atom

· The great Caltech physicist Richard Feynman once observed that if you had to reduce scientific history to one important statement it would be: “All things are made of atoms.” [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2547-2549). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· It was while puzzling over this problem that Bohr was struck by a solution and dashed off his famous paper. Called “On the Constitutions of Atoms and Molecules,” the paper explained how electrons could keep from falling into the nucleus by suggesting that they could occupy only certain well-defined orbits. According to the new theory, an electron moving between orbits would disappear from one and reappear instantaneously in another without visiting the space between. This idea—the famous “quantum leap”—is of course utterly strange, but it was too good not to be true. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2728-2732). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Finally, in 1926, Heisenberg came up with a celebrated compromise, producing a new discipline that came to be known as quantum mechanics. At the heart of it was Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which states that the electron is a particle but a particle that can be described in terms of waves. The uncertainty around which the theory is built is that we can know the path an electron takes as it moves through a space or we can know where it is at a given instant, but we cannot know both.3 Any attempt to measure one will unavoidably disturb the other. This isn’t a matter of simply needing more precise instruments; it is an immutable property of the universe. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2766-2771). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Because of its oddities, many physicists disliked quantum theory, or at least certain aspects of it, and none more so than Einstein. This was more than a little ironic since it was he, in his annus mirabilis of 1905, who had so persuasively explained how photons of light could sometimes behave like particles and sometimes like waves—the notion at the very heart of the new physics. “Quantum theory is very worthy of regard,” he observed politely, but he really didn’t like it. “God doesn’t play dice,” he said. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2810-2814). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The actual quote was: “It seems hard to sneak a look at God’s cards. But that He plays dice and uses “telepathic” methods…is something that I cannot believe for a single moment.” [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2855-2857). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Einstein couldn’t bear the notion that God could create a universe in which some things were forever unknowable. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2814-2815). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Moreover, the idea of action at a distance—that one particle could instantaneously influence another trillions of miles away—was a stark violation of the Special Theory of Relativity. Nothing could outrace the speed of light and yet here were physicists insisting that, somehow, at the subatomic level, information could. (No-one, incidentally, has ever explained how the particles achieve this feat. Scientists have dealt with this problem, according to the physicist Yakir Aharanov, “by not thinking about it.”) [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2815-2818). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Clair Patterson died in 1995. He didn’t win a Nobel Prize for his work. Geologists never do. Nor, more puzzlingly, did he gain any fame or even [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3058-3060). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Two recent popular books on the history of the dating of the Earth actually manage to misspell his name. In early 2001, a reviewer of one of these books in the journal Nature made the additional, rather astounding error of thinking Patterson was a woman. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3061-3062). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

11 Muster Mark’s Quarks

· Particles can come into being and be gone again in as little as 0.000000000000000000000001 of a second (10−24 seconds). Even the most sluggish of unstable particles hang around for no more than 0.0000001 of a second (10−7 seconds). [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3095-3097). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Almost at once the Bogdanov theory excited debate among physicists as to whether it was twaddle, a work of genius or a hoax. “Scientifically, it’s clearly more or less complete nonsense,” Columbia University physicist Peter Woit told the New York Times, “but these days that doesn’t much distinguish it from a lot of the rest of the literature.” [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3217-3220). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· In February 2003, a team from NASA and the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, using a new, far-reaching type of satellite called the Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe, announced with some confidence that the age of the universe is 13.7 billion years, give or take a hundred million years or so. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3250-3252). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The fact is, there is a great deal, even at quite a fundamental level, that we don’t know—not least what the universe is made of. When scientists calculate the amount of matter needed to hold things together, they always come up desperately short. It appears that at least 90 per cent of the universe, and perhaps as much as 99 per cent, is composed of Fritz Zwicky’s “dark matter”—stuff that is by its nature invisible to us. It is slightly galling to think that we live in a universe that for the most part we can’t even see, but there you are. At least the names for the two main possible culprits are entertaining: they are said to be either WIMPs (for Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, which is to say specks of invisible matter left over from the Big Bang) or MACHOs (for MAssive Compact Halo Objects—really just another name for black holes, brown dwarfs and other very dim stars). [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3273-3279). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· For the moment we might very well call them DUNNOS (for Dark Unknown Nonreflective Nondetectable Objects Somewhere). [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3288-3289). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Recent evidence suggests not only that the galaxies of the universe are racing away from us, but that they are doing so at a rate that is accelerating. This is counter to all expectations. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3289-3290). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can’t quite compute, surrounded by stars whose distances from us and each other we don’t altogether know, filled with matter we can’t identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don’t truly understand. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3296-3298). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

12 The Earth Moves

· Not until late 1968, with the publication of an article by three American seismologists in the Journal of Geophysical Research, did the segments receive the name by which they have since been known: plates. The same article called the new science plate tectonics. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3470-3472). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Today we know that the Earth’s surface is made up of eight to twelve big plates (depending on how you define big) and twenty or so smaller ones, and that they all move in different directions and at different speeds. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3476-3478). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Assuming things continue much as at present, the Atlantic Ocean will expand until eventually it is much bigger than the Pacific. Much of California will float off and become a kind of Madagascar of the Pacific. Africa will push northward into Europe, squeezing the Mediterranean out of existence and thrusting up a chain of mountains of Himalayan majesty running from Paris to Calcutta. Australia will colonize the islands to its north and connect by some isthmian umbilicus to Asia. These are future outcomes, but not future events. The events are happening now. As we sit here, continents are adrift, like leaves on a pond. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3488-3492). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Thanks to Global Positioning Systems we can see that Europe and North America are parting at about the speed a fingernail grows—roughly two meters in a human lifetime. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3492-3494). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Earth is alone among the rocky planets in having tectonics and why this should be is a bit of a mystery. It is not simply a matter of size or density—Venus is nearly a twin of Earth in these respects and yet has no tectonic activity—but it may be that we have just the right materials in just the right measures to keep the Earth bubbling away. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3497-3499). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· As George Gaylord Simpson observes in Fossils and the History of Life, species of plants and animals from the ancient world have a habit of appearing inconveniently where they shouldn’t and failing to be where they ought. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3519-3521). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The outline of Gondwana, a once-mighty continent connecting Australia, Africa, Antarctica and South America, was based in large part on the distributions of a genus of ancient tongue fern called Glossopteris, which was found in all the right places. However, much later Glossopteris was also discovered in parts of the world that had no known connection to Gondwana. This troubling discrepancy was—and continues to be—mostly ignored. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3521-3524). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

13 Bang!

· Today Meteor Crater is the most famous impact site on Earth and a popular tourist attraction. In those days, however, it didn’t receive many visitors and was still often referred to as Barringer Crater, after a wealthy mining engineer named Daniel M. Barringer who had staked a claim on it in 1903. Barringer believed that the crater had been formed by a 10 million tonne meteor, heavily freighted with iron and nickel, and it was his confident expectation that he would make a fortune digging it out. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 3582-3586). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

14 The Fire Below

· The movements occur not just laterally, as the Earth’s plates move across the surface, but up and down too, as rocks rise and fall under the churning process known as convection. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4083-4084). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The theory was put forward by E. C. Bullard of Cambridge University in 1949 that this fluid part of the Earth’s core revolves in a way that makes it, in effect, an electrical motor, creating the Earth’s magnetic field. The assumption is that the convecting fluids in the Earth act somehow like the currents in wires. Exactly what happens isn’t known, but it is felt pretty certain that it is connected with the core spinning and with its being liquid. Bodies that don’t have a liquid core—the Moon and Mars, for instance—don’t have magnetism. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4110-4113). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The Earth’s magnetic field has diminished by perhaps as much as 6 per cent in the last century alone. Any diminution in magnetism is likely to be bad news, because magnetism, apart from holding notes to refrigerators and keeping our compasses pointing the right way, plays a vital role in keeping us alive. Space is full of dangerous cosmic rays which, in the absence of magnetic protection, would tear through our bodies, leaving much of our DNA in useless shreds. When the magnetic field is working, these rays are safely herded away from the Earth’s surface and into two zones in near space called the Van Allen belts. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4120-4124). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

15 Dangerous Beauty

· As NASA scientist Jay Bergstralh has put it: “Wherever we go on Earth—even into what’s seemed like the most hostile possible environments for life—as long as there is liquid water and some source of chemical energy we find life.” [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4413-4415). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

