Monday, April 17, 2006

How long is a piece of string? Evolution and deep time

The timescales involved in cosmological, geological and evolutionary history are simply too immense to bear thinking about without the aid of some hard drugs. In his incomparable intervention into the field of popular science, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson asks us to stretch out our arms as far as possible, and to imagine that span as the entire history of the Earth:

On this scale [. . .] the distance from the fingertips of one hand to the wrist of the other is the Precambrian. All of complex life is in one hand, "and in a single stroke with a medium-grained nail file you could eradicate human history."
Via Larvatus Prodeo, here's a website that represents the timescales involved in evolutionary history graphically. "To print it," observes LP's Shaun Cronin, "you would need a piece of paper 138ft long."