The goal of science is to help us make sense of what surrounds us, but it can also lead to mind-blowing moments that shake us to our very core. From history and timekeeping to biology and the human body, we often need to take a moment to reassess facts about the world. So enjoy this whirlwind tour of facts that might give you an existential crisis.
Time is confusing
Humans as a species tend to be focused on ourselves, so our sense of “time” and “history” is nebulous at best. We don’t exactly picture how events further in the past happened at different times. In general, we can’t keep everything in our mind in the right proportion.
If the whole history of our planet is compressed into a 12-hour period, Homo sapiens only show up at 11:59:58. And even this is not as indicative of time spans from the past. So let’s look at some examples. The T-rex lived closer in time to us than to the Stegosaurs. Cleopatra was closer to a Taylor Swift concert than to the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza. And on the subject of pyramids, when the first ones were built, woolly mammoths still roamed the Earth. Seriously! France was still executing people by guillotine when Star Wars came out.
And it’s not just that. We often feel like positive events in time are closer to us than they are, while bad events are far away. Laws allowing slavery in America are not something from the distant past. In fact, there are people alive today whose grandparents lived before the Civil War, such as the grandsons of President John Tyler. We also often think of the height of the space race as recent, but it has been 46 years since any human has actually left low-Earth orbit. We are but a blink in the cosmic clock.
Space is big
It’s not our fault that we are bad at grasping the reality of vast things. We are, after all, apes evolved to live in the Savannah. History is obviously wide and puzzling, but space is also quite complicated for us. We often fail to grasp just how big our planet is, let alone the cosmos. Around 71 percent of the surface of the Earth is covered in water and less than 5 percent is estimated to have been seen by human eyes.