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The Cosmic Calendar

From Nicholas Alchin, Theory of Knowledge, pg. 4-5



Suppose you took the whole history of the Universe and compressed it into one year (based on our
current estimates that the Universe is 15 billion years old; that the Earth is 4.55 billion years old; that
humans developed around 2 million years ago. These figures are controversial and almost certainly
wrong, but we dont know by how much! So take this example in the spirit in which it is meant.)

So now it is 12:00 pm on January 1
st
. The Universe began exactly one year ago. How long would we
have been around for? Lets examine the cosmic calendar.

Current theory suggests that our galaxy formed on May 1
st
. It took another four months, to September
9
th
, until our solar system appeared. A few days later, the Earth was formed, around September 14
th
.
After life begins on September 25
th
, it may seem like things are speeding up, but it then takes until
November 12
th
for the oldest photosynthetic plants to develop, and it isnt until December 1
st
that
there is a significant quantity of oxygen in the atmosphere. So for the first eight and a half months,
there was no Earth, and even then for another two and a half months there was no conceivable way for
humans, had they been around, to survive. But at least now we are beginning to approach human
history.

Although there was oxygen in the atmosphere, fish did not develop until December 19
th
; trees followed
soon after on 23 December, and the first dinosaurs turned up on December 24
th
. Mammals arrived on
December 26
th
, and had to live with the dinosaurs until December 28
th
when it seems that a massive
comet struck the Earth, causing major climatic change. The dinosaurs, unable to cope with this, died
out, and the age of the mammals started. Humans appeared on December 31
st
. All of human history,
therefore, happened on the last day of the year. Well, at least we have a day (remember that the
dinosaurs had four!). Or, do we?

In fact, probably not. Humans developed rather late in the day, around 10:50 p.m. Current belief is that
Peking Man first used fire in a controlled way at 11:46 p.m., and at 11:59 p.m. cave paintings started
being created in Europe. Things happen in a rush now, with agriculture transforming the human way
of life at 11:59:20, and the alphabet allowing detailed communication through generations with nine
seconds left in the year. The modern calendar began at the 11:59:56 with the birth of Christ. The great
Mayan civilizations and Chinese Sung Dynasty came and went at 11:59:58, and with one second
remaining in the day, the modern technological world was born with the Renaissance and Scientific
and Industrial Revolutions.

On the cosmic scale, therefore, it is only in the last fraction of a second, on the last day in the entire
year that anyone alive today has existed, that you were born.

Reflection Questions
1. What is humanitys place in the Universe? How likely is it that humans have found out any of the
profound truths about the Universe?
2. What are humankinds greatest successes? Failures?
3. Arent human beings terribly egotistical to think that we really know anything?