Monday, August 23, 2010

If the Earth Began One Year Ago

The earth is estimated to have existed for 4.5 billion years. Just how old is that anyway? And when did humans appear?

By way of analogy, let us say that the world itself began at 12:01 am on January 1st, and today is December 31st, one year later, just before midnight and the celebration of the New Year. The world has existed for one full year. In this time frame, the first life forms appeared on March 3, just 64 days, or two months, after the earth began. These single-celled organisms were the only life-forms for almost nine months, until the Cambrian Explosion, which occurred on November 17th, about six weeks ago. Mammals appeared on December 15th, about two weeks ago. Dinosaurs died out less than a week ago, around Christmas. Just a day ago, our ancestral line split from the other apes and monkeys, as our ancestors descended from the arboreal environment and began living amidst the predators and prey of the prairies and forests. We became fully upright less than 10 hours ago and took to fashioning stone tools about four hours ago. We learned to control fire an hour ago. We achieved our fully modern physical form about 20 minutes ago. We painted the stone-age caves of France about 4 minutes ago. We stopped hunting and gathering and settled into villages just one minute ago. We invented writing and built the pyramids 30 seconds ago. We discovered machines 2 seconds ago, electricity a second ago, and modern science half a second ago. The last slaves were freed just over a second ago. The civil rights movement occurred less than half a second ago. Our knowledge of all the history described here, all these ideas and all this information have been available to us for just a fraction of a second.

To better understand this analogy and its implications for humans in our modern world, consider that we began living as nomadic, tribal hunters and gatherers 4 hours ago. We only stopped living that way sixty seconds ago! So for three hours and 59 minutes, we spent our days hunting and gathering in small tribal groups, and then only took up this sedentary life style, building towns and cities during the last one minute of our history.

It is not enough for the history books to talk about all the human accomplishments during that last minute -the building of pyramids, the invention of writing, all written history has occurred in that last minute. Our ancestors lived a very different way for almost 4 hours before that. We have come from a different kind of world and we would do well to pay some attention to that because it informs much of who we are, what we do, how we act, what we believe.

Moving the model ahead, climate-change projections suggest that the polar ice caps could melt completely and environmental devastation could befall us in about half a second, if we don’t take immediate action now. Much to consider as we embrace a new future!


  1. This is a great analogy. I am a firm primitivist and believer that hunter gatherer communities have the original template for the way we should be living.