To fully understand today’s world, we must rewind the past at several different speeds.  Rewind decades for perspective on today’s climate change debate.  Rewind a million years and see climate changes that shaped the human body and brain.  All time scales are equally important!  But just as there are different scales of space beyond our reckoning without microscopes or telescopes, it is difficult to conceive of all time scales at once.  Most history books follow a timeline on one scale and leave the rest unseen. 

How Life Got This Way tours the entire journey by transforming our sense of time.  Each chapter describes a power of ten years. Time is modeled three-dimensionally, as hourglasses, for easier visualizations.  Follow along as history zooms in progressively from the age of the universe to our own lifetime.  We’ll see today’s world continuously take shape before our eyes. 

Professional educator Scot Fagerland has meticulously vetted and summarized current scientific research in this plain English history of everything.  He narrates the sequence of events conversationally but philosophically.  Fagerland’s insights such as the “secret trillionaire fallacy” and the “3D racial spectrum” offer new perspectives on the evolution of human beings, institutions, and belief systems.   

The AWESOME Manifesto

My next publication will be the AWESOME Manifesto, compiled as a booklet. This is a series of seven essays describing what it means to be Agnostic / Atheist, Worldly, Existential, Scientific / Statistical, Objective, Moderate, and Educated. The series-in-progress is posted to this site for free until its completion. Click the links above to see the completed essays.

The GRE Course You Want

I am a professional tutor, and the GRE has been one of my most frequently taught subjects. In the 2010s, I put together a group class. This book will be a repackaging of that course available for individual study. It will be a multi-media combination of text, lecture videos, and flash cards. I call it the GRE Course You “Want” because it is designed for my most common clients, those who are short on time and money. (The GRE Course You “Need” would be much more demanding!) Course creation is in progress now.

Other Ideas

I have been mulling a few other themes that could be expanded into book-length analyses. Let me know if you’d be interested in seeing me develop one of these ideas next.

Books 1 – 10. Each chapter in HLGTW could be expanded into its own book.

Simplicity and complexity in language. As both a tutor and an attorney, I often find myself playing the role of a “hired litteratus.” I might have to interpret legalese, find crucial key points in a lengthy argument, or find a way to express a client’s vaguely expressed concerns. Time and time again, I see students get lost in long sentences. As language is the bridge between the real world and the mind’s conception of that world, my career has impressed on me the realization that different people have wildly different understandings of the world, as limited by their linguistic capacities. This book would pick up on that theme with discussions of pedagogy, psychology, and social discourse. A major issue in marketing and politics is the hijacking of our attention by symbols, key words, pithy phrases, images, talking points, and other bite-sized information. I am concerned that many people can’t or won’t find the patience to read beyond the headlines and the memes, where information is far more complex and nuanced.

Political parties. I have long been fascinated and baffled by political parties, especially the US two-party system. “Organized numbers” is one of the routes to power, and that is the role that parties play. But exactly whom and what do parties organize, and who organizes them? Ideally, we might think of a party as representing people with a particular language, income level, or opinion. But people can be categorized along numerous dimensions, and no party system can capture all of them. Eventually, a party becomes its own artificial distinction, and its meaning is left up to individual interpretation. Parties play on this psychology and wage endless campaigns to make each other look stupid or evil. This penetrates society and becomes a toxic agent for disintegration.

Successful parties become gatekeepers for politicians’ careers. Office holders then get forced into conflicts of interest. Nominally, they represent constituents in particular geographic locations. Meanwhile, they don red and blue jerseys and play cryptic football games involving party loyalty, donors, and electability.

I want to learn more about how parties function in reality. What are the actual legislative differences between Republicans and Democrats? Do these differences agree with their party platforms and / or with public perceptions and stereotypes of the parties? What are the primary special interests driving each party’s platform? What are the incentives that guide the daily work of office-holders or of party leaders? How much time do partisan leaders devote to the most pressing social problems as compared to chasing funds and playing blame games? Why is each party fixated on the impossible vision of making the other one go away rather than finding common ground? Most importantly, is it possible to organize a group as large as a nation for its own best collective interest?

