TIME AS DISTANCE: A DRIVE FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE TO THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING
It is very difficult for all of us to conceptualize, and actually take in the depth of time that has led to the world in which we live. We can deal very directly with tens of years (the time of most of our direct family histories), and also fairly easily with the idea of hundreds of years (the depth of time of recorded history for many of our societies). The concept of many thousands of years back in the past stretches our capacity for most of us, for it takes us back much way beyond what is known as our societal history. When we get to the depth of millions of years, and tens and hundreds of millions of years, and then billions of years, it can be extremely difficult to get a firm grasp of that profound depth of time.
We have come up with a novel way of thinking about Deep Time compared to distance to help make the depth of time more understandable (at least for Americans!): A coast-to-coast drive across the continental United States is a convenient model for conceptualizing the time depth of the history of the universe. We have chosen the distance between two iconic American structures: from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the Empire State Building in New York City, a distance of about 2900 miles (this distance will equal the age of the universe, 13.7 billion years or 13,700 million years). Driving east from the Golden Gate Bridge (the Big Bang) towards the entrance to the Empire State Building (the present day), the major evolutionary events are matched below by the approximate location of well-known cities:
Time as Distance:
A Coast to Coast Trip in the U.S.
the Empire State Building
The Big Bang: 2900 miles from the Empire State Building (at the Golden Gate Bridge).
The Solar System & Earth: 974 miles from the Empire State Building (Des Moines, Iowa).
The Earliest Life: 741 miles from the Empire State Building (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign).
The Cambrian Explosion: 130 miles from the Empire State Building (Reading, Pennsylvania).
The Permian Extinction: 53 miles from the Empire State Building (Clinton, New Jersey).
The Dinosaur Extinction: 13.8 miles from the Empire State Building (Seton Hall, New Jersey).
The Earliest Hominins: 5,029 feet from the Empire State Building (Chelsea, Manhattan).
The First Homo sapiens: 179 feet from the Empire State Building (1 city block away).
The First Farmers: 11.2 feet from the Empire State Building (4 paces away).
Your Lifetime (80 years): One inch from the entrance to the Empire State Building.
Check out the GoogleMap: