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Say When...

Let’s face it. Time is on nobody’s side. Primitive Homo sapiens showed up 300,000 years ago. Physically, we haven’t changed for about 200,000 years. Our brain structure has been the same for about 100,000 years. So, pick a number for how long we’ve been around. For our thought experiment today, it doesn’t matter if you’re a young earther (believing the Earth to be only 6,000 years old). In fact, it’s convenient to work with smaller numbers, so let’s all get in the geological clown car for a moment.

Light travels 5.88 trillion miles per year. So, at a mere 35,280 trillion miles away, one might see the way Earth got started. The light from Earth’s birth is just reaching that distance, so the event is just blinking on from that vantage point. Think of it. From far enough away, we could witness the start of everything in our solar system, even the birth of our sun.

The real number is tremendously higher of course. The Earth is, in fact, 4.54 billion years old. But let’s not focus on that fact. Instead, think of the idea that distance makes our observation of time different. The idea of things happening at the same time starts to melt away. Our reality is so strange that things can only appear to happen at the same time. The reality is, almost nothing is perfectly simultaneous. The bigger the distance, the bigger our error is in judging what’s happening “at the same time”.

For us, it’s right now. A thousand light years away, an observer looking at us sees the year 1021; a glorious time when we still drilled holes in people’s skulls to release the demons making them ill. I’d rather be here and now. After a little thought, it’s obvious that someone from the other side of the universe, looking our way, might see giant lizards or a methane desert or some other inhospitable span of time. Our little blip of being civilized hasn’t reached very far into the cosmos.

To look up at night is to travel back in time, to the instant light left those stars. As far as we know, there’s no absolute timekeeper. Time belongs to nobody. A lot of people, myself included, can take comfort from the fact that, from the right distance, we’re 20 years younger. You’ll no doubt have to squint to see it. That gives new drama to the phrase, “Say when”.


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