I’ve been bribing myself into studying and working out these past few weeks. For three weeks now, I’ve worked out 4 days a week, every week. Since Wednesday, I’ve spent at least an hour a day working on my French or Arabic vocabulary. My prize for working out is that I get to listen to as many podcasts as I like, for as long as I’m working out. For vocab, it is that I can watch as much TV as I want, as long as I am writing, and re-writing, and re-writing, my vocabulary while watching.
While working out last week, I listened to this TEDtalk from TEDxAmsterdam by the beautifully named Dr Wubbo Ockels. While Dr Ockels is more hubristic than I like my TEDtalkers, in the speech below he does make a compelling case that our perception of time is a function of our earth’s gravity. Though I don’t think he made this point explicitly, I took away that it would be better to measure the drops of our lives by something more constant than the hours whose length would appear completely arbitrary to an extraterrestrial.
Though our definition of the distance light travels is defined by a Julian year, thinking in terms of light years could be one step to changing how we experience time. That is how I got to the conclusion stated in the title: I am 1.29326996 × 10^14 miles old. That is, my 22 years of life was enough time for a burst of light to travel 1.29326996 × 10^14 miles*. This remains true whether I live in Pittsburgh, on Gliese_581_c, or on Kepler-11 (which The Economist thinks we should call Vulcan). Here is the talk:
Measuring my age in miles traveled by light is strangely attractive. To me, it strengthens the metaphor that my life is a journey, and while I may have shadows of objects in my way, I still continue to travel. Now, if we could find a unit of measurement which was non-Gaia centric, that would better prepare us to become universal citizens.
*The calculation goes:
1 light year = 9.4605284 × 1015 meters
22 light years = 2.08131625 × 1017 meters
2.08131625 × 1017 meters = 1.29326996 × 10^14 miles
So I am 1.29326996 × 10^14 miles old. For a point of reference, Gliese 581_c is around 20.3 light years away from earth. And a light year is the time it takes for light to travel from the Sun to Pluto 1600 times.
PS: a non-Gaia centric measure might be atomic half lives. As my Dad pointed out in an email, I’ve just passed my Actium era. If you want to find your non-Gaia-centric age, here’s a good list of half-lives.
“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”–Carl Sagan