References – Part 9: Global Deconstruction


Global Musings I: The Species-Wide Monkey Tree (GM1)

Regarding the Cambrian Explosion: the exact timing, meaning, causes and significance of this evolutionary event are all matters of ongoing scientific debate and scrutiny. In addition, it is still just about possible that it represents artefact in the available data, rather than an actual period of unusually intense species radiation.

Not as exciting as tigers

Assuming there was some sort of exceptional diversification taking place, candidates for the cause include: the initial evolution of the eye, the biggest ice age of all time (‘Snowball Earth’) or a threshold in genetic complexity being crossed. What is certainly true is that between the end of the Precambrian supereon and the late Palaeozoic era, life blossomed from blobby, floaty stuff into a rich variety of complex, and ever more interesting, forms.

Regarding the idea that human civilisation has changed radically in recent millennia while human minds have not: it’s now becoming clear how much humans have evolved in the last 60,000 years (contrary to the common mid-twentieth-century assumption that human evolution had somehow ended). Indeed, the pace of our evolution is almost certainly speeding up in response to our evolving environment. It’s not, therefore, quite right to say that humans are living in a twenty-first century world with Stone-Age minds, however, the pace of change of our evolution is not close to that of our living environments.

Regarding evolutionary psychology (the study of how evolutionary forces shaped the human psyche), in my view this is one of the most effective tools for human introspection that has ever come along. With that in mind, in my experience, emphasising the difference between real things and things people agree to agree are real (social constructs) is one of the hardest cases to make, when arguing for a first-principles assessment of the human world. Here’s a passage from Geoff Carr’s The Proper Study of Mankind which I found particularly insightful.

‘Studying human behavior is more difficult that studying that of other animals, for two reasons. One is that the students come from the same species as the studied, which both reduces their objectivity and causes them to take certain things for granted, or even fail to notice them altogether. The other is that human culture is … far more complex than the cultures of other species. There is nothing wrong with studying that culture … [it] is endlessly fascinating.

But it is wrong to assume that it is the cause of human nature, rather than a consequence; that is akin to mistaking the decorative finishes of a building for the underlying civil engineering. The aim of evolutionary psychology is to try to detect the Darwinian fabric through the cultural decoration, by asking basic questions.’

Regarding humans’ propensity to live in breeding units of around 150 (with mental faculties evolved to match), the concept is called Dunbar’s number, after the anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar. It was articulated and popularised by him in the book Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language (Harvard University Press). Dunbar’s number is basically the cognitive limit to the number of people a human brain can maintain a coherent social relationship with, and it feeds into the size of all interactive human groups, from villages to army units to online social networks.

When I use the phrase ‘beautiful soul’ on page 266, this is shorthand for ‘seriously having one’s mental shit together.’

Regarding the evolved tendencies of our minds to regulate the social systems within which we live, here is a great quote from Steven Pinker:

‘A key insight of evolutionary psychology is that human cooperation and the social emotions that support it, such as sympathy, trust, gratitude, guilt, and anger, were selected because they allow people to flourish in positive-sum-games.’

Regarding humans’ predisposition to manipulate those systems to their personal advantage: I’m abridging a zodiac of behavioural strategies which regulate how people relate to their societies. Humans constantly persuade themselves that they’re acting for the collective good, when they’re actually acting for their own good: laws established to protect rights are used to take liberties, welfare systems intended to institute safety nets are used to indulge fecklessness, economic constructs meant to promote innovation are subverted to facilitate greed, organisations set up to serve the public are manipulated to serve that public’s supposed servants. This systematic tendency of humans is a central reason why civilisation is so much less perfect in practise that it might be in theory.


Regarding happiness: happiness studies became an area of mainstream academic study in the decade or so before I took my trip. Ten thousand dollars, as the point above which net happiness doesn’t increase in a country, is taken from Geoff Carr’s The Proper Study of Mankind. Here is an interesting article from Atlantic Monthly that also quotes it, and an article by Robert Wright which does the same.

Three thousand years as the date when political systems were first seriously deconstructed comes from Geoff Mulgan’s Good and Bad Power.

My original primer on evolutionary psychology was Carl Sagan’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. Other key influences for GM1 include Geoff Mulgan, Geoff Carr, Clive Ponting, J. A. Roberts and M.Thomas.


