Hubble Ultra Deep Field: “The nearest galaxies – the larger, brighter, well-defined spirals and ellipticals – thrived about 1 billion years ago, when the cosmos was 13 billion years old.” Source: HubbleSite.
By “time’s elusiveness,” I mean the phenomenon of how we experience it. We may put events on our Google Calendar and it may seem like we have a grasp of time, but the reality is that time is vast—more vast than we can wrap our brains around.
Consider the life of a gnat, which is often less than 24 hours. In contrast to the lifespan of a human, the gnat is not even a blip in our lives, nor would it be able to comprehend our scale of time. Likewise, we humans live a short 80 years, which may seem ancient to a five-year old, but is not even a blip on a cosmic scale. There are objects in deep space whose ages are in the billions; by the time the light carrying that image reaches earth, these objects might have long-ceased to exist. The human brain is not designed to fathom time on a cosmic scale.
Below I have three examples of time’s elusiveness. The first begins with something closer to our own experience of time and the last two explore time on a larger scale.
1) From birth to age 12 in 2 minutes
I first heard the following while listening to the Radiolab episode “Time” a while back (the whole episode is worth your time). This video is an audio time lapse of the first 12 years of a girl’s life. A lot can happen in 12 years.
2) Evolution explained using a 24-hour clock
Aside from the various theological reasons usually given, I think that evolution becomes difficult for some to accept because the human brain functions on small time scales (as in the first example above). Over billions of years, small changes in organism accumulate and capitalize on each other. Scientists often compare this to a 24-hour clock. If the history our planet’s 4.5 billion years was measured on a 24 hour clock, human beings wouldn’t even show up until the 11:58 p.m., meaning my life or yours is not even a blip in the life of the planet.
3) Continental Drift in 3 minutes
My last example, continental drift, is an example of great change over millions of years. In this video we get to see the tremendous facelift our planet can have if just given enough time.