John Green asks: How young is history?

Originally published at:


If you like this, you will probably like the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (I’ve recommended it here before).

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I like this video suggesting that we redo the year to 12,017, so we can include most of human history.

And to show you just how little time we have had on the planet:


Nuh-uh. 100 yards divided by 8,000 years means each yard is only 80 years. That’s easy to understand. :wink:


Love the vlog bros and their education videos, so well done and entertaining.


I guess college football IS good for something.


I love comparing time scales. As an astronomy enthusiast, I regularly point out the Andromeda Galaxy, which is around 2 million light years away, the furthest object that the human eye can see without any visual aides such as telescopes. It took the light, hitting your eye right now, over Two. Million. Years. to get here, right now. Wow, mind blowing, right?

But think about dinosaurs. They lived over sixty five million years ago. Now that is a long time, right? You bet!

But think about how long the reign of dinosaurs lasted: A Hundred. Million. Years. (Or was is two hundred million?) And compare that to how long humans have been on earth. What, a tenth of a million years?



The dinosaurs were around longer than the period of time that has passed since they were gone.

Or, to put it another way, when dinosaurs went extinct, our contemporary ancestor was approximately mouse-sized, and looked something like this:


I din’t come from no lemur. If I come from a lemur, why’s there still lemurs?

[mic drop]


In case of lemurgency?


Yes, but just remember how many years it took to domesticate dinosaurs.


John Green is great and our world is a better place because of him.


Not that I’m a fan of the current system, but that one doesn’t even solve most of the problems it claims to. It devalues subsistance and foraging societies, promotes the myth of progress, and still suggests human history is much shorter than it actually is.

If you really want to get around all this, you need something less anthropocentric. Of course, everything I can think of on those lines is really hard to nail the date on and produces unwieldily(?) large numbers.

Edit: Maybe add some standard cycles bigger than a year? Like, thousands, millions, and billions of years? Then just settle on a day around when the Earth cooled, or life began, as a zero point. So today could be, say, 4/100/2/17/1/19? Drop the bigger cycles when they’re obvious from context.

What is the “myth of progress”?

You have to start SOMEWHERE, and 12,000 years ago is about when humans started leaving their marks on the world with structures and agriculture. I think it is a good start because it is the start of activity that is largely uniquely human. Before that, foraging and hunter gathering wasn’t much different than what other animals do.

Yes, human history is even longer, but like you said it is really hard to even peg down when it starts. Evolution means we don’t have an exact day where - ta da - the first homosapian.

And the point was to update the calendar - not completely revise the way we measure time. We still need a year based calendar because so much of what we do is still governed by our lap around the sun.


The myth that things always get better over time. I think a couple of hours ago just showed us that they don’t.


Eh… how is that a myth? Sure, Rome fell, the Black Death, WWII, Skinny Jeans on guys, and now Trump. But those were bumps in the road. Overall things have gotten better on a global scale. Even areas that are in a bad state right now are generally still better off than they have been historically (there are, of course, exceptions).

Eventually there will probably be a plateau, and certainly there could be a cataclysm or something that results in a major set back - even a possible full on extinction event.

This is only a temporary setback

It’s a myth because plenty of people believe it’s true and that it happens as a matter of course - that, like evolution, society is always on an upward trajectory towards more enlightened, more free, etc. Positive changes, what we’d think of as progress, instead is the results of hard work by individuals coming together as communities, to push for positive change. The positive changes we’ve seen in the modern era (which, you can argue that’s over the era of industrialization, maybe, were the results of that work, not a natural progression. And while in some cases, there was positive change, that wasn’t true across the board in all places. The first line of his book Late Victorian Holocaust, Mike Davis said that (I’m paraphrasing, so forgive me) the golden age of victoria looked more like a funeral pyre from the global south. Much could be same of the view from African Americans at the same time and into the 20th century, which is known as the nadir of American race relations for a reason.

That’s one view of history, that argues it’s more complex, complicated, and less evolutionary and that nothing that happens is “natural”… it’s anti-teleological, in other words.

I probably can think of more to say, but I need to pick up the kiddo, who is definitely progress! :wink:


See my comments to @Mister44… we’ll see, I guess. Even if the next president is wonderful and perfect, that doesn’t mean it was natural or pre-ordained… just that it was worked for and brought into being.

We (as average citizens) are the ones who will have to do it. It’s certainly not the Republican Party, who created Trump, nor the Democratic Party, who rolls over for the Republicans.

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