staring into the abyss of deep time

I’ve been thinking about time. Minutes and hours, days and weeks and months, years and decades, these are the time scales that we as humans tend to encounter in the course of our days, and they are the scales on which we’re comfortable measuring time.

On the longer end, even centuries can become problematic for human memory. Currently, we have writing, paper on which to write, stone into which to carve, but we’ve had these for only a few thousand years. Before that, we had the stories we told ourselves around the fires that kept away the dark, and oral histories can drift.

Were I to have a wish that I could spend on myself, rather than one to use to heal the world, I would want to know the first stories we told ourselves around those fires. After all, the human history with fire goes back an exceptionally long time, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, and perhaps our history with stories does as well. And when I say we, I mean us and our hominid cousins, Neanderthals and Denisovans and whichever told the first stories.

I’ll admit that one reason I’m curious is something that I’ve speculated on before. Namely, can we, and to what extent can we, still detect the echoes of those original stories in our current stories. How persistent have themes of our stories been over the longer time scales.

But we can go back further still. Back the tens of millions of years to the dinosaurs and their extinction, or the billions of years to the beginnings of our solar system. And I will admit that these timescales baffle my imagination. Here, we don’t have stories of the sort we’re used to telling each other, but we are getting better at deciphering the stories that the Earth tells us.

One of the writing projects I’m working on takes place, in its current version, over tens of thousands of years, and I’ll admit that working through the details of the story is part of where this pondering about time comes from. There are great stories that I’ve read that deal with these long time scales, and so let’s see if we can do this idea justice.

~ by Jim Anderson on 28 February 2021.

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