A recent trip to the Salt Lake Museum of Natural History has got me pondering. If the following doesn't convince you of the message I'm trying to relay, this might do the trick. Either way, open the link and let the music be the background whilst you read. Background music? My blogging skills are on an exponential upswing.
If your brain is tired I suggest turning away, because this will probably kill it.
Conservatively, and assuming you don't believe in creationism (if you do, you disbelieve in dinosaurs and I don't like you anyway because dinosaurs are awesome), the earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago. According to the oldest known fossil record of a little ocean dwelling critter consisting only of a single cell (I call him Adam), it appears life was underway at least 3.8 billion years ago.
First of all, this would mean that the earth was lifeless for 700 million years. 700 million years - that's a whole lot of nothing for a really, really long time. The best data puts Homo sapien on the evolutionary map 500,000 years ago. So, the earth had no life whatsoever for 699,500,000 more years than the entire time humans have been around - but that's nothing.
Let's do some math. Life has been here for 3.8 billion years. We have been here for 500,000. 500,000/3.8 billion = 1/7600 = .01%. Humans have been happily inhabiting this planet for .01% of the time it has contained life. That is 1/100th of one percent of all life-time, ever. Let's scale this down to time periods we can fathom. Think about the next 45 minutes of your life, or the next 2.7 million milliseconds. One blink within that time lasts about 350 milliseconds. 350/2.7 million = 1/7714 = ...you guessed it... .01%. Whatever you experience in the next 45 minutes of your life is the entire time period of all life on earth. A single blink during that 45 minutes is humankind. A single blink. Blink once right now - you just went back in time 500,000 years and watched all of human history occur! Someone should let me know what people did with toasters before sliced bread was invented - it is still bugging me.
45 minutes from now, try making estimates, or summarizing if you will, the period that has just passed based solely off the time period during your one blink. Ignoring the fact your eyes are closed (I could find no way around this, so don't be a smart aleck), what would you 'see' during that blink? Is there even enough information to process during that time? Do you think you would miss some crucial aspects of the 45 minutes as a whole? I would think so.
Despite all this, we often deem ourselves omniscient. For example, we claim to understand the reasons behind our changing climate. But can we? We are now talking in terms of our lifetimes compared to earth's history. 500,000 years in 3.8 billion now becomes about 50 years in 4.5 billion (that's .000001%, or one blink in 4 days, if you're wondering). If I asked you what you've been up to the past 4 days, and you describe to me what happened during your one blink, I wouldn't feel as if I was getting the proper briefing. It's akin to explaining, with direct certainty, the culprit of 50 years of temperature change in 4.5 billion years of turbulent, shifting climate.
Imagining the complexity of our world, the human world, and all the intricacies that make our lives what they are, and then performing the math above, sort of makes you re-think things. We are literally a microscopic speck on the timeline of life. The earth is still warming up (no pun intended) to us as inhabitants. If a species is judged based off its extent of existence, we aren't even approaching the bench.
I'm not driving at any sort of social or political message here, I'm simply pointing out that things may seem apparent in our lifetime, but they often become trivial when put in perspective.
Everything is relative, except relativity itself. I made that up.