16 Lonely Planet

· It isn’t easy being an organism. In the whole universe, as far as we yet know, there is only one place, an inconspicuous outpost of the Milky Way called the Earth, that will sustain you, and even it can be pretty grudging. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4423-4425). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Yet when you consider conditions elsewhere in the known universe, the wonder is not that we use so little of our planet but that we have managed to find a planet of which we can use even a bit. You have only to look at our own solar system—or, come to that, the Earth at certain periods in its own history—to appreciate that most places are much harsher and much less amenable to life than our mild, blue, watery globe. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4559-4562). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· it appears that if you wish to have a planet suitable for life, you have to be just awfully lucky, and the more advanced the life, the luckier you have to be. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4564-4565). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Excellent location. We are, to an almost uncanny degree, the right distance from the right sort of star, one that is big enough to radiate lots of energy, but not so big as to burn itself out swiftly. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4566-4567). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Had our Sun been ten times as massive, it would have exhausted itself after ten million years instead of ten billion and we wouldn’t be here now. We are also fortunate to orbit where we do. Too much nearer, and everything on Earth would have boiled away. Much further away, and everything would have frozen. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4568-4570). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Its (Venus) surface temperature is a roasting 470 degrees Celsius, which is hot enough to melt lead, and the atmospheric pressure at the surface is ninety times that of Earth, more than any human body could withstand. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4582-4583). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· But just being the right distance from the Sun cannot be the whole story, for otherwise the Moon would be forested and fair, which patently it is not. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4592-4593). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The right kind of planet. I don’t imagine even many geophysicists, when asked to count their blessings, would include living on a planet with a molten interior, but it’s a pretty near certainty that without all that magma swirling around beneath us we wouldn’t be here now. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4594-4596). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· our lively interior created the outpourings of gas that helped to build an atmosphere and provided us with the magnetic field that shields us from cosmic radiation. It also gave us plate tectonics, which continually renews and rumples the surface. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4596-4597). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· If the Earth were perfectly smooth, it would be covered everywhere with water to a depth of 4 kilometres. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4597-4598). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Without the Moon’s steadying influence, the Earth would wobble like a dying top, with goodness knows what consequences for climate and weather. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4606-4607). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The Moon’s steady gravitational influence keeps the Earth spinning at the right speed and angle to provide the sort of stability necessary for the long and successful development of life. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4607-4608). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Oxygen and hydrogen, for instance, are two of the most combustion-friendly elements around, but put them together and they make incombustible water. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4663-4665). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· a big part of the reason that Earth seems so miraculously accommodating is that we evolved to suit its conditions. What we marvel at is not that it is suitable to life but that it is suitable to our life—and hardly surprising really. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4680-4682). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· So it is possible that the events and conditions that led to the rise of life on the Earth are not quite as extraordinary as we like to think. Still, they were extraordinary enough, and one thing is certain: they will have to do until we find some better. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4695-4697). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

17 Into the Troposphere

· Thank goodness for the atmosphere. It keeps us warm. Without it, Earth would be a lifeless ball of ice with an average temperature of minus 50 degrees Celsius. In addition, the atmosphere absorbs or deflects incoming swarms of cosmic rays, charged particles, ultraviolet rays and the like. Altogether, the gaseous padding of the atmosphere is equivalent to a 4.5-metre thickness of protective concrete, and without it these invisible visitors from space would slice through us like tiny daggers. Even raindrops would pound us senseless if it weren’t for the atmosphere’s slowing drag. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4714-4718). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The process that moves air around in the atmosphere is the same process that drives the internal engine of the planet, namely convection. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4818-4819). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Water is marvelous at holding and transporting heat—unimaginably vast quantities of it. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4922). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The seas do one other great favour for us. They soak up tremendous volumes of carbon and provide a means for it to be safely locked away. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4943). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· So what keeps the planet stable and cool? Life does. Trillions upon trillions of tiny marine organisms that most of us have never heard of—foraminiferans and coccoliths and calcareous algae—capture atmospheric carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide, when it falls as rain and use it (in combination with other things) to make their tiny shells. By locking the carbon up in their shells, they keep it from being re-evaporated into the atmosphere where it would build up dangerously as a greenhouse gas. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 4947-4950). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

18 The Bounding Main

· Water is everywhere. A potato is 80 per cent water, a cow 74 per cent, a bacterium 75 per cent. A tomato, at 95 per cent, is little but water. Even humans are 65 per cent water, making us more liquid than solid by a margin of almost two to one. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5002-5004). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Because water is so ubiquitous we tend to overlook what an extraordinary substance it is. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5007). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Most liquids when chilled contract by about 10 per cent. Water does too, but only down to a point. Once it is within whispering distance of freezing, it begins—perversely, beguilingly, extremely improbably—to expand. By the time it is solid, it is almost a tenth more voluminous than it was before. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5010-5012). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Because it expands, ice floats on water—“an utterly bizarre property,” according to John Gribbin. If it lacked this splendid waywardness, ice would sink, and lakes and oceans would freeze from the bottom up. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5012-5014). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Thankfully for us, water seems unaware of the rules of chemistry or laws of physics. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5016). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· It was a world independent of sunlight, oxygen or anything else normally associated with life. This was a living system based not on photosynthesis but on chemosynthesis, an arrangement that biologists would have dismissed as preposterous had anyone been imaginative enough to suggest it. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5176-5178). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· According to one estimate, there could be as many as 30 million species of animals living in the sea, most still undiscovered. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5236-5237). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