107: Ecuadorian Comedown

The date for the appearance of the first land vertebrates can be found in this article in Nature.
The date for the appearance of the first trees can be found in this Dutch tree guide.


Global Musings II – Gaia Theory (GM2)

My source for 60,000 BCE as the date of humanity leaving Africa (the consensus date at the time of writing, in 2011) comes from Nicholas Wade’s Before the Dawn.

The population density on the Ganges Plain comes from Rural Labour Markets and Migration in South Asia: Evidence from India and Bangladesh, from the World Bank.

Current issues

Medium-Term Outlook

Regarding global warming going from obscure concern to signature issue, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was the first major statesman to give a speech on global warming, to the UN, in 1989. Here is a transcript of the speech.

Regarding sea levels, there is plenty of widely available data about the general pattern of recent sea level changes and glaciations. The figure of sea levels being 100 metres lower than at present 18,000 years ago can be found in this National Geographic article. One hundred metres is an approximation (other sources quote up to 125 metres) and global sea-level changes do not precisely correlate (it is possible for them to be rising in one part of the globe, while falling elsewhere). A good general source is Essentials of Oceanography by Tom S. Garrison.

Regarding Toba, I first heard 3,000 cubic kilometres for the amount of material released in its super-eruption from the BBC documentary Horizon. The University of Oxford, School of Archaeology quotes 2,800 cubic kilometres. This website on the TOBA Super-eruption project, run by the university, is full of interesting information. It’s focussed on the affects the eruption had on human evolution – there was a bottleneck in the human linage at that point, and it’s believed that humans nearly became extinct.

The date for hippopotami living in the Thames comes from Global Climate Change: A Final Overview by Z.D. Sharp (accessed 20 April 2008).

Regarding carbon dioxide, the existence of the gas was first postulated by the Flemish chemist Jan Baptiste van Helmont. However, CO2 was first properly described, and its properties inferred, by the Scottish physician Joseph Black, in the 1750s.

Regarding the increase in animal brain size since the Cambrian Explosion, I don’t recall where I first came across this number, but it was some years before the adventure recorded in The Jolly Pilgrim. I found a source for it in a paper about economics called Long-Term Growth As A Sequence of Exponential Modes(accessed 10 October 2007).

Regarding ‘Gaia’, using the name of the Greek Earth goddess to describe the ecological system integrating all living beings on Earth was famously coined by the environmental scientist James Lovelock. His Gaia hypothesis postulates that our planet’s organisms, and their inorganic surrounds, are integrated so as to form a single and self-regulating system, which maintains conditions for life on the planet.

To take Mr Lovelock’s view, ‘Gaia’ is a three-billion-year-old swirling mass of carbon atoms, forming and reforming into multitudes of life forms, that become more interesting as the eons roll by. Gaia’s biological elements traditionally extend down to 8,000 meters (for marine life in ocean trenches) and up to 11,000 metres (where species of vulture have been found). Humans have recently extended it well above that level. Lots of Gaia’s 1900 gigatonnes of mass is in the form of microbes in rocks, which means that major meteorite events have been dispersing microbe-bearing material into space, and seeding the galaxy with Earthlings, for hundreds of millions of years, which is fun to know and strangely comforting.

Gaia sends out another wave of Earthlings to make the galaxy yet more interesting

In fact, if one is prepared to look at Earth’s biological systems (including the sub-pattern within a biological decision-making mechanism, which is reading these words right now) in this way, it appears that – following 500 million years of post-Cambrian maturation – Gaia may also periodically disperse carefully cultivated, civilisation-building primates to other parts of the galaxy in starships. Watch this space.

Influences to GM2 include the aforementioned James Lovelock, Geoff Carr, and Professor Graham Martin, of the Birmingham School of Life Sciences, with whom I exchanged emails while doing this subchapter’s final tweaks. At the time Professor Martin was working on an ecological understanding of humankind. He pointed out that humans are inclined to use cultural – rather than ecological – constructs to define themselves, suggesting that this lack of objectivity hampers our ability to make a sober assessment of ourselves. Naturally, I couldn’t agree more.


108: The Mission

Latacunga being destroyed by Earthquakes four times is documented in this online encyclopaedia. Other sources quote three times.

Cotopaxi from space

Regarding Cotopaxi, the mountain is the world’s highest continuously active volcano, so the fact it’s erupted 50 times since 1738 is something of a simplification (source: NASA). Particularly violent eruptions took place in 1744, 1768 and 1877 (during the last of which pyroclastic flows swept down the entire cone). This page from the Global Volcanism Program is a good source on Cotopaxi.


Global Musings III – The Ghost in the Machine (GM3)

The first part of GM3, describing humanity’s feasible long-term decision-making and power structures, owes a great deal to Voltaire and John Stuart Mill. The idea of human individuality being illusory is a monist interpretation of physical reality. My assumption is that the fellow I met that night on the beach in Canoa was familiar with some form of monistic religious tradition. The concept of ‘all is one’, which is central to GM2, GM3, GM12 and GM13, was first coined by the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Parmenides in the fifth century BCE, and articulated in his poem On Nature.


The material which led to GM3 was written on the Peruvian coast on the few days following that Ecuadorian beach encounter. Six months later, when living in the shed, there was a moment when I considered stripping back the breadth of detail in The Jolly Pilgrim and writing a narrower book. Then, on the shed’s veranda, I came across the scribbled notes I’d made in Peru: the essential meaninglessness of humans outside the context of human society, the diversity which healthy societies cultivate, the way that diversity enables societies to tackle the enigmatic and unpredictable nature of the universe, the implications for individuality, the hive mind, the ghost in the machine, all is one. I’d forgotten I’d made those notes, and the precise line of thinking they’d captured. That’s when I decided to go the whole hog.


111: Beach Hopping

The increase in Gross World Product (GWP) looked high, even though 1993 through 2006 was a period of exceptional global wealth creation, so I went into the numbers myself.

Global GDP in 1993 was $24,500,473,069,080 (source: website).

Global GDP in 2006 was $46,826,015,327,130 (source: website).

So $49,826 / $24,500 x 100 = 91.1%

Beach-Hopping Territory (Peru)

According to the Info Please website the Earth’s population was 5.522 billion in 1993 and 6.5 billion in 2006.

6.5 / 5.522 x 100 = 17.7% = approx 18%

I’ve also seen 45% quoted for the GWP increase over this period, which may be the inflation-adjusted number.


112: Checkmate

My understanding of the history-turning battle of Cajamarca comes largely from John Hemming’s The Conquest of the Incas, as does the number of years it took the Spanish to hunt down and destroy all the mummified Inca kings.

Regarding the sign that hangs in what was Atahualpa’s prison, when I was in Cajamarca I thought (due to my imperfect Spanish) that the sign read ‘Here changed the history of the world’ (rather than ‘He’). I was corrected by one of our Spanish-speaking proofreaders. ‘He’ give the sign an ambiguous slant – is it referring to Pizarro or the emperor?


Global Musings IV – Weaving the Current Tapestry (GM4)

The explanation as to how the invention of paper made it’s way across Eurasia is taken almost verbatim from Clive Ponting’s World History: A New Perspective p372 – 374.

The explanation as to which major human diseases came from which animals is from Clive Ponting’s World History: A New Perspective (p70) and Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel (p207).

The date for the domestication of horses is from the website of the International Museum of the Horse. Note, some sources quote dates as late at 2000 BCE, while the Encyclopaedia Britannica quotes 3000 BCE. However, the accepted date seems to have moved backwards over recent years towards 4000 BCE. For example, the Botai culture of central Asia is believed to have been using horses in 3600 BCE.

Exactly when steel use got going is a grey area, as carbon was slowly introduced into iron making, often, at first, by accident. I take 900 BCE from the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

The source for the first gun use in China is Clive Ponting’s World History: A New Perspective.

The dates and explanations for the Bantu expansion, the Austroasiatic expansion and the Austronesian expansion come from Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel. In my experience, the Indo-European expansion is more widely known and discussed (as it’s been understood via linguistics for over a century). Being a scientific theory, it is most properly described as ‘The Indo-European Urheimat Hypothesis’.

I don’t recall my original source for the fact that there is more genetic diversity within a single tribe of chimpanzees than between all the humans alive. However, it was quoted in 2011 in Future Science, edited by Max Brockman.

