Thursday, July 3, 2008

Stephen Jay Gould on Deep Time

Stephen Jay Gould's book Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle is dominated by a grand theme:
Deep Time

In our age of computers, we talk of billions of years with nonchalance. The fact that we can compute these huge expanses of time fools us into believing that we can grasp them. But, is it so? Can we genuinely understand even, say, a period of mere 100 years? I would answer in the negative. Our entire life experience is confined to a few decades at best, and the age of our grandads is already mythology.

No, we cannot understand Deep Time, beyond a sense of awe. It is thus sobering to realize that this notion is quite new in the history of ideas. Only a few hundred years ago the world was young. Then, Deep Time appeared to hunt us forever.

We are not just microbes in space, our life is ephemeral in time as well. Let us never forget how ephemeral....


andrew said...

If Julian Barbour is right, time may be shallower, but our existences even more ephemeral.

Polymathicus said...

Yes, if Barbour is right, no question of Deep Time, in fact no question of time at all.

But still, even time were a gigantic illusion, what an illusion!

To dive into Deep Time is refreshing: it makes us very small, and THAT, my esteemed friend, is a good feeling