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I’ve said it before (it’s buried in there) and this video emphasizes the point. We are not capable of easily comprehending big numbers. Our brains, our frames of reference, our entire life experience and the evolutionary path that led to us are all confined to a reality that seems to consist of around 4 orders of magnitude.

Most of us can easily grasp time in terms of days, weeks and years, but start to move over about 10 years and challenges begin to occur and events blur and merge or degrade. Around 25 years and it seems we are completely divorced from the person that we were over a generation ago. Around 100 years is the limit of true understanding for us. Beyond that, time becomes an intangible backdrop to history yet we can still seem to maintain some kind of understanding and relationship to it if for no other reason than we can still kind of relate to civilizations that have prospered within the 1,000 year time frame. After that, when folks begin to talk in numbers such as 10 thousand years or 1 million years we simply stop trying to grasp the oceans of time we are spanning and recoil into just working with numbers. These spans of time hold no personal relevance for us.

Distance is similar. For the whole of human history before the 20th century, nearly everybody lived, worked and died within tens of miles of ┬átheir birthplace. A travel-filled day might involve travel over single digit miles. Our conception of the earth (if we even deigned to consider such esoteric matters) was simply our village (homestead), some neighboring villages (maybe) and then everything else. This map is, while funny, is scarily accurate even today. It’s who and what we are.

Videos such as this can help put our egocentric view of the world into some perspective, but you will still not be able to fully grasp the true magnitude of what is being conveyed after about 4 or 5 orders of magnitude. This informs our view of reality. If we can admit that we have such a weakness with conceptualizing “big” and can be comfortable with that fact, imagine the impact that has when you don’t necessarily *have* to have the answer for everything right *now*….

A full description of this video is available here at the APOD site .

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