Regarding the Fraser Island Indigenous Australians, my information came from the guide who led our tour of the island (as per email 87, page 213). However, this article: ‘The Aborigines of Fraser Island’, on the website of the Defenders of Fraser Island, is an excellent online source regarding those original islanders.

The modern world starts to come into focus

Regarding the ‘spirit of a culture’ section from page 307, in the first drafts of GM4 (and it’s companion piece GM7) I introduced a word to describe the character of the individual cultural background which imbues each person (suggesting ‘cultural chi’) because I think the English language needs such a word. That suggestion was lost from the book’s final drafts, on the basis that it isn’t my place to introduce new psychological terms. However, my strong view remains that we need one.

Since writing The Jolly Pilgrim I’ve read a number of popular science and scholarly works dealing with precisely these issues, including Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. A well-documented example is the difference between people from the northeast of the United States, and those from the south and west. Southerners are more inclined to react aggressively to insults, for reasons that are ultimately due to the social history of that part of the country.

In other words, this is a real, tangible, quantifiable, characteristic of the personalities and behavioural patterns of individuals raised within that culture, which they specifically acquire as a result of that cultural background. But we don’t have a word for it. We should have. It would enrich discourse within the English language.

Influences: Clive Ponting, Jared Diamond, J A Roberts, Geoff Carr and Jack Alexander.

Sumerian charioteers used different social constructs to us


114: Pyramids, Mud Bricks and Third-World Capital

When setting out the socioeconomic sweep of Peru over the 20 years before my visit, I mentioned Alberto Fujimori in passing. A few people have asked me to note what a controversial figure he is.

Mr Fujimori won his first election in 1990, commenced a series of radical economic reforms (‘Fujishock’) that ultimately set in motion the positive long-term economic health Peru now enjoys, then staged a ‘Presidential coup’ in 1992, which was condemned by the international community, but welcomed by most Peruvian people. He overwhelmingly won the 1995 election (with two-thirds of the vote), but then started acting in an increasingly autocratic manner, while allegations about some very nasty stuff began to emerge (including – outrageously – the sterilisation of indigenous women). He won the 2000 election by a hair’s breadth, but resigned and fled the country shortly thereafter. He was arrested in Chile, in 2005, and extradited back to Peru. In 2009 he was convicted of human rights abuses, including complicity in murder, bodily harm and kidnap, and sent to jail for 25 years.

Ecuador and Peru’s 2006 GDP growth comes from the CIA World Factbook and Index Mundi. Quito’s population comes from the 2001 Census, and is reproduced on this Travel Muse website. The population figure for Lima is from the Peruvian ‘National Institute for Statistics and Information’ (accessed 11 March 2007, original link now defunct).

Out of interest, this Economic Survey of Latin America and the Caribbeanpaints a slighty sunnier picture for Ecuadorian GDP growth in 2006, quoting 3.9%.


Global Musings V – Civilisational Logistics (GM5)

Regarding happiness, see the notes under GM1. The number of $10,000 is from Geoff Carr’s The Proper Study of Mankind.

The article I read in the Serbian field about Junichiro Koizumi’s privatisation of Japan Post was ‘Koizumi gets his way’ from The Economist, Tokyo office, 15 September 2005.

What is real?

Regarding the various economic concepts, this is the most fertile land for pointing out the difference between the socially constructed edifices we take for granted, and actual physical reality. For example, after doing most of the creative work on The Jolly Pilgrim, but before publication, I worked for a company called Reed Global. Everyone at Reed Global agrees that Reed Global exists and behaves accordingly. But it isn’t real. What is real is that there are thousands of apes around the world exchanging information via telephones and electronic messages. The fact that they all believe in ‘Reed Global’ is, however, rather useful.

By the time I posted these reference pages (three month after The Jolly Pilgrim’s publication) it was clear that the sections on economic theory and history (GM5 and GM6) were those many of my core readers would regard as the most controversial. Many intelligent, thoughtful people aren’t comfortable with my view that free markets are the best way to allocate resources, and that open economies are the best way to organise civilisation. On the assumption my big-picture economic history (things just keep getting better and better) should not be controversial, I’ll comment further here on the theoretical side of my position.

