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Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.
September 14, 2013 8:23 PM   Subscribe


 
Neat! I was startled by how long a 30-year lifespan remained visible in the zoom-out. It doesn't become really insignificant in terms of visual real estate until you get the bar representing the Common Era. This really drives home how the entirety of recorded human history is a rather "recent" thing.
posted by treepour at 8:41 PM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


...the ever-foolish Stegosaurus...

That made me chuckle on the inside.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 8:46 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always liked those rhetorical juxtapositions of the present, some time in the past, and some time in the yet more distant past - "Fifty years ago, JFK was assassinated; fifty years before that, in a different world, Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated." - and this is that, but on an unfathomable scale. My spine tingles to see how short is the period of recorded history compared to that of behavioral modernity.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:54 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see one with President John Tyler's grandkids.
posted by themanwho at 8:55 PM on September 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh man, every chart blows your mind a little bit as you scroll down. "European Colonization of the Americas" just illustrated something I knew by the numbers but never appreciated really. If I was a teacher and did history I would love to start off by letting kids explore this site for a little bit.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:59 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


(No, I don't think F-bombs are bad for kids :P )
posted by Drinky Die at 9:01 PM on September 14, 2013


Stegosaurus aside, the thing that really blows my mind is how long behaviorally modern humans were around without writing things down and then how long anatomically modern humans were running around but not talking or doing any of the stuff we think of humans as doing. Mind blown.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 9:03 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Stegosaurus aside, the thing that really blows my mind is how long behaviorally modern humans were around without writing things down and then how long anatomically modern humans were running around but not talking or doing any of the stuff we think of humans as doing. Mind blown.
That's just because the ancient aliens made our iPads out of electrically conductive papier-mâché, and they have all long since biodegraded.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:06 PM on September 14, 2013


Last year my son's 4th grade class had to dress up for "Celebrate Virginia" day and while googling costume ideas at 10pm the night before I found reproductions of Jamestown settler armor - pot-helms and iron breastplates and pikestaffs. It hadn't hit me until that moment that the first English people to over here were pretty darn close to the middle ages.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:08 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


8 billion years = time until we're fucked?

One can only hope!
posted by BlueHorse at 9:11 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


What's funny about the Jamestown thing is that St. Augustine was founded more than 40 years prior.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:18 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love this sort of stuff because it calls into sharp respect the different ways in which we conceptualize time --- and how some people just cannot visualize it whatsoever. I have been trying to illustrate how I see chunks of time ever since I was really little because it's this weird hybrid of a grid-like calendar... but in 3 or 4D... and something else I can't put into words or pictures yet. I see it sort of like a bunch of nesting dolls that expand and collapse depending on what I'm focusing on in a moment. I'd love to be able to draw what I see when I think about what a year looks like, or what a decade is. It's all bundles of something ephemeral and it brings my mind a lot of peace to compartmentalize it all, even if it is a human construction. What's funny is I have an even harder time conceptualizing how time zones work -- I can only operate within my own time zone and it freaks me out to consider that stuff is going on RIGHT NOW but at a different time of day or night, thereby making it seem "later" or "earlier" than my own relative "now". I mean like WHAAAA?? Soooo bizarre.

Ugh. Guys. Time continuum feels. They break my brain so hard.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:42 PM on September 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


And I thought it took a long time to read all the way to the bottom of the page...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 9:55 PM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


So what you're telling me is that it doesn't really matter if I have this cookie or not?
posted by The Whelk at 9:59 PM on September 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


We're a miracle!
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:00 PM on September 14, 2013


These Birds of a Feather, I wonder if you experience a type of spatial sequence or number form synesthesia? I also conceptualize units of time in this visual way, just like you described, and find it nearly impossible to comprehend how other people can function without it.
posted by datarose at 10:08 PM on September 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


This chart necessarily simplifies things a lot, but I think it would have been improved by at least a nod to the fact that most of these things are not as sharply delineated as the rectangles make it seem. Like how long anatomically modern humans have been around.

Also, I doubt that speech developed as recently as the chart indicates. Human language has its roots in animal communication, so we were probably speaking earlier than 50,000 years ago. Like so many other things, the development of speech was a gradient instead of a sharp change in color.

Good find. Thanks for sharing it, fings.
posted by Sleeper at 10:23 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh WOW, datarose, searching for number form synesthesia on Google Images gives me this and that is super close to what I see when I think about time and dates. It's like I have a mobius strip floating around my mind that is connected when I think about the current year but then breaks apart and becomes flat and infinite when I need to think about future time. Apparently this is called being able to see "Sequences in Physical Space". It is so gratifying to know that this is actually a thing!!!!!!!
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:31 PM on September 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ok ok this is what I see, this is exactly what I see!!!!

Sorry, this is a huge deal to me and I am kind of having my mind fall to pieces right now. :D
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:37 PM on September 14, 2013 [23 favorites]


These Brids of a feather,

Do you think/have you been made aware that you're most likely a synesthete? I'd love to hear more and am kinda hoping that we're all observing you just discovering this right now. Very exciting!

Even without that, this was a great post. Thanks, fings!
posted by graphnerd at 10:55 PM on September 14, 2013


This reminded me of Here Is Today .
posted by bearsdontstack at 10:58 PM on September 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


I remember commenting to a friend a few years back that we had both been part of the USA for fully 1/6 of its existence. It seemed fairly mind-boggling at the time. Back in 1976, when we were both little and the nation was 200 years old, that difference seemed unbridgeable. But 1/6 is a substantial chunk of a thing.
posted by baf at 10:59 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't want to derail the convo but yes, I had no idea that there are multiple forms of synesthesia but the definition of spatial-sequence synesthesia most definitely applies to me and personification a bit too. I have always looked at numbers on a clock or in pairs as having distinct personalities and regularly think, "Oh look, it's 11:58... 58 look so trepidatious, like it's just waiting to jump out of an airplane for its next skydiving session." I thought that was just me being weird -- turns out a whole bunch of other people are weird too. But it's just numbers and "time" for me. Letters and colors don't elicit anything like numbers and time do. But, now that I think of it, I do see a greater range of colors than most people and hear a greater range of sounds, too, so maybe all of this is interconnected.

Now what I'd really like to know is which alien race I actually belong to because all of this makes me think I'm some sort of Star Trek transplant and I'm really hoping I'm Vulcan because damn, I really want some pointy ears out of all of this.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:13 PM on September 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


That would be even more betterer in an extremely high resolution, so that we could still see the speck of now when zoomed way out.

Or maybe in vector graphics format. Because, y'know, the arrow of time and all that.
posted by jiawen at 11:31 PM on September 14, 2013


A Bad Catholic: "...the ever-foolish Stegosaurus...

That made me chuckle on the inside.
"

That's complete bullshit!
posted by barnacles at 11:44 PM on September 14, 2013


What blows my mind is that a 10 year old child could shake hands with a 90 year old, and ask him about his childhood. That 90 year old could have done the same when he was 10, and so on. You only need about 60 people to get back to before the Sumerians invented writing: that is, all recorded history back to the dawn of civilization. All 60 could all sit in a medium sized classroom. What stories each could tell. There's a book in there somewhere.
posted by EnterTheStory at 11:59 PM on September 14, 2013 [35 favorites]


These Birds of a Feather, I'm getting you one of these.
posted by orme at 12:28 AM on September 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


The first few graphics reinforce one of my personal theories about how we experience time: I think we experience time as a percentage of time lived. So, when you're a kid, summer lasts *forever*, and when I'm middle-aged, I find myself thinking "well, just recently .. wait, that was 10 years ago..." and "wait, wasn't it *just* Christmas? How can it be again?"
posted by rmd1023 at 4:43 AM on September 15, 2013 [15 favorites]


Someone sitting in the bleachers the last time the Cubs won the World Series could have been reading a newspaper article about the Ottoman Empire.
posted by theodolite at 5:05 AM on September 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ok ok this is what I see, this is exactly what I see!!!!

Sorry, this is a huge deal to me and I am kind of having my mind fall to pieces right now. :D


You should consider a career in Project Management.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:37 AM on September 15, 2013


searching for number form synesthesia on Google Images gives me this and that is super close to what I see when I think about time and dates.

I don't see time like this at all, but my girlfriend does and when I showed it to her she said, "wow, that's what I see! Oh, but is upside down. January should be here".

In the same way that you can't fathom people not seeing time, I can't comprehend that people have such a spatial relationship with it. Amazing.
posted by knapah at 5:41 AM on September 15, 2013


For the temporally imaginative, see also this recent and this other quite old AskMe thread.
posted by grog at 7:04 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is very cool.
posted by rtha at 7:42 AM on September 15, 2013


I thought this would be a link to Timecube. :(
posted by jet_manifesto at 7:50 AM on September 15, 2013


The bit of temporal trivia I've been enjoying lately is how sharks have existed essentially unchanged from their present form not just since before there were dinosaurs on land, but since before there was plant life on land! That's right, sharks predate moss, ferns and trees!
posted by furtive at 7:56 AM on September 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Correction: Sharks (455m years) are older than trees (385m years), but not plant life on land in general (470m years).
posted by furtive at 8:02 AM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember commenting to a friend a few years back that we had both been part of the USA for fully 1/6 of its existence. It seemed fairly mind-boggling at the time. Back in 1976, when we were both little and the nation was 200 years old, that difference seemed unbridgeable. But 1/6 is a substantial chunk of a thing.

Yeah, I am in the same boat (my arrival being a little short of 20% of the way back to 1776). It occasionally strikes me as dizzying that while I don't think of the USA as a very old country, Thomas Jefferson's foreign policy had to deal with the Holy Roman Empire, as well as Napoleon.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:16 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Very cool. Those who are interested in the whole issue of how we perceive or visualize time should check out Time warped: Unlocking the mysteries of time perception by Claudia Hammond, a really interesting overview of current psychological research on the subject.
posted by Kat Allison at 8:20 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think of the USA as a very old country

Depending on how you define "country", it is something of an old timer.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:22 AM on September 15, 2013


I've also noticed how short human history is compared to the the length of time we've supposedly been anatomically and behaviorally human. I think if you want to show a timeline of human progress, it's important to show it not just in terms of time, but in terms of man-hours. The number of people that existed before the start of human history is vanishingly small compared to the number afterwards.

If you were to weight these timelines by the number of people alive, I think we would find that the period since the industrial revolution has had more time contained in it than it took us to discover writing, because there were so fewer people available to make advances in writing. The bigger a population, the more far-sigma individuals it will contain.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 8:37 AM on September 15, 2013 [15 favorites]


Wow, what does a time-perception synesthete think of the theory of relativity? Inquiring minds.

What stories each could tell. There's a book in there somewhere.

Cloud Atlas?
posted by fungible at 8:52 AM on September 15, 2013


There is no codex for the phenomenon called synesthesia. It's very subjective.
posted by planetesimal at 9:56 AM on September 15, 2013


Not to impugn your worldliness, but I'm not seeing that suggested anywhere here. There is a loose typology of synesthetic responses.
posted by invitapriore at 10:29 AM on September 15, 2013


This was great - but needed, IMHO, a little more Neanderthal. The Neanderthals were hanging around Europe with their larger cranial cavities, fairly complex tools and more powerful physiques. They were doing this hanging for up to three times longer than homo sapiens have been around in total (and right through 150,000 years of ice age). Then 50,000 years ago we come strolling along out of Africa looking for some action and perhaps just 10,000 years later there are no Neanderthals any more. Meanwhile we apparently share up to 4% of our genome with them (which would be equivalent to having a Neanderthal as a great grandparent) - so we should not try to look too sweet and innocent at the inquest.
Wikipedia for all of the above lest you believe I am an expert in anything
posted by rongorongo at 12:35 PM on September 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Rongorongo, that is amazing. Just goes to show that we must be vastly superior to Neanderthals because we've come so far in crapping up the planet in such a short period of time.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:16 PM on September 15, 2013


This might help clear up the "CONFUSING" part before the "Life of the Universe" (or not):

Did a hyper-black hole spawn the Universe? Big Bang was mirage from collapsing higher-dimensional star, theorists propose.
posted by homunculus at 5:14 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a little callout box that says, "The beginning of writing around 3,500 BC marks the beginning of us knowing anything about what went on in history." I'll bet you two bog people they meant to say "recorded history".
posted by sneebler at 6:35 AM on September 16, 2013


This has got me thinking about the fact that I (and I'm assuming we? anyone??) visualize time progressing in different directions, depending on what scale of time I'm considering. For example, here is how I visualize things:

Cosmic time scale: ↻
Pre-historic time: ↑
Early historic time: ↑
Recent (19-21c) historic time: →
Years (i.e. my life): ↑ or → (flips around a lot)
Months: ↓
Weeks: ↓
Days: →
Hours: ↑
Minutes: ↑ (or ↻)
Seconds (or anything shorter): →

All of these are 2-dimensional conceptions. Some of them "make sense" insofar as they're related to the physical calendars or clocks or graphs that we use to track time, but it's still weird that the direction changes so often. The one common element for me seems to be that time can progress in any direction EXCEPT TO THE LEFT (and I hereby dub this the Zoolander Conception of Time). So These Birds of a Feather, your blocks of the week are causing me anxiety.
posted by Kabanos at 11:29 AM on September 16, 2013


And this is why the most important skill of a species intelligent enough to understand both their insignificance and their mortality is the capability for distraction. Because the facts of reality are just too intense.

Word.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 2:05 PM on September 16, 2013


"...the T-Rex is closer in time to seeing a Justin Bieber concert than seeing a live Stegosaurus."

How does *that* little factoid clench your bowels? Yeah, just *try* sleeping tonight.
posted by Zack_Replica at 5:14 PM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm fascinated by expanding timescales like this, so thanks for linking to it!

I also like setting a single lifespan against historical timescales, thus for a simple example, setting the 0 year 1900 years ago and using historical events and personal events -

Age Yr Event
0 AD 58 Born while Rome was under Nero.
2 AD 60 Nero. Revolt of Boudicca
5 AD 63 Nero. Start school.
10 AD 68 Death of Nero.
12 AD 70 Vespasian. Conquest of Jerusalem
18 AD 76 Vespasian. University
21 AD 79 Death of Vespasian; Titus. Eruption of Vesuvius. Adult.
23 AD 81 Death of Titus; Domitian.
28 AD 86 Domitian. Emigrate.
38 AD 96 Death of Domitian; Nerva.
40 AD 98 Death of Nerva; Trajan.

The problem with most history books is that the viewpoint is immortal and often compressed. A timeline like this shows their duration in real time.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 12:49 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]




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