Looking at Human History and Science Logarithmically

Just a Friday afternoon thought…

Our species emerged in our current anatomical state around 200,000 years ago.

Now, just a tenth of that time ago, we started detailed painting and creating quite sophisticated statues. We had also developed a whole range of stone age tools to assist our activities (including rediscovering the bow and arrow around 30,000).

Now, just a tenth of that time ago (100th of our time on Earth), Rome was in full swing, most of the modern day religions where developed or in their infancy. We were sailors, farmers, marketers, librarians, solders, majors, even plumbers among many other recognisable trades still worked to this day. We had cities, bustling with human activity. We had wine!

Now, just a tenth of that time ago (1000th of our time on Earth), the Age of Enlightenment was upon us. The birth of modern scientific investigation shaped how we understood the world and more importantly, how we interacted with it. The industrial revolution had the most profound impact on how and where we lived. The fights between traditional knowledge and new understand were legendary and some still persist to this day.

Now, just a tenth of that time ago (10,000th of our time on Earth), we have seen half a century of war, market booms and crashes and a number of cultural revolutions. The pop-culture became very strongly associated with a generation’s identity. The personal computer was found in most western schools and increasingly, it became an important device in every household. The internet had existed in military and academic groups for some time and was soon to emerge on a world stage and reshape the Age of Information.

Now, just a tenth of that time ago (100,000 of our time on Earth), personal computers were being out competed by pocket sized, touch screen tablets that could make full use of the world wide web almost anywhere, at any time and also provided video phone calls even more readily. Social networking became an integral part of the lives millions of people across the planet (in many cases, to the point of being a distraction) – so much so that it was possible to have a near complete virtual identity online.

When you look at human history through logarithmic snap shots like this, it becomes truly amazing what we have achieved in recent history.

If the birth of humanity was kilometre from where we stand today, Rome in its glory and the first notes that would become the New Testament  are only 10 metres away, the industrial revolution, barely over a metre away, the first personal computers on the market, around 10 centimetres away and your Ipod is still in your pocket.

This is all because of those breakthroughs that came about due to the Age of Enlightenment, where the thirst of understanding based on critical analysis of the available data allowed us to understand the basis of human health, engineering and more recently the natural world. From were we stand today, along the 1km line mentioned above, you could reach out with your hand to a time where ecology was some kooky and questionable spin-off from biology. Take a single step back along the line and a doctor would have treated your four humours, examining you with hands unwashed after visiting the toilet.

Science has dramatically changed our lives and in only a few generations. It has been dramatic, but slow enough in the normal human perspective to allow for an individual to take it for granted. We do this, or deliberately ignore what evidence we don’t like the sound of at our peril. By undermining scientific understanding and allowing frauds to obscure the truth, we risk blindly heading back down that path to more ignorant times.

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