First, let me re-state that the objective is a more harmonious and interesting world. Second, I am not arguing for doing away with public control parts of part of the economy, I am arguing that – in finding a balance – non-state control is a default position which better serves the interests of human welfare.

In the world today, the question of where the correct balance between public and private control of the economy lies is a real open question. Barring the most fringe radicals, everyone agrees that the police and the army should be publicly run, while bars and restaurants should not. Given this, the fact that debating that balance is central to the political narrative in the developed world in the twenty-first century is good and healthy.

Having that debate about balance, however, is complicated by the fact that large sections of the population will always take one side, no matter how far in whichever direction the needle has swung. In my experience, individuals are often not interested in addressing the larger strategic question of the best public/private equilibrium. Instead, they’re narrowly focussed on the minutiae of political debate (often due to self-identifying with a particular political party and falling back on tribal positions). In addition, such individuals (who are found at both ends of the political spectrum) often have strong, vested, personal, immediate interests in how such questions are resolved, which de-objectifies them.

Regarding the underlying organisational questions of private- verses publicly-directed enterprise: in my view, individual humans working on a task in a private context are continually receiving information regarding: how what they’re doing interacts with the economic forces that are swirling around them (in a way that those working in a publicly-controlled context are not). As a result, they’re empowered to continually adjust their working methods, so as to better deal with those realities, and thus make their working methods more effective (or increase their productivity, to use the relevant economic terminology).

Eureka! Free markets are the most efficient way to organise civilisation! (Lima)

Put simply, if a species of ape on a planet need effective widget-making capabilities, the best policy is allowing the apes who know most about widget-making to get on with it. A less effective strategy, in my view, is for some third-party ape (with an impressive title or uniform) to direct those widget-making processes from afar.

I believe in pan-societal cooperation and submitting oneself to the greater good – and I believe that free and open economies are the most effective way to facilitate that. I further believe that groups of apes organised in such open, self-organising groups are more productive, flexible and efficient than those organised via a state. In my view, building economic ties between people in this manner promotes, and incentivises for, positive-sum games that put a premium on understanding and empathy. To quote Samuel Ricard:

‘Commerce attaches [people] to one another through mutual utility … Through commerce, man learns to deliberate, to be honest, to acquire manners, to be prudent and reserved in both talk and action. Sensing the necessity to be wise and honest in order to succeed … his demeanour exhibits decency and seriousness so as not to arouse and adverse judgement on the part of present and future acquaintances.’

The direct real-world evidence for this seems overwhelming to me. As economic decision-making accumulates in the hands of the state, economic activity becomes less productive and flexible. Free and open economies serve the interests of human welfare and dignity in a way that state-directed one do not.

The transformation of China after 1979 is exhibit one. The economic transformation of India after 1992 is exhibit two. Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and Peru have all, in very recent history, undergone economic transformations driven by decoupling public control from economic decision-making. Meanwhile, economies where the state imposes its will – from Egypt to Ethiopia – fail to serve those interests and are rife with systematic weaknesses.


115: Ancient Horizons

As several readers have pointed out, the quote by Orson Welles at the end of this section is part of the opening monolog of the film F for Fake, during which Welles speaks over a montage of Chartres Cathedral, so pivotal to my pilgrimage. I felt his words were supremely relevant to the achievements of the Nazcans. The monolog has been described as ‘the most profound moment in movie history’. Here it is:

Details of the dimensions of various Nazca figures can be found at this Encyclopaedia Britannica ‘Hispanic Heritage in the Americas’ site.


Global Musings VI – Planetary Wealth Gradients (GM6)

Regarding my calculation of the number of generations through which human civilisation’s ‘miraculous two centuries of wealth creation’ has seen itself out, I used conservative numbers, so as not to be accused of overstating my point. My calculation is based on an average generation length of 20 years, and 1800 CE as the year the current transition got going (a moot point, but 1800 is about right). If one were to assume 25 years per generation, the world economy increased fiftyfold in 8 generations, rather than 10.

How everybody once lived

Then life got much better

If trends were to simply continue

The historical income across the whole world comes from Indur M. Goklany’s The Improving State of the World, as does the figure for human civilisation’s economic growth between 1000 CE and 1800 CE.

My numbers for global GDP per head in 2000 are also intentionally conservative. The GDP per head number comes from the United Nations Environmental Program GEO-2000.