19 The Rise of Life

· As time has shown, it wasn’t nearly so simple. Despite half a century of further study, we are no nearer to synthesizing life today than we were in 1953—and much further away from thinking we can. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations ). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Scientists are now pretty certain that the early atmosphere was nothing like as primed for development as Miller and Urey’s gaseous stew, but rather was a much less reactive blend of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5341-5342). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· At all events, creating amino acids is not really the problem. The problem is proteins. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5343-5344). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Proteins are what you get when you string amino acids together, and we need a lot of them. No-one really knows, but there may be as many as a million types of protein in the human body, and each one is a little miracle. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5344-5346). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· By all the laws of probability proteins shouldn’t exist. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Location 5346). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· To make a protein you need to assemble amino acids (which I am obliged by long tradition to refer to here as “the building blocks of life”) in a particular order, in much the same way that you assemble letters in a particular order to spell a word. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5346-5348). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The problem is that words in the amino-acid alphabet are often exceedingly long. To spell “collagen,” the name of a common type of protein, you need to arrange eight letters in the right order. To make collagen, you need to arrange 1,055 amino acids in precisely the right sequence. But—and here’s an obvious but crucial point—you don’t make it. It makes itself, spontaneously, without direction, and this is where the unlikelihoods come in. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5348-5351). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The chances of a 1,055-sequence molecule like collagen spontaneously self-assembling are, frankly, nil. It just isn’t going to happen. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5351-5352). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· To grasp what a long shot its existence is, visualize a standard Las Vegas slot machine but broadened greatly—to about 27 metres, to be precise—to accommodate 1,055 spinning wheels instead of the usual three or four, and with twenty symbols on each wheel (one for each common amino acid)1 How long would you have to pull the handle before all 1,055 symbols came up in the right order? Effectively, for ever. Even if you reduced the number of spinning wheels to 200, which is actually a more typical number of amino acids for a protein, the odds against all 200 coming up in a prescribed sequence are 1 in 10260 (that is a 1 followed by 260 zeros). That in itself is a larger number than all the atoms in the universe. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5352-5358). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· For random events to produce even a single protein would seem a stunning improbability—like a whirlwind spinning through a junkyard and leaving behind a fully assembled jumbo jet, in the colorful simile of the astronomer Fred Hoyle. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5360-5362). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Even having achieved this structural complexity, a protein is no good to you if it can’t reproduce itself, and proteins can’t. For this you need DNA. DNA is a whiz at replicating—it can make a copy of itself in seconds—but can do virtually nothing else. So we have a paradoxical situation. Proteins can’t exist without DNA and DNA has no purpose without proteins. Are we to assume, then, that they arose simultaneously with the purpose of supporting each other? If so: wow. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5368-5371). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· There may or may not be a great deal of life in the universe at large, but there is no shortage of ordered self-assembly, in everything from the transfixing symmetry of snowflakes to the comely rings of Saturn. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5397-5398). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Certainly there is nothing terribly exotic in the chemicals that animate us. If you wished to create another living object, whether a goldfish or a head of lettuce or a human being, you would need really only four principal elements, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, plus small amounts of a few others, principally Sulphur, phosphorus, calcium and iron. Put these together in three dozen or so combinations to form some sugars, acids and other basic compounds and you can build anything that lives. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5405-5408). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Every scenario you have ever read concerning the conditions necessary for life involves water. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5412). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· to turn monomers into polymers (which is to say, to begin to create proteins) involves a type of reaction known to biology as “dehydration linkages.” As one leading biology text puts it, with perhaps just a tiny hint of discomfort, “Researchers agree that such reactions would not have been energetically favorable in the primitive sea, or indeed in any aqueous medium, because of the mass action law.” It is a little like putting sugar in a glass of water and having it become a cube. It shouldn’t happen, but somehow in nature it does. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5413-5417). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The actual chemistry of all this is a little arcane for our purposes here, but it is enough to know that if you make monomers wet they don’t turn into polymers—except when creating life on the Earth. How and why it happens then and not otherwise is one of biology’s great unanswered questions. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5417-5419). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· One of the biggest surprises in the earth sciences in recent decades was discovering just how early in Earth’s history life arose. Well into the 1950s, it was thought that life was less than six hundred million years old. By the 1970s, a few adventurous souls felt that maybe it went back 2.5 billion years. But the present date of 3.85 billion years is stunningly early. The Earth’s surface didn’t become solid until about 3.9 billion years ago. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5420-5423). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Life emerged so swiftly, in fact, that some authorities think it must have had help—perhaps a good deal of help. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5429-5430). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· There are two problems with notions of panspermia, as extraterrestrial theories are known. The first is that it doesn’t answer any questions about how life arose, but merely moves responsibility for it elsewhere. The other is that panspermia tends sometimes to excite even the most respectable adherents to levels of speculation that can be safely called imprudent. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5450-5452). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The simple amoeba, just one cell big and without any ambitions but to exist, contains 400 million bits of genetic information in its DNA—enough, as Carl Sagan noted, to fill eighty books of 500 pages. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5604-5605). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

