Posted by Garth on Saturday, December 13, 2008

I've been back on an astrophysics/darwinism kick lately, and have been reading a bunch of Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan books that I missed the first time around.  As always, Carl Sagan is amazing at putting the universe into perspective.  I want to quote him here.  The book is Dragons of Eden.  At this particular point he's talking about time, or has he puts it "cosmic chronology".  The universe is 15 billion years old.  15 billion is a big number that most of us can't really comprehend.  What follows his Carl Sagan's attempt to put this number into perspective.

The most instructive way I know to express this cosmic chronology is to imagine the fifteen-billion-year lifetime of the universe (or at least its present incarnation since the Big Bang) compressed into the span of a single year. Then every billion years of Earth history would correspond to about twenty-four days of our cosmic year, and one second of that year to 475 real revolutions of the Earth about the sun.
January 1 Big Bang
May 1 Origin of the Milky Way Galaxy
September 9 Origin of the solar system
September 14 Formation of the Earth
September 25 Origin of life on Earth
October 2 Formation of the oldest rocks known on Earth
October 9 Date of oldest fossils (bacteria and blue-green algae}
November 1 Invention of sex (by microorganisms)
November 12 Oldest fossil photosynthetic plants
November 15 Eukaryotes (first cells with nuclei) flourish

1:30 P.M. Origin of Proconsul and Ramapithecus, probable ancestors of apes and men
10:30 P.M. First humans
11:00 P.M. Widespread use of stone tools
11:46 P.M. Domestication of fire by Peking man
11:56 P.M. Beginning of most recent glacial period
11:58 P.M. Seafarers settle Australia
11:59 P.M. Extensive cave painting in Europe
11:59:20 P.M. Invention of agriculture
11:59:35 P.M. Neolithic civilization; first cities
11:59:50 P.M. First dynasties in Sumer, Ebla and Egypt; development of astronomy
11:59:51 P.M. Invention of the alphabet; Akkadian Empire
11:59:52 P.M. Hammurabic legal codes in Babylon; Middle Kingdom in Egypt
11:59:53 P.M. Bronze metallurgy; Mycenaean culture; Trojan War; Olmec culture: invention of the compass
11:59:54 P.M. Iron metallurgy; First Assyrian Empire; Kingdom of Israel; founding of Carthage by Phoenicia
11:59:55 P.M. Asokan India; Ch'in Dynasty China; Periclean Athens; birth of Buddha
11:59:56 P.M. Euclidean geometry; Archimedean physics; Ptolemaic astronomy; Roman Empire; birth of Christ
11:59:57 P.M. Zero and decimals invented in Indian arithmetic; Rome falls; Moslem conquests
11:59:58 P.M. Mayan civilization; Sung Dynasty China; Byzantine empire; Mongol invasion; Crusades
11:59:59 P.M. Renaissance in Europe; voyages of discovery from Europe and from Ming Dynasty China; emergence of the experimental method in science
Now: first second of New Year's Day. Widespread development of science and technology; emergence of a global culture; acquisition of the means for self-destruction of the human species; The first steps in spacecraft planetary exploration and of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Reading stuff like this seems to help me put the little things in perspective.  Why should I stress over some minute detail of my life when an hour and a half ago I was still an ape, picking nits out of my mate's fur, and 14 minutes ago I was still eating raw meat (on a bone nonetheless!)?


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