Taking a step back to see the greater scheme of things….

The holidays have started and it is nearly Christmas. Now is a good time to take a step back and be reminded that it’s about making the most of the fleeting moments that we are lucky enough to be conscious of in the great lottery of the uni/multiverse.

I’ll start with a famous creation story by the environmentalist David Brower. He calculated that if the earth was only 6 days old, human beings would have only been around less than half a second before mid night on the last night. When I read things like that, as a parent, a history teacher and a human being, I am struck by how we are simultaneously insignificant and very powerful.

I am also including the first page of Bill Bryson’s masterful “A Short History of Nearly Everything”. He makes it very clear that we are nothing but star dust; I love it. We should all realise that our daily worries and stresses are insignificant in the greater scheme of things….

In David Brower’s scenario, Earth is created on Sunday at midnight. Life in the form of the first bacterial cells appears on Tuesday morning around 8:00am. For the next two and half days the microcosm evolves, and by Thursday at midnight it is fully established. On Friday around 4:00pm, the microorganisms invent sexual reproduction, and on Saturday, the last day of creation, all the visible forms of life evolve.

Around 1:30am on Saturday the first marine animals are formed, and by 9:30am the first plants come ashore. At 10 minutes before five in the afternoon the great reptiles appear, roam the earth in lush tropical forests for five hours and then suddenly die around 9:45pm.

Shortly before 10:00pm some tree-dwelling mammals in the tropics evolve into the first primates; an hour later some of those evolve into monkeys. Around 11:40pm the great apes appear.

Eight minutes before midnight the first Southern apes stand up and walk on two legs. The first human species, Homo habilis, appears four minutes before midnight, evolves into Homo erectus half a minute later and into archaic forms Homo sapiens 30 seconds before midnight.

The modern human species finally appears in Africa 11 seconds before midnight, and in Europe five seconds before midnight. Written human history begins around two-thirds of a second before midnight.

(From Fritjof Capra’s book “Web of Life”)

Another well-geo_clockown version is the clock representation:


Bill_bryson_a_short_historyFirst page of Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything“:

And congratulations.
I am delighted that you could make it.
Getting here wasn’t easy, I know.
In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.

To begin with, for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and curiously obliging manner to create you. It´s an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once. For the next many years these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, co-operative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally und appreciated state known as existence.

Why atoms take this trouble is a bit of a puzzle. Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level. For all their devoted attention, your atoms don´t actually care about you – indeed, they don´t even know that you are there. They are mindless particles, after all, and not even themselves alive. (It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.) Yet somehow for the period of your existence they will answer to a single rigid impulse: to keep you you.

The bad news is that atoms are fickle and their time of devotion is fleeting – fleeting indeed. Even a long human life adds up to only about 650.00 hours. And when that oddest milestone flashes into view, or at some other point thereabouts, for reasons unknown your atoms will close you down, then silently disassemble and go off to be other things. And that´s it for you…
Bill Bryson “A short history of nearly everything”