I was lying in bed last night ruminating on my recent column, Time Is an Illusion – Lunchtime Doubly So. In particular, I was thinking of the dynamic, ever-changing displays on the Poodwaddle.com website showing births and deaths and the total population of the planet (7,222,691,563 when I checked just a moment ago, but let's round it down to 7 billion for the purposes of these discussions).
I know these counts are just a best-guess approximation based on what we know (and what we think we know), but I believe them to be close enough to the truth to make no difference. The "deaths" display is one that really sticks in my mind. As I get older, I become increasingly aware that one day I will be an element in that count (sad face).
Actually, while we're talking about this, EETimes member Paul Clayton added a comment to my original column pointing us at the Frequency page on xkcd.com. This really is awesome. I don't know who is in charge of xkcd, but he/she/it/they (see also my Gender-Neutral Prose blog) is/are absolutely amazing.
This particular Frequency image provides a real-time graphical display reflecting the frequency with which a variety of disparate things are occurring as we speak. These include such off-the-wall items as a typical heartbeat, a fire department putting out a fire in the USA, a member of the UK parliament flushing a toilet, and a Sagittarius named Amelia drinking a soda (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried).
But that's not what I wanted to talk to you about...
As I noted above, there are 7 billion-plus people on the planet Earth. I can't even wrap my brain around this. It scares me. Suppose we all had the same food to eat each day. Imagine 7 billion bananas being consumed for breakfast; 7 billion cups of coffee being quaffed during a mid-morning break; 7 billion cheese sandwiches being consumed at lunchtime; 7 billion chocolate cookies being nibbled in the afternoon; and 7 billion salmon fillets (along with, say, potatoes and peas) being scarfed for supper.
Of course, the above would be an idyllic situation -- the vast majority of people in the world should be so lucky -- I daren't even think about the number of children with empty stomachs, not knowing where their next meal is coming from. At the other end of the spectrum we have people who consume much more than their fair share. I'm embarrassed to tell you how many cups of coffee I drink a day, for example.
My mind is bouncing around from topic to topic like a Ping-Pong ball. Take a look at the following image, which is an artist's impression of what our galaxy, the Milky Way, looks like based on data gathered from a number of sources, including NASA's Spitzer infrared space telescope.
The Milky Way is about 100,000 light years in diameter. Our solar system is located in the Orion Spur approximately three fifths of the way from the galactic center. I don't know about you, but this sort of thing makes me feel really insignificant (in a magnificent sort of way, of course).
The thing is that by one path or another (the human brain is a strange and wonderful thing -- it's certainly one of my three favorite organs), all of this this reminded me of Alone in the Universe by John Gribbin (click here to see my review). Gribbin makes a very compelling case for the fact that we may well be alone (as an intelligent, technological race) in the universe.
If we truly are the only intelligent, technological race in the universe, it would behoove us to take good care of each other and of the planet we call home. All I'm saying is that munching our way through 7 billion metaphorical bananas (they're the tastiest ones) a day is quite possibly not the best way to do this. What do you think?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting