Tag Archives: Big Data

There was no Axial “Age”

IT’S an idea that has been influential for more than 200 years: around the middle of the first millennium BC, humanity passed through a psychological watershed and became modern. This ‘Axial Age’ transformed an archaic world of divine rulers, slavery and human sacrifice into a more enlightened era that valued social justice, family values and the rule of law. The appeal of the general concept is such that some have claimed humanity is now experiencing a second Axial Age driven by rapid population growth and technological change. Yet according to the largest ever cross-cultural survey of historical and archaeological data, the first of these ages never happened — or at least unfolded differently from the originally proposed narrative…

Karl Jaspers, 1946

This article was first published in Nature on 9 December 2019. To continue reading, click here.

History as a giant data set

IN its first issue of 2010, the scientific journal Nature looked forward to a dazzling decade of progress. By 2020, experimental devices connected to the internet would deduce our search queries by directly monitoring our brain signals. Crops would exist that doubled their biomass in three hours. Humanity would be well on the way to ending its dependency on fossil fuels…

Joan of Arc by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1882)

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 12 November 2019. To continue reading, click here.

History lessons

ns_logo“MY NAME is Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” So run the famous lines of Percy Shelley’s poem about Ramses the Great, a pharaoh who ruled Egypt’s New Kingdom in the 13th century BC, when it was the world’s most sophisticated society. But the poem’s theme is the transience of glory. It describes the ruins of a giant statue to Ramses that lie scattered in the desert: “Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away…”

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 15 October 2016. To continue reading, click here.

Seshat, ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom
Seshat, ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom