In three minutes: two stupendous video histories of life on Earth #wonders

February 3, 2013 • 1:36 pm

by Matthew Cobb

Two brief videos that sum up, in very different ways, our story.  The first – just 2 minutes long – was made by a high school student call Joe Bush and was first posted on YouTube back in May. It has been seen by over 6 million times, but I only just noticed in on UK journalist John Snow’s Twitter feed. See what you think:

The second video is even older, and is one I show to my students every year. Joe’s video is not to scale – understandably, there’s a massive amount of time devoted to the last 100 years. This video, by Claire Evans, shows the evolution of life on Earth in 60 seconds, but told proportionately. Much of that minute, as you will see, is thus devoted to unicellular organisms just sitting there and doing there thing. The real action begins in the last 9five seconds, after the Cambrian Explosion (sorry for the spoiler). And of course, at this time-scale, human history just isn’t visible.

PS. I’m sure I’ve posted this before on WEIT, but can’t find it on the site. And it should be ‘last banded iron (not ion) formations’. A corrected version was posted by Claire, but I can’t find it anywhere.

PPP. The reason for the hashtag in the title is because in the UK, tonight is the second episode of Wonders of Life with Brian Cox on BBC2, and I thought we might pick up some extra readers!


36 thoughts on “In three minutes: two stupendous video histories of life on Earth #wonders

  1. The second video is very illuminating. I knew all that stuff, but having it done like that, it still surprised me with the abruptness of it all.

  2. I liked the 2nd one best (which is not to say I didn’t like the first one) – it makes it pretty clear why they call it Cambrian Explosion!

  3. #1 is great. What does, “Outgassing of molecules” mean? Outgassing from what? And to where? Outgassing in a vacuum chamber is clear but, in the context of planet formation?

    1. From the interior of the Earth, to form the primitive atmosphere. When planets form, a whole lot of stuff gets mashed randomly together, heats up, and then starts to differentiate, with the heavy stuff sinking toward the center and the lighter stuff getting squeezed out at the top.

    2. Wearing my geologist’s hat (tipped at a jaunty “planetary science” angle), the large majority of the outgassing took place in a few hours at an age of about 60Ma, after the “giant impact” which caused the formation of the Moon. Following that, there was an irregular influx of comets and wet asteroids which brought most of the Earth’s atmosphere and volatiles to it’s surface. The boiling off of the crust of the early Earth to form a “silicate atmosphere, from which the proto-Moon ring formed, probably left the mantle fairly well de-volatilised.
      By around 100Ma, there was enough volatiles and atmospheric pressure that there was a water cycle in operation on the Earth (we can see the isotopic signature in re-worked cores of zircon crystals in our oldest rocks), and that probably increased over the next billion or so years while the outer solar system re-shuffled itself (in the process, bringing down the Late Heavy Bombardment upon LUCA’s protoplasmic “head”).
      But our understanding of these events is still improving. Slight problems of peering through a murky telescope with chaotic activity (“chaotic” in the mathematical sense), and on;y really having one example to study. The records are there in extinct radioisotope clocks and the positions of the components of the solar system. But they’re not clear.

      1. Ironic to you, Matthew, but some “accommodationist” Christians will say: “See? God had a hand in evolution. After the evolution of primates, it was time for the first man and woman so God created Adam and Eve. Yes, evolution is true, and it is all God’s handiwork!”

    1. Ha, I was just going to say that my beef with the videos wasn’t the BIFs (banded iron formations) but the creationist A&E thingy.

      Not ironic in my opinion, either ignorant or pushing theistic evolution into the science.

  4. I couldn’t open thevideos.

    “and doing there thing”, and “the last 9five seconds”; please edit your English.

  5. Okay it’s called “Our Story in 1 minute” by melodysheep for some reason each time I link it it’s something else by melodysheep. 3rd tries a charm. Please delete my posts if they continue to link the wrong video!

  6. #1, besides using the infernal creationist museum A&E (perhaps to imply theistic evolution), goes for all the icons of preconceptions and with a US slant. For example, isn’t it Pinker who notes that WWII was way down on the relative atrocities on the conflict scale?

    #2 is much better! But it has some blemishes, as noted. I would add that the evidence for eukaryotes (fossil steroles deriving from eukaryote signature steranes: before the Great Oxidation Event has been claimed as potential later contamination: . (Also, I’m not sure the Pilbara et cetera lipids are really of eukaryote alone signature: No “side chain modifications at position C-24”, eg Table 2!?)

  7. Yes, the Adam and Eve picture made #1 “unpostable.” I wouldn’t want to spread misinformation – two white people starting humans and then all the African people coming later.

  8. Video 1 is chronologically a mess. Black Africans lead to Orkney’s Skara Brae which leads to farming which leads to later cuneiform which leads to classic Maya murals which leads to archaic cuneiform which leads to Late Horizon Machu Picchu and then back again in time and so on. All eventually leading to an extended section on WWII and modern US history as the culmination of “our story”.

    Video 2 is much better.

    1. If you place your mouse pointer over the video and right-click, one of the options is “copy video URL”. You can also click on the YouTube logo in the lower-right corner of each video, to play the video again in YouTube (where the address will appear in the address bar).

  9. The first video looks a bit “antropocentric” to me. It is as if from Big Bang on, all evolutions leads in a straight line towards humankind and its culture.
    The second video is better in this respect – but then, what is the use of using this medium – video – just to show written words?

    1. Of course the first one is anthropocentric. It’s called “Our Story In 2 Minutes”. It’s meant as autobiography, not natural history.

      1. Okay. But still I think it is to single-sided: our autobiography as human species is inextricably linked with the biography of the whole biodiversity and that of the biosphere.

  10. I don’t really get what happens at the end of #1.

    At 1:55 some huge solar flare gets thrown out and ”licks” the earth?

    Also the last few slides from 1:57 and onwards, is that the Andromeda colliding with the Milkyway or what is it supposed to show?

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