Sunday, February 14, 2010

What geology taught me about time

For a geologist the concept of time has a dual character: the time on the human scale, measured in years, months, hours, seconds, and the time on the geologic scale, measured in millions of years.   The beauty of this for me is that I do not completely partition the two scales; instead, because I deal with the time at the geologic scale as part of my profession, I am able to place the human scale in a different perspective.

The planet is about 4.6 billions year old, give or take; the first Homo Sapiens appeared only two (yes, that is 2!) millions year ago.  The recorded human history started only about 10,000 years ago.

If the age of our planet is scaled to the human scale, that would make the Earth ... let's say 80 years old (by using the average life span for people in the developed countries).  That means that the recorded human history started only about 2.5 hours ago, Homo Sapiens is almost 13 days old, and the dinosaurs became extinct only about a year ago (409 days).  (You can build your own geologic time scale metaphors here).

Placing events in a broader perspective is what geology taught me most.  Especially in a time when instant gratification is the norm, I know that focusing on the long term with a constant effort is what has the most impact.

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