20 Small World

· Bacteria, never forget, got along for billions of years without us. We couldn’t survive a day without them. They process our wastes and make them usable again; without their diligent munching nothing would rot. They purify our water and keep our soils productive. Bacteria synthesize vitamins in our gut, convert the things we eat into useful sugars and polysaccharides, and go to war on alien microbes that slip down our gullet. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5639-5642). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· To begin with, it is worth remembering that most micro-organisms are neutral or even beneficial to human well-being. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5826). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Because there are so many things out there with the potential to hurt you, your body holds lots of different varieties of defensive white blood cells—some ten million types in all, each designed to identify and destroy a particular sort of invader. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5851-5853). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

21 Life Goes On

· Only about one bone in a billion, it is thought, ever becomes fossilized. If that is so, it means that the complete fossil legacy of all the Americans alive today—that’s 270 million people with 206 bones each—will only be about fifty bones, one-quarter of a complete skeleton. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 5999-6001). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Fossils are in every sense vanishingly rare. Most of what has lived on Earth has left behind no record at all. It has been estimated that less than one species in ten thousand has made it into the fossil record. That in itself is a stunningly infinitesimal proportion. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6003-6005). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Moreover, the record we do have is hopelessly skewed. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6008). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Trilobites first appeared—fully formed, seemingly from nowhere—about 540 million years ago, near the start of the great outburst of complex life popularly known as the Cambrian explosion, and then vanished, along with a great deal else, in the great and still mysterious Permian extinction three million or so centuries later. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6024-6026). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Throughout the nineteenth century, trilobites were almost the only known forms of early complex life, and for that reason were assiduously collected and studied. The big mystery about them was their sudden appearance. Even now, as Fortey says, it can be startling to go to the right formation of rocks and to work your way upwards through the aeons, finding no visible life at all, and then suddenly “a whole Profallotaspis or Elenellus as big as a crab will pop into your waiting hands.” [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6035-6038). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· More than this, the earliest trilobites didn’t consist of just one venturesome species but dozens, and didn’t appear in one or two locations but all over. Many thinking people in the nineteenth century saw this as proof of God’s handiwork and refutation of Darwin’s evolutionary ideals. If evolution proceeded slowly, they asked, then how did he account for this sudden appearance of complex, fully formed creatures? The fact is, he couldn’t. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6040-6043). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· For almost four billion years’ life had dawdled along without any detectable ambitions in the direction of complexity, and then suddenly, in the space of just five or ten million years, it had created all the basic body designs still in use today. Name a creature, from a nematode worm to Cameron Diaz, and they all use architecture first created in the Cambrian party. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6103-6106). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· At their liveliest, they were no more complex than jellyfish. All the Ediacaran creatures were diploblastic, meaning they were built from two layers of tissue. With the exception of jellyfish, all animals today are triploblastic. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6153-6155). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Nor is it agreed that the Ediacaran organisms are in any way ancestral to anything alive today (except possibly some jellyfish). [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6158-6159). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The real business of complex life, in other words, started with the Cambrian explosion. That’s how Gould saw it, in any case. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6165-6166). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Alas, it turns out the Cambrian explosion may not have been quite so explosive as all that. The Cambrian animals, it is now thought, were probably there all along, but were just too small to see. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6229-6230). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· On the face of it, the sudden appearance of lots of fully formed but varied creatures would seem to enhance the miraculousness of the Cambrian outburst, but in fact it did the opposite. It is one thing to have one well-formed creature like a trilobite burst forth in isolation—that really is a wonder—but to have many of them, all distinct but clearly related, turning up simultaneously in the fossil record in places as far apart as China and New York, clearly suggests that we are missing a big part of their history. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6232-6236). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· And the reason we haven’t found these earlier species, it is now thought, is that they were too tiny to be preserved. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6237-6238). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

22 Goodbye to All That

· As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of all the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours—arguably even stronger. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6273-6275). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· If you imagine the 4,500 million years of Earth’s history compressed into a normal earthly day, then life begins very early, about 4 a.m., with the rise of the first simple, single-celled organisms, but then advances no further for the next sixteen hours. Not until almost eight-thirty in the evening, with the day five-sixths over, has the Earth anything to show the universe but a restless skin of microbes. Then, finally, the first sea plants appear, followed twenty minutes later by the first jellyfish and the enigmatic Ediacaran fauna first seen by Reginald Sprigg in Australia. At 9:04 p.m. trilobites swim onto the scene, followed more or less immediately by the shapely creatures of the Burgess Shale. Just before 10 p.m. plants begin to pop up on the land. Soon after, with less than two hours left in the day, the first land creatures follow. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6278-6284). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Thanks to ten minutes or so of balmy weather, by 10:24 the Earth is covered in the great carboniferous forests whose residues give us all our coal, and the first winged insects are evident. Dinosaurs plod onto the scene just before 11 p.m. and hold sway for about three-quarters of an hour. At twenty-one minutes to midnight they vanish and the age of mammals begins. Humans emerge one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight. The whole of our recorded history, on this scale, would be no more than a few seconds, a single human lifetime barely an instant. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6284-6288). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Perhaps an even more effective way of grasping our extreme recentness as a part of this 4.5-billion-year-old picture is to stretch your arms to their fullest extent and imagine that width as the entire history of the Earth. On this scale, according to John McPhee in Basin and Range, the distance from the fingertips of one hand to the wrist of the other is Precambrian. All of complex life is in one hand. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6295-6298). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Trees and other vegetation likewise attained outsized proportions. Horsetails and tree ferns grew to heights of 15 metres, club mosses to 40 metres. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6348-6349). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The Earth has seen five major extinction episodes in its time—the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic and Cretaceous, in that order—and many smaller ones. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6403-6404). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

24 Cells

· It starts with a single cell. The first cell splits to become two and the two become four and so on. After just forty-seven doublings, you have 10,000 trillion (10,000,000,000,000,000) cells in your body and are ready to spring forth as a human being.1 And every one of those cells knows exactly what to do to preserve and nurture you from the moment of conception to your last breath. You have no secrets from your cells. They know far more about you than you do. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6957-6961). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Every cell in nature is a thing of wonder. Even the simplest are far beyond the limits of human ingenuity. To build the most basic yeast cell, for example, you would have to miniaturize about the same number of components as are found in a Boeing 777 jetliner and fit them into a sphere just 5 microns across; then somehow you would have to persuade that sphere to reproduce. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6964-6966). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· They manage every corner of your being. They will jump to your defence the instant you are threatened. They will unhesitatingly die for you—billions of them do so daily. And not once in all your years have you thanked even one of them. So let us take a moment now to regard them with the wonder and appreciation they deserve. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6972-6975). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· On average, however, a human cell is about 20 microns wide—that is, about two-hundredths of a millimeter—which is too small to be seen but roomy enough to hold thousands of complicated structures like mitochondria, and millions upon millions of molecules. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 6995-6997). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Brain cells last as long as you do. You are issued with a hundred billion or so at birth and that is all you are ever going to get. It has been estimated that you lose five hundred of them an hour, so if you have any serious thinking to do there really isn’t a moment to waste. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7001-7003). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

25 Darwin’s Singular Notion

· Interestingly, Darwin didn’t use the phrase “survival of the fittest” in any of his work (though he did express his admiration for it). The expression was coined, in 1864, five years after the publication of On the Origin of Species, by Herbert Spencer in Principles of Biology. Nor did he employ the word “evolution” in print until the sixth edition of Origin (by which time its use had become too widespread to resist), preferring instead “descent with modification.” Nor, above all, were his conclusions in any way inspired by his noticing, during his time in the Galápagos Islands, an interesting diversity in the beaks of finches. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7221-7226). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The belief was a little surprising in as radical a spirit as Huxley because it closely recalled a very conservative religious notion first put forward by the English theologian William Paley in 1802 and known as argument from design. Paley contended that if you found a pocket-watch on the ground, even if you had never seen such a thing before, you would instantly perceive that it had been made by an intelligent entity. So it was, he believed, with nature: its complexity was proof of its design. The notion was a powerful one in the nineteenth century, and it gave Darwin trouble too. “The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder,” he acknowledged in a letter to a friend. In the Origin he conceded that it “seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree” that natural selection could produce such an instrument in gradual steps. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7330-7336). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Ironically, considering that Darwin called his book On the Origin of Species, the one thing he couldn’t explain was how species originated. Darwin’s theory suggested a mechanism for how a species might become stronger or better or faster—in a word, fitter—but gave no indication of how it might throw up a new species. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7340-7342). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Darwin believed that any beneficial trait that arose in one generation would be passed on to subsequent generations, thus strengthening the species. Jenkin pointed out that a favorable trait in one parent wouldn’t become dominant in succeeding generations, but in fact would be diluted through blending. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7343-7345). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Darwin saw that all living things are connected, that ultimately they “trace their ancestry to a single, common source”; Mendel’s work provided the mechanism to explain how that could happen. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7385-7386). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Mendel owned a German edition of the Origin of Species, which he is known to have read, so he must have realized the applicability of his work to Darwin’s, yet he appears to have made no effort to get in touch. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7387-7388). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The one thing everyone thinks featured in Darwin’s argument, that humans are descended from apes, didn’t feature at all except as one passing allusion. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7390-7391). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Darwin did eventually make his belief in our kinship with the apes explicit in The Descent of Man in 1871. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7415-7416). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

26 The Stuff of Life

· Chromosomes constitute the complete set of instructions necessary to make and maintain you and are made of long strands of the little wonder chemical called deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA—“the most extraordinary molecule on Earth,” as it has been called. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7499-7501). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· DNA exists for just one reason—to create more DNA—and you have a lot of it inside you: nearly 2 meters of it squeezed into almost every cell. Each length of DNA comprises some 3.2 billion letters of coding, enough to provide 103,480,000,000 possible combinations. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7505-7507). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· If all your DNA were woven into a single fine strand, there would be enough of it to stretch from the Earth to the Moon and back, not once or twice but again and again. Altogether, according to one calculation, you may have as much as 20 million kilometers of DNA bundled up inside you. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7511-7513). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· It is a notable oddity of biology that DNA and proteins don’t speak the same language. For almost four billion years they have been the living world’s great double act, and yet they answer to mutually incompatible codes, as if one spoke Spanish and the other Hindi. To communicate they need a mediator in the form of RNA. Working with a kind of chemical clerk called a ribosome, RNA translates information from a cell’s DNA into terms proteins can understand and act upon. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7539-7542). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Genes are nothing more (nor less) than instructions to make proteins. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7682-7683). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· An alternative and more common way to regard the genome is as a kind of instruction manual for the body. Viewed this way, the chromosomes can be imagined as the book’s chapters and the genes as individual instructions for making proteins. The words in which the instructions are written are called codons and the letters are known as bases. The bases—the letters of the genetic alphabet—consist of the four nucleotides mentioned a page or two back: adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7686-7689). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The shape of a DNA molecule, as everyone knows, is rather like a spiral staircase or twisted rope ladder: the famous double helix. The uprights of this structure are made of a type of sugar called deoxyribose and the whole of the helix is a nucleic acid—hence the name “deoxyribonucleic acid.” [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7691-7693). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Now, the particular brilliance of DNA lies in its manner of replication. When it is time to produce a new DNA molecule, the two strands part down the middle, like the zip on a jacket, and each half goes off to form a new partnership. Because each nucleotide along a strand pairs up with a specific other nucleotide, each strand serves as a template for the creation of a new matching strand. If you possessed just one strand of your own DNA, you could easily enough reconstruct the matching side by working out the necessary partnerships: [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7695-7699). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· All organisms are in some sense slaves to their genes. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7734). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· The desire to breed, to disperse one’s genes, is the most powerful impulse in nature. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7735-7736). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· In field after field, researchers found that whatever organism they were working on—whether nematode worms or human beings—they were often studying essentially the same genes. Life, it appeared, was drawn up from a single set of blueprints. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 7749-7751). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

