Friday, October 28, 2005

mindCandy: Humans and Dinosaurs and Wheels, Oh My!

OK, it's a little late and I've found myself somewhat obsessed mentally by a book I've just perused - so much so that I've decided I need another category for my thoughts on this blog :-) .

My wife, Robin, asked me last night when dinosaurs roamed the Earth vs. when humans were around (do not ask this question to a creationist ;-) ). I spat out "several hundred million years ago" and then noted that I really had no idea and that that seemed like an awfully long time ago. Well it turns out that the age of dinosaurs actually was 248-65 million years ago.

At the same time I was thinking, after watching HBO's fantastic series "Rome", how much alike we are to the people that lived in that period, several thousand years ago. Well this just aroused my curiosity even more and, with a bit of research, I discovered that early man existed from 3 million to 3000 BC - which is astonishing. Even 400,000 years ago, we were making tools, using fire, and gathering grains, berries, and nuts. Circa 60,000 BC, Neanderthal man was caring for the aged and including flowers in their burial rites. The last Ice Age was around 50,000 years ago, dogs were domesticated about 14,000 years ago (there's a reason they are man's best friend ;-) ), and, in 36,000 BC, Homo Sapiens reached the Americas from Asia.

It's just astounding to think of the scale of time in all this. Here we are, with an average lifespan of roughly 75 years, and 186 generations ago (that's a lot of "great-great-great"'s), we were training dogs to be our friends! Incredible. The earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia were about 5000 BC and the first libraries in Egypt were about 2500 BC. Does it ever occur to you when you enter a library that these things have been around for over 4 millennia?

We have so much access to information nowadays, and the digital age has certainly accelerated our technological accomplishments greatly, but I think there are times when we need some perspective on where we are in history. I mean, the wheel was invented around 3480 BC by the Sumerians, who also invented writing around 3500 BC. The Egyptians were playing the harp in 2200 BC and the Gilgamesh epic was written by Sumer in 2000 BC. To put it simply, we've been doing a lot of "stuff" for an awfully long time :-) . Funny to think that the concept of "zero" as a number was only "discovered" in India in 600 AD.

We go along in our lives with a lot of thought invested in the moment, and there's nothing too wrong with that. But I think it might help us put some things in perspective when we realize we are where we are now after having thousands of years of fairly sophisticated civilization to build upon. If you're thinking about next year as a long time away, you might want to consider that astronomers believe that universe itself is 13-20 billion (that's 13,000-10,000 million to the Brits ;-) ) years old. So, if I were to have lived through all that, I would have lived 173,333,333 human lifetimes. Wow, and people feel old when they turn 40 :-) .

PS: For reasons dating back quite some time, a "billion" in Britain retains its original meaning as a million million (hence the prefix "bi"), whereas in North America it means, of course, a thousand million. As the old joke goes, if you want to be a billionaire, best to live in the US than the UK, as it's a thousand times easier ;-) .
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10/28/2005 11:55:00 PM  

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