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Homo sapiens have been around for a long time.  Our species dates back some 200,000 years, but here’s the reality check….  The earth is 4.56 billion years old, and quite simply, 99.9956% of the earth’s history took place without our species in it.  I’ll say that again: 99.9956% (yes, that’s the third place to the right of the decimal that finally isn’t a 9!) of the history of the planet took place before our species even existed.  Single-celled microbes ruled the earth 17,500 times longer than we’ve been around.  Ants have been doing their thing 600 times longer than our species has been stepping on them.  Even 93% of human history predates our species of Homo sapiens.  (The genus Homo emerged by 2.8 million years ago; by the time we arose 200,000 years ago Homo erectus, for example, had already been around for 2 million years!)  In the end our species is not unlike a butterfly, fluttering around for a few weeks and believing — innocently and naively — that the earth was made just for it… but we’ve existed for 1/22,835ths of the earth’s existence!  That amounts to one four-thousandths of a single percent of the planet’s history (0.004%).

To give this number some context…

  • If the earth were a house built 100 years ago then we moved in 38 hours ago.
  • If the earth’s history were laid out over the distance of a mile, our existence would measure 2.77 inches.
  • You’d be 63 years old before Homo sapien history would represent a whole day in your life.
  • If the history of the world were bundled into a sum of $10,000, our contribution to the total would be… 44 cents.
  • If you changed out that ten thousand bucks into its constituent one million pennies and stacked them all atop one another, your “One Million Penny Tower” would reach nearly one mile in altitude, and our place would be just the top two and-a-half inches. 
  • Taking into account a man of six-foot height, .004% would be about 80 micrometers, or roughly the thickness of a human hair.
  • If the earth’s history were converted to the word count of the 1424-page War and Peace, we would first appear on the last page, in its last paragraph, making up the final 25 words.  How about if the history of the earth were the Protestant Bible?  Instead of appearing in Genesis we would only appear in its last 33 words.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows?  The last 8 words of the book.  As Ron would say, bloody hell.
  • If the span of the planet’s history were laid out across the width of the continental USA, beginning at the Pacific, you would not encounter our species until the beach of the Atlantic.  Some 2680 miles and Homo sapien history would barely extend beyond the other coast’s low-tide beach, 620 feet.
  • The largest capacity football field in the United States is Michigan Stadium, with 107,601 seats.  If the number of seats were to represent the earth’s history, the history of our species would occupy 4 seats in the stadium.
  • If you were to pilot a time machine into the past at a speed of one million years an hour, you’d reach the beginning of our species in a brisk 12 minutes; it would take another 190 days to reach the beginning of the earth.  (And for that matter, an additional 381 days on top of that to reach the beginning of the universe!)
  • If the planet’s history were the height of the Eiffel Tower, we’d be half an inch.  The Statue of Liberty, ground-to-torch?  Four millimeters, only slightly more than its (2.5mm) copper coating.  The Empire State Building?  Two-thirds of an inch, the size of a separation between the granite slabs.
  • If the history of the earth were converted to the weight of one metric ton, the total weight of our species would be 43 grams — the weight of three empty 12 ounce aluminum soda cans, one empty two-liter plastic soda bottle, or 17 sugar cubes.
  • If we apply the same equations to speed… If the history of the earth were converted into the speed of a car speeding along at 75 mph, our history would represent 17 inches per hour… slower than a sun patch traverses the floor.
  • In a two hour movie, it’s seven frames of footage.
  • If the history of the earth were equated to the 24,901 mile circumference of the earth, Homo sapien history would be one single mile (1.09 mile, or 1.75 km).
  • Or how about this — look at your watch right now.  If the earth began exactly twenty four hours ago, count off the most recent three and-a-half seconds, and that’s it… that comprises the span of our species from beginning to the current day.  Three and-a-half seconds in twenty four hours.  And it’s only in the last second that Homo sapiens left Africa and invented Wal-Mart.  (I’m sure we’ve done other things too, but those were the first two to come to mind.)

For the record you can do this at home.  4.567 billion divided by 200,000 is 22,835; so just divide anything by 22,835 and that will provide you with the same .004%.  Example: There are 525,600 minutes in a year, divide that by 22,835 and you come up with a species (us) that has existed for 23 minutes in a 365-day year.

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