Out of interest, global GDP per head by 2010 was well over $9,000 (according to the World Bank, World Development Indicators, accessed 4 November 2011), which means that the size of the global economy had increased around 100-fold since 1800.

On the subject of long-scale economic history, this chapter in The Reality of Economic Growth: History and Prospects by J. Bradford DeLong (Berkeley) has GDP per head estimates all the way back to 5000 BCE.

The numbers for long-term economic growth per person per year outside the ‘bottom billion’ countries are from Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion.

The economic growth rates for 2005, 2006 and 2007 come from Angus Maddison. See the GDP tables here.

The growth statistics for the developing world are from the UN’s World Economic Situation and Prospects 2007.

Human civilisation’s energy usage increasing by two percent a year is a broad number I’d heard quoted numerous times. The physicist Tom Murphy, who blogs about energy, quotes 2.9% here. [LINK]

Regarding influences for GM7: Paul Collier (Director of the Centre for the study of African Economies at Oxford University), the economist Thomas Sowell, my friend Tarik Burns and the economic historian Angus Maddison.

For a truly detailed look at the economic history of the second millennium, I thoroughly recommend Power and Plenty by Ronald Findlay and Kevin H. O’Rourke.


Global Musings VII – The Current Tapestry (GM7)

Regarding ‘the greatest spiritual enlightenment of all time’ I am paraphrasing Kenneth Clarke and referring to Buddha.

Jesus Christ, the Prophet Mohammed and the writers of the Book of Job – among others – gave structure to the journey described in The Jolly Pilgrim and, due to my background, I easily relate to the Abrahamic faiths. Overall, however, my life experience has been that Eastern, rather than Middle Eastern, religious systems offer the most effective and insightful framework through which to deliberate upon one’s individual relationship to the universe. Basically, I’m with Lord Clarke on this one.


Global Musings VIII – Dragon Renaissance (GM8)

Chinese - to endure

My original understanding of the sweep of nineteenth-century Chinese history comes from Clive Ponting’s World History: A New Perspective. The assertion that nineteenth-century Europe could produce little the Chinese economy required is also from that book (although I’ve seen it discussed in a number of historical sources).

The reduction of China’s population between 1850 and 1873 is quoted in this lecture on East Asia’s modern history.

The economic damage to China as a multiplier of Japan’s total GDP comes from The World at War, Episode 6, Banzai!

The assertion that 500 million people were lifted out of poverty in China between 1979 and 2007 comes from China’s (uneven) progress against poverty by Ravallion, Martin and Shaohu Chen, 2005 from The Journal of Development Economics.


120: Mendoza Red

The numbers for the growth rates of the fastest growing economies in 2006 come from the CIA World Factbook 2007.

The number for American casualties in Iraq comes from iCasualties.


Global Musings IX – The Mechanics of the Global Adolescence (GM9)

Regarding the assertion, in the first section of GM 9, that the phenomenon of Islamic extremist terrorism is incidental feature of the early twenty-first century world, rather than a history-shaping one. Rageh Omaar (a journalist for whom I have a great deal of respect), in his three-part The Life of Mohammed aired on BBC2 in the UK in 2011, repeatedly claimed that Islamic terrorism ‘defined our world’.

Islamic terrorism does not ‘define our world’. The pair-bonding system between human couples defines our world. The domestication of plants and animals defines our world. Evolution by natural selection most definitely defines our world, but Islamic extremist terrorism simply does not – it is, instead, an ephemeral phenomenon, relevant to a very limited envelope of history, brought about through a very specific set of cultural and historical forces.

Regarding the second section (about war and violence across the ages, and how likely humanity is to commit civilisational suicide via nuclear war), the intellectual background for this section is a catholic understanding of human history (specific influences: Clive Ponting, J. A. Roberts, Nicholas Wade, Steven Runciman, Max Rodenbeck) along with the nuclear disarmament movement in general. However, readers familiar with Drakes’ equation will appreciate that I am essentially analysing the term ‘L’ in that equation.

Drake’s Equation was set out by the astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake, as a way of calculating how many technological civilisations are extant in the galaxy at any given time.

