650,000

Time is a funny thing. We usually measure a lifetime in years — to many of us, it seems not that many. But what about days? Or hours? Reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything in preparation for teaching (I know…A great comeback: “So, what do you teach?” “Umm, the history of everything…Nearly.”), I’m struck by what pop science can do to your brain. He reminds me of other popularizers, like Asimov (who may have been the best…) or Sagan (who may have been the best known…), figures only dimly recalled in his bibliography, who just had a knack for expressing the microcosm-macrocosm dichotomy that is our known universe. One of the ways they did this was with numbers. Scientific notation (exponents) is the standard, of course (i.e. 10 to the power of 23; or a number that looks like this — 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000), but there are others. Bryson stuns you right from the start with one his numbers — a human life (if you’re lucky…) is about 650,000 hours.

Think about that for a second. Or you can use one of your hours…

And that’s just the point. When you think of how easy it is to “waste” an hour, having that many to “get things done” doesn’t seem like a long time. Makes them appear more precious. Do you really want to use 24 of them watching a season of 24? If you’re me, the answer is no. For others, this may be just a light dusting of time. Till we’re dust…

Yet, thankfully, time doesn’t work that way. Bryson talks about the universe as something which grows out of timelessness and spacelessness (a singularity, they call it)…Our lives purportedly fit within that framework. Strangely, life, being the amazing thing that it is, doesn’t feel that way all the time. Or for some, ever.

Like Bergson said (will anybody pick up the torch?)…Time isn’t counting hours, time is lived.

That may not add up to you, but neither will the 650,000 hours.

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