What the Big Bang Can Teach Us About Human Exponential Expansion

We’re at the end of an exponential expansion in resource use that began around 1800, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. 

We know that at the beginning of the Big Bang, or depending on how you like to think of it, in the moment just before the Big Bang, the universe underwent a very, very rapid expansion, an exponential expansion.  That means that in any given unit of time the universe expanded by a factor of two, and then in the same amount of time, another factor of two and then another factor of two, and so forth.  This is explosive growth.  And during that period, the skeleton on which the universe would later form, the skeleton of the distribution of galaxies and clusters of galaxies and so forth, was laid down by quantum fluctuations.  

And then, the process ended abruptly.  And the Big Bang started and the universe expanded, but much, much more slowly than this explosive expansion of the exponential inflationary start to the Big Bang.  

Now, how is this relevant for humanity?  Well, we are undergoing an exponential expansion in our numbers and even more rapidly in our use of resources on planet Earth.  And of course, our environmental impacts are a result of the expanding use of our resources.  And this process has to end extremely rapidly over the next generation or so or else the effects on Earth are going to be catastrophic.  We’re just beginning to see the effects of global climate change due to an increase in global temperatures of about one-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit.  

But the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that we’ve already emitted have committed us to a much larger increase in global temperatures with corresponding global climate change. And depending on how rapidly we can bring this tremendous increase in greenhouse gases to a halt and start to reverse it, we may have truly enormous changes in climate.   

So, we’re at the end of an exponential expansion in resource use that began around 1800, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  And just as the universe ended its exponential expansion rather abruptly, we’re going to have to do the same thing.  Now, the universe, after it ended its exponential expansion at the very beginning of the Big Bang, the universe then developed galaxies and within the early galaxies, stars, which began to produce the heavy elements that our planet Earth and we are made out of.  And then after planets of that sort started to form, life evolved.  In other words, all the great things that make the universe so interesting and Earth such a wonderful place for us to live developed during this rather slow period of growth after this exponential expansion of the Big Bang.  


But it’s important to understand that the exponential expansion laid down the whole pattern on which the later development would occur.  That pattern is now being frozen in by the choices that we humans make or don’t make in the last decades of the exponential expansion of humanity.  

And so I think that the lessons that we can learn from the Big Bang are two-fold.  One, that we can anticipate a wonderful period, a very, very long period of development, evolution, the growth of human consciousness and interactions and wisdom, but at the same time, we have to be aware that the decisions that are being made now are going to have affect over an enormous period of time, probably longer than most humans can even anticipate, certainly many thousands of years.  And so we should begin to think with a very long-term perspective as we go through this tremendously important, essentially unique, human transition of the end of human exponential expansion.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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