When events seem too much, what better solace than a reminder that they are, if you zoom out to a different timescale, indistinguishable from nothing at all?
If planet Earth were a human being, I was informed the other day
, it would be about 40, or halfway through its expected lifespan. “I learned this when I was six, and it kinda messed me up,” wrote Keith Karraker, a chemistry teacher who posted it on Twitter
. By the same yardstick, humans have been using tools for a week and a half, and first left Africa about eight hours ago. (A more famous analogy involves imagining that the world began this time yesterday
; by that yardstick, humans arrived only one second ago.)
People usually make this kind of point as a warning: look how briefly we’ve been here, yet we’re about to ruin everything, thanks to climate change, or mass extinctions, or the short and itchy nuclear trigger-finger of the American president. But recently, I’ve been finding this perspective-shift oddly consoling. Think of it as Insignificance Therapy: when events just seem like too much, what better solace than a reminder that they are, if you zoom out to a different timescale, indistinguishable from nothing at all?
Whether you find this reassuring is, I suspect, a matter of personality type. Are you the kind of person who is shocked or comforted to realise – as the philosopher Bryan Magee explains in his recent book, Ultimate Questions
– that if you divided history into 100-year portions, each representing one centenarian’s life, then just 20 lifetimes would take you back to Jesus? And 21 to Julius Caesar? “Even a paltry 10 take us back before the Norman conquest,” Magee writes. “As for the Renaissance, it is only half a dozen people away.”
Excerpt from The Guardian, read the full article here