AWESOME Life Management: Taking Control of your Time, Money, Environment, and Emotions. I see a serious shortage of basic life skills in today’s younger generations. It seems that parents and schools are waiting on one other to teach children the art of growing up. Yes, there are already a million “self-help” books. Most of them seem to fall into two categories: Spiritual / pop-psychology books use vague, hopeful-sounding language and are strangely fixated on yoga and breathing exercises. “Secret for sale” books pitch the promise of secret knowledge or get-rich-quick schemes, which may have worked for a lucky few.

This book, by contrast, would discuss the specific practical strategies I have developed to take control of my own time, money, emotions, relationships, space, and possessions. These acts of self-control all reinforce one another. People who constantly lose their keys are usually the same ones who chronically run late to appointments, fall behind on payments, suffer car breakdowns, run out of cell phone battery power, argue with friends, and feel overwhelmed. Do bad things just keep happening to you? Or are you not putting in the hard work it takes to maintain a stable life and prevent the preventable? I’d like to develop this book in parallel with a video series, as the people who could benefit most from its message are also perhaps those who are much likelier to engage with videos than with books.

The Learning Pyramid. Why do some people do better in school and on standardized exams than others? In my three decades of experience as an educator, I have analyzed lifelong left-brained learning aptitudes as a pyramid of vital steps and skills: Exposure at the base, interest, executive functioning, attention, comprehension, practice, and mastery at the tip of the pyramid. Students exhibit a broad range of proficiency at every skill. A weakness at one level can most likely be addressed with remedies at the lower levels. This book would devote at least one chapter to each level of the learning pyramid. It would offer suggestions and perspective to a pyramidal audience: students, parents, educators, and administrators & governments who set educational priorities.

The Making of How Life Got This Way. I am not a professional scientist, historian, or author. I wrote HLGTW as an ordinary person with a vision. It was one of the most fascinating, difficult, and rewarding projects of my life. This work would lay out the making of the book, just as the book presented the making of the world.

We Eight Billion. This book would be a current events counterpart to HLGTW. It would take a snapshot of life today. Each chapter would be devoted to one billion living people: Their regional politics and place in the world, their everyday lives, economy, successes, and struggles. The book would point out the human density distribution. For instance, five chapters would cover Asia, with only one devoted to the Americas!

Hard Concepts: Limitations of the human mind. This book would draw from my experience teaching math, science, and English to thousands of ordinary people. I am intrigued and perplexed by the dual strengths and weaknesses of the human mind. We all possess natural skills that baffle every computer, yet we struggle to mentally multiply two-digit numbers. Some skills, like driving a car, are mastered fairly equally well by everyone. The range of other talents, like literacy, span an extremely broad spectrum. I have learned that there are several specific concepts or mental challenges that are so difficult for so many people that they are essentially widespread learning disabilities. They include recursion, multiple negatives, abstraction, written sentence comprehension, creativity, and the recognition of systemic social forces. There is some overlap here with Simplicity and Complexity in Language. Depending on the works’ lengths, this topic could be included in the Learning Pyramid book.

Two Problems We Must Solve Now. In my opinion, most societal problems result from two root causes, lying at opposite extremes of the social scale: (1) Children born into poverty and (2) Dictators. This book (or two) would present the case that these problems are completely unacceptable and unnecessary, and that their elimination should be the highest priorities in public policy decision making and spending. The solutions would be difficult, long-term, and expensive, but not nearly as expensive as the eternal perpetuation of the problems. In fact, eliminating child poverty and dictators would bring more benefit to the world than any other goals I can imagine. This book would discuss the impacts of these twin problems, possible solutions, and the long-term costs and benefits in terms of education, drug abuse and addiction, crime and incarceration, public health, overpopulation, geopolitics. migration, travel, demographics, and economics.

