- If I were a billion years old
By Holden Karnofsky 2 min read

If I were a billion years old

One way of summarizing what a lot of this blog is about: I’m trying to write as if I were a billion years old.

If I were a billion years old, a lot of today’s events would feel - not unimportant at all (every person’s life is a hugely important), but - predictably fleeting, the kind of thing I could be sure to forget about in the next million years or so, whether or not I should.

But not everything would feel this way.

I think I’d have felt something pretty durably important was happening when humans first started using tools, about 3 million years ago (which would feel to me like about 6 weeks ago).1 I mean, that would have felt like something quite new and unpredictable.

And then the population explosion of the Neolithic Revolution, about 12,000 years ago (so like 4 hours ago), followed by the rise of cities and states, would have been pretty wild.

But the Industrial Revolution - that would have made me freak the !@#$ out. Population went up about 10x, the skies filled with smoke (and then started to clear again in some places), the streets filled with cars and skyscrapers, planes started flying through the air and even dropped a couple of nuclear bombs, the first-ever spaceships left Earth, and people started building computers - the first new kind of high-capacity computing devices since brains.

All of this in the last few hundred years. So like a few minutes ago.

So here I am. I’ve been hanging out watching animals for about half my life (and being bored by plants and bacteria before that), tool-using humans for about 6 weeks, and … SO MUCH STUFF … for the last few minutes. I am now paying RAPT attention, and I’m furiously trying to figure out what comes next. I’m making charts of when the new kinds of brains are going to get as powerful as the old kinds of brains, and trying to understand trends in quality of life to get a handle on where it might be going next. Definitely honing my critical thinking skills and trying to figure out whom to trust.

And fine, also watching some great videos about sports. But mostly trying to stay focused on what matters most for the long run.

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  1. I’m 40, so I’m just multiplying numbers like this by (40/1,000,000,000) to get how they would feel to the 1,000,000,000-year-old version of me. If you enjoy this kind of thing, also check out the cosmic calendar

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