Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Perspective

As the new year approached last year I reflected on how I didn't readily know how long homo sapiens have been around in a post. What was most amazing to me wasn't just the 250K years of progress, but the exponential explosion that has occurred in just the last 470 years since the arrival of the Gutenberg printing press. A while after making that post I created the chart below to highlight this remarkable acceleration in the pace of innovation.



Some time later I realized that I also didn't really know the history of life, the earth, the sun, or even our place in the timeline of the universe. As a space nerd I did know that the universe was over 13 billion years old, but I had no idea where we sat in its history. After a little more Wikipedia research and some rough approximations in Power Point I created the image below that puts some of this info into view. With the universe exploding into existence some 13.7 billion years ago, it then took 8.7 billion years before our sun formed. Then in just 500 million years the earth formed, in another billion years the most simple life emerged. For the next 3.27 billion years life would evolve until the rise of the Dinosaurs, which would rule the earth for an astounding 160 million years. It would be another 65 million years before Homo sapiens arrived on the scene with our measly 250,000 years of history.



So why do I think this kind of information is so important? It's a matter of perspective. As advanced as humans are, we will never fully see reality but instead perceive it through our windows into the world. Understanding the implications of this explains a lot about human behavior. If we were to experience all of reality we'd simply be overwhelmed and unable to make sense of any of it. Instead, through the windows of our senses we sample just a piece of the world at a time. Through our collective we have extended our senses to allow us to see further into reality, be it the depths of space or the smallest of particles, yet we will always be limited to a view through a window. This shouldn't belittle our existence, but rather emphasize both our uniqueness and our belonging to something that is incomprehensibly larger than our perceptions.

As we struggle through each day to solve our problems big and small, a little perspective might help us all understand what is really important and what is really quite special in our tiny spot in the universe.

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