Wouldn’t it be AWESOME?! This would be an expansion of the AWESOME Manifesto into a book-sized treatment. Unlike AWESOME Life Management, which applies to individual lifestyle, this book would address the issue of creating an AWESOME world. Longer and less abstract than the manifesto, it would discuss applications toward governance and society. I’d discuss evidence of AWESOME policies that have been effective. My primary thesis is that societal improvement, especially on historically intractable issues, has reached its limits under the current politico-religious-nationalistic paradigm, which, after all, evolved to meet the needs of the past 10,000 – 100,000 years. Sea changes will require a widespread shift to a mindset crafted for the present and future — an AWESOME mindset.

The Naked-Eye Solar System: Understanding your Place in Space with Awareness of the Earth, Moon, Sun, and Planets. We all know that we are on a rotating planet revolving around a sun. But how do we connect what goes on “out there” to what we see “down here”? The signs in the sky are bright and clear, but only if you pay attention. This book (most likely with associated videos) will train you where, when, and what to look for. Where is the solar system in our sky? What are leap year and Daylight Saving Time for? Learn to see motions and cycles that are slower than the eye can detect. Develop a better sense of direction and time, patience, and appreciation for nature in Earth’s neighborhood.

What Every Adult Should Know about Math (or Science) The standard math / science curriculum is a lofty ideal. Designed for the fastest-paced academic-minded students, and shaped by cryptic political pressures and historical inertia, it provides almost no value at all for most students. Chances are, you remember nothing about the Krebs Cycle or the zeroes of polynomials, you never did get comfortable with fractions, and “word problems” give you paragraph panic. All but the top 1% – 10% of students will benefit from a slower-paced / bigger picture view of math and science that they will remember for life and put to good use. Furthermore, children and adolescents are, ironically, a horrible audience for structured classroom learning. Many books are devoted to alternative teaching styles and the quixotic struggle against kids’ limited interest and attention spans. I find that the best student is the interested student. This two-book series is aimed at the interested adult. Do you feel that math and science have enormous potential for you, but they just passed you by? Let’s focus on elementary school math — the stuff that everyone can grasp — and how you can use it. Let’s slow down and learn math as a language, which is never truly addressed in classrooms. Let’s get you grounded in the subject matter of science so you can better understand practical matters like nutrition and the environment. Let’s scrutinize the methods of science so that nobody can blind you with it.

What Every American Should Know about the Law “The Law”. We must all follow it, but we learn virtually nothing about it in school. Many people seem to view the legal system as a handful of catch-phrases like “freedom of speech” and “separation of church and state” as interpreted by their own common sense about what should be right and wrong. When government and justice are black boxes, it is alarmingly easy to get super cynical and see The Law as a system aimed at oppressing you. This book will discuss the framework of our legal system, including the “horizontal” separation of powers between the three branches of government and the “vertical” separation of the federal government, state and local governments, and individuals. What does typical legislation look like, and how does it become law? How can we distill the essence of a bill or law without reducing it to a single sentence? What are the most common legal disputes and the well-settled core principles of law? What questions are at the frontier of legal philosophy? Where do you find answers about your rights and options in a sticky legal situation? What do lawyers do, when do you need them, and why do they give lawerly answers?

History, Your Family Tree, and You. This book will trace the structure of your family tree back through multiple scales of time. It’s hard enough to visualize family trees among living relatives. (What are 2nd cousins once removed?) Going back a few generations, numbering your ancestors is very helpful for keeping them straight. The further back in time, the more challenges we face. People often identify most strongly with the ancestors who gave them their last name, but most ancestors were not on that branch of your tree. You don’t have to go back far before your family tree stops resembling a tree of people. It eventually becomes populations and nations of people, and then the whole human race. What does “50% French, 30% Korean …” mean? Is it the only way to describe your heritage? Soon, you’ll find ancestors with different languages, nationalities, and religions than you, including ancestors on opposite sides of wars or colonial relationships. How does that influence your sense of self, or of history? Further back yet, and it makes more sense to talk about ancestral genes then people. We’ll discuss haplogroups and the prehistoric migration routes that they are beginning to reveal. Beyond that, we reach our common ancestors with other species … until we find our small place among the entire tree of life on planet Earth.