This is Drake’s Equation

N = R* x Fp x Ne x Fl x Fi x Fc x L


N = the number of civilisations in the galaxy at any given point with which communication might be possible
R* = the galactic rate of star formation
Fp = the proportion of stars with planets
Ne = the number of planets that can potentially support life
Fl = the fraction that go on to support life at some point
Fi = the fraction that go on to develop intelligent life
Fc = the fraction that support intelligent life that develop a technical civilisation which releases signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time for which those civilisations send detectable signals into space

Fi and Fc both looking good

When Professor Drake originally set out the equation in 1961, few of the terms were understood in much detail (although N was categorically known to be at least 1). We’ve come a long way since then. Our knowledge of Fp is expanding dramatically, as the science of extrasolar planets picks up speed, while our understanding of Ne increases in step with that of biochemistry and geochemistry.

The equation is a useful way of organising one’s thinking (or ignorance) regarding how and why civilisations progress through their adolescence. In my reading of global geopolitics, since 1961 the prospects for L are looking a great deal rosier than they were at the height of the Cold War. I have a feeling that L might turn out to be wonderfully long.


121: Buenos Aires Calling

The population of Buenos Aires at the time can be found in the website.

Diego Maradona’s international playing statistics can be found at


Global Musings X – Third Millennium (GM10)

When I wrote and published The Jolly Pilgrim, I hadn’t heard of the Gapminder institute, which is doing extraordinary work to communicate the ideas I summarise in GM10. Hans Rosling, the Swedish development academic who founded it has many videos on YouTube setting out data on human welfare across the last 200 years. This is the Gapminder website.

Regarding the various human welfare indicators listed in GM10, as it contains so many numbers, I’ve divided the references up by subject.

How long?

Life Expectancy

The human life spans down the ages come from ‘Human Mortality Throughout History and Prehistory’ by Preston S H, from The State of Humanity edited by Julian Simon, EC Beisner and J Phelps. p30 – 36.

The figures for average human life spans in 1900 come from Indur M. Goklany’s The Improving State of the World.

The figures for human lifespans in 1950, and the global and regional figures for 2005, come from World Population Prospects, 2006 Revision, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.

Infant Mortality Rates

All the regional and global data for infant mortality comes from Indur M. Goklany’s The Improving State of the World (p27 – p31).


The calorie intake between 1961 and 2002, and improvements by region over that period, come from Indur M. Goklany’s The Improving State of the World, as do the inflation-adjusted prices of food commodities.

I don’t recall where I first sourced the two-and-a-half-fold increase in world cereal production in 2008, when I first drafted GM10. However, it’s quoted here by the International Commission of Irrigation and Drainage.


The numbers for the literacy rate in 1970 and early twenty-first century, and the rates for 15- to 25-year-olds comes from The Economist, 26 January 2008, p27. The number of years spent in education comes from World Development Indicators 1999, the World Bank (2005),

Fertility Rates

All the numbers regarding global and regional fertility rates across time are from World Population Prospects, 2006 Revision, the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.

A story that is linear, not circular


All the comments around trends regarding Smallpox, HIV and swine and avian flu are widely and comprehensively documented. I assume there’s no need for me to point readers to specific sources.


The proportion of countries that were democratised in 1900 comes from Freedom House’s Democracy’s Century (New York, Freedom House 2002). The proportion of the world’s population living in democratic countries in the noughties are from Freedom House, Freedom in the World (New York, Freedom House 2005). The number of countries which have introduced multiparty election systems since 1974 come from the UNDP, Human Development Report 2000.


The rates of homicide in hunter-gatherer societies are taken from Lawrence Keeley’s War Before Civilisation.

The numbers regarding wars and battle deaths since World War II come from the Human Security Report published by the Universities of Uppsala and British Columbia (accessed 28 May 2008)

Those following our unfolding understanding of the history of violence will be aware of the long-term decline in homicide rates, a phenomenon which a number of scholars have been charting and explaining. A landmark work is The Better Angels of Our Nature published in 2011 by Professor Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.

His original 2007 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference talk was a fantastic 18-minute summary of this area, so I decided to post it on this reference page.

I sent Professor Pinker a copy of The Jolly Pilgrim, in acknowledgement for his masterful work.

Influences for GM10 include Indur M. Goklany, Julian Simon and Lawrence Keeley.


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