28 The Mysterious Biped

· In their eagerness to reject the idea of earlier humans, authorities were often willing to embrace the most singular possibilities. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8138-8139). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Altogether, some twenty types of hominid are recognized in the literature today. Unfortunately, almost no two experts recognize the same twenty. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8220-8221). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Homo erectus walked the Earth for well over a million years and inhabited territory from the Atlantic edge of Europe to the Pacific side of China, yet if you brought back to life every Homo erectus individual whose existence we can vouch for, they wouldn’t fill a school bus. Homo habilis consists of even less: just two partial skeletons and a number of isolated limb bones. Something as short-lived as our own civilization would almost certainly not be known from the fossil record at all. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8240-8243). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· It is the patchiness of the record that makes each new find look so sudden and distinct from all the others. If we had tens of thousands of skeletons distributed at regular intervals through the historical record, there would be appreciably more degrees of shading. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8250-8251). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Similar disagreements can often arise over questions of identification from fragmentary remains—deciding, for instance, whether a particular bone represents a female Australopithecus boisei or a male Homo habilis. With so little to be certain about, scientists often have to make assumptions based on other objects found nearby, and these may be little more than valiant guesses. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8254-8257). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· As Alan Walker and Pat Shipman have drily observed, if you correlate tool discovery with the species of creature most often found nearby, you would have to conclude that early hand tools were mostly made by antelopes. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8257-8259). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Finally, but perhaps above all, human nature is a factor in all this. Scientists have a natural tendency to interpret finds in the way that most flatters their stature. It is a rare palaeontologist indeed who announces that he has found a cache of bones but that they are nothing to get excited about. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8265-8267). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Lucy was tiny—just three and a half feet tall. She could walk, though how well is a matter of some dispute. She was evidently a good climber too. Much else is unknown. Her skull was almost entirely missing, so little could be said with confidence about her brain size, though skull fragments suggested it was small. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8286-8288). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· A human body has 206 bones, but many of these are repeated. If you have the left femur from a specimen, you don’t need the right to know its dimensions. Strip out all the redundant bones and the total you are left with is 120—what is called a half skeleton. Even by this fairly accommodating standard, and even counting the slightest fragment as a full bone, Lucy constituted only 28 per cent of a half skeleton (and only about 20 per cent of a full one). [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8293-8296). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· At all events, rather less is known about Lucy than is generally supposed. It isn’t even actually known that she was a female. Her sex is merely presumed from her diminutive size. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8302-8303). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Until very recently it was assumed that we were descended from Lucy and the Laetoli creatures, but now many authorities aren’t so sure. Although certain physical features (the teeth, for instance) suggest a possible link between us, other parts of the australopithecine anatomy are more troubling. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8333-8335). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Absolute brain size does not tell you everything—or possibly sometimes even much. Elephants and whales both have brains larger than ours, but you wouldn’t have much trouble outwitting them in contract negotiations. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8482-8484). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Nearly every large animal you care to name is stronger, faster and toothier than us. Faced with attack, modern humans have only two advantages. We have a good brain, with which we can devise strategies; and we have hands, with which we can fling or brandish hurtful objects. We are the only creature that can harm at a distance. We can thus afford to be physically vulnerable. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8376-8378). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· All the elements would appear to have been in place for the rapid evolution of a potent brain, and yet that seems not to have happened. For over three million years, Lucy and her fellow australopithecines scarcely changed at all. Their brain didn’t grow and there is no sign that they used even the simplest tools. What is stranger still is that we now know that for about a million years they lived alongside other early hominids who did use tools, yet the australopithecines never took advantage of this useful technology that was all around them. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8378-8382). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· No persuasive reason has ever been adduced for why hominid brains suddenly began to grow two million years ago. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8397). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Huge brains are demanding organs: they make up only 2 per cent of the body’s mass, but devour 20 per cent of its energy. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8401-8402). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Tattersall thinks the rise of a big brain may simply have been an evolutionary accident. He believes with Stephen Jay Gould that if you replayed the tape of life—even if you ran it back only a relatively short way to the dawn of hominids—the chances are “quite unlikely” that modern humans or anything like them would be here now. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8410-8412). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· According to the Java Man authors, Homo erectus is the dividing line: everything that came before him was apelike in character; everything that came after him was humanlike. Homo erectus was the first to hunt, the first to use fire, the first to fashion complex tools, the first to leave evidence of campsites, the first to look after the weak and frail. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8421-8424). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

29 The Restless Ape

· The first undisputed appearance of Homo sapiens is in the eastern Mediterranean, around modern-day Israel, where they begin to show up about a hundred thousand years ago. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8579-8580). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· Above all, the issue that is almost never addressed is that Neandertals had brains that were significantly larger than those of modern people—1.8 litres for Neandertals versus 1.4 for modern people, according to one calculation. This is more than the difference between modern Homo sapiens and late Homo erectus, a species we are happy to regard as barely human. The argument put forward is that although our brains were smaller, they were somehow more efficient. I believe I speak the truth when I observe that nowhere else in human evolution is such an argument made. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8622-8626). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

30 Goodbye

· As far as we can tell, we are the best there is. We may be all there is. It’s an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8960-8961). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here—and by “we” I mean every living thing. To attain any kind of life at all in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course. We enjoy not only the privilege of existence, but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a trick we have only just begun to grasp. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8973-8976). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

· We have arrived at this position of eminence in a stunningly short time. Behaviourally modern humans have been around for no more than about 0.0001 per cent of Earth’s history—almost nothing, really—but even existing for that little while has required a nearly endless string of good fortune. [Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 8976-8978). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

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