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Big Everything

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 23, 2015 9:58 AM

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

We keep hearing about what is going to be "the next big thing." That concept seems ever-illusive, perhaps because there has been a constant state of "bigness," if I may call it that, since long before humankind developed the notion of time.

I was fortunate enough last week to participate in the immersive, five-day Big History Institute at Dominican University of California. Scholars from around the country convened to contemplate, share and discuss big history issues, past, present and even future.

Of course, we discussed the truly biggest event - the Big Bang. Stars and galaxies formed thereafter, with the universe still continuing to expand billions of years later.

Naturally, we explored our earth, and the evolution of species, including how dogs ultimately differentiated from wolves. We discussed the development of the human species, and yours truly specifically, spoke about the potential emergence of a new human species in the future, based on the advancement of bioengineering, robotic parts, and nanotechnology.

By way of an interesting exercise, we came to understand how a given language can change naturally and dramatically over the course of 500 years. We sounded out four language variations that easily could occur from a single language base.

In another exercise, we simulated the historical and rapid transmission of the bubonic plague across cities and populations. It was sobering to witness the exponential increase in transmission once the disease had taken hold. Unfortunately, 23 out of 24 participants in this exercise died before fulfilling their assigned travel itinerary.

We also covered the history of technology. An interesting analogy was made between biological evolution and technological evolution. Similarities and differences between these evolutions were probed.

The history of energy was presented with disturbing conclusions. While the global population continues to grow, energy reserves are tapping out. Indeed, it was pointed out that the world's ability to provide energy in various forms, such as oil, gas and others, likely will peak in only about five years, with rapid declines thereafter.

We confronted medical ethical issues too. Hypothetical scenarios were provided, and none of the scenarios were grist for easy answers.

On the upbeat side, we were delighted by a session on the history of music. Music cuts across and is part of and lifts up all cultures. And we analyzed many aspects of the song Hotel California by The Eagles.

While science describes many aspects of how the history of the universe, the earth, and species has brought us to where we are now, we talked about how science does not answer all questions, including some of the biggest questions. I call them the "W" questions. Where did we come from really, why are we here, and where are we going?

Indeed, science takes us back to the Big Bang. But what existed before the Big Bang, if anything? Can we even contemplate the potential for absolute nothingness? And how did energy and matter emerge out of nothingness post-Big Bang?

There seemed to be common ground that the scientific backdrop to Big History is valuable whether one sees the entire framework from a scientific perspective, a religious perspective, or both.

At the end of the Institute, we formed a "snake," lining up from back to front with the most pessimistic about the future in the back and with those most optimistic in the front. We then talked about why we showed up along the snake where we placed ourselves. Amazingly, as we went through this exercise, the overwhelming majority of comments came from a place of optimism, even from those who lined up toward the back of the snake.

Perhaps the full week of going deep and sharing proved to us that well-intended people who care about the past and the present could help to drive us toward an even better future.

So, the next big thing? More bigness on the continuum leading to further human connectedness for the betterment of the world - just sayin!

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at ejsinrod@duanemorris.com with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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