Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Humans and time

They say that the sun is about 13 billion years old and that it is about half way through its life. The earth is said to be about 4.5 billion years old.  Humans in any form are supposed to be about 4 million years old and in more or less the current form, about 100,000 years old.
In describing the way these numbers get smaller, it is often said that humans aren’t very old.  It can be helpful to be aware that 1 thousand millions make a billion.  So, the difference between 4 billion and 4 million is very great.  Yet, in human terms, 100 years is a long time.  We go from babyhood to decrepitude in that time, usually in considerably less.
As we learn about time and astronomical ages, we can get a little blasé about our actual ability to experience years.  As I read “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett, set in 1100 AD, I could picture a bit of the enormous change between pictures of what life is all about and what a person is in that time in England and my views now.
If we are just shooting stars with a brief lifespan, do we matter at all?   We matter to us.  We matter to those who love us and cherish us.  We matter to tomorrow and we mattered yesterday.  Besides, we are just stubborn enough to matter whether we should or not.
Some linguists are working on a project related to stored plutonium.  It has a half life of about 10,000 years.  Their goal is to make signage what will communicate what is stored and that it is dangerous for that period of time.  Since writing is about 5,000 years old, no signs have ever been that old before.  Our language, concepts and thought patterns change in just 700 years.  Look at Chaucer’s “Old English” and see how much it sounds like the dialogue on tv today. 
We are working on lengthening our reach across time but we are pretty limited so far.

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