Sunday, July 30, 2006

Fifty Lives

I was watching something on the Discovery Channel about ancient Egypt, on the rare occasion that something on that channel is actually educational, and I had something of an epiphany.

The whole of human history is effectively restricted to the last 5,000 or so years. Beyond that and not much was written down, so we don't know too much. If we say the lifetime of a human is 100 years, which is totally reasonable. We have centenarians jumping around like rabbits with a current human lifespan of 122 years.

There were also many famous historical figures who all lived to be near or over 90 throughout the whole of recorded history. One that comes immediately to mind is Michelangelo who lived to a hair under 89. So I think 100 years for the life of one human is a good number.

And now the thing that blows my mind, with a life of 100 years, the whole of human history of just 50 lifetimes. FIFTY. That's a totally palpable number. You can hold it. You can count it. You can grasp it. 5,000 years is such a large number it's barely understandable. It's like hearing how much money Bill Gates has. But fifty, fifty is an easy number. It's stunning to think everything we are can be wedged into just fifty lives.

It also reminds me of how little a distance we've come. Everything about us and our lives is so important to us, but if we were snuffed out tomorrow, it would be just another evolutionary fart in the geological history of the Earth. Just think, everything that defines our modern world was pretty much achieved in just the last lifetime. Let's go crazy, 1.5 lifetimes. Still, we have people alive now who have borne witness to all of the major achievements that now define our civilization.

The internet, the computer, sky scrapers, planes, cars, microwave dinners, digital watches, take-out Chinese. EVERYTHING in our hustle-and-bustle world is from the last 150 years. Yes, yes, the foundations for such a world were obviously laid down long before, but still, we don't define ourselves by the foundation, we define ourselves by the building.

Just fifty lifetimes. That's all we are.

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