The Evolution Jog
What happens if the timeline of evolution takes place over a 5k run?
Richard Dawkins said in The Selfish Gene that “the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the earth goes round the sun.” While this is true, the mechanics of evolution are much less intuitive than the mechanics of the earth orbiting the sun.
Even for those who fully accept the implications of the theory of evolution, it’s easy to look around at all the life on our planet and feel a general sense of disbelief that literally everything alive shares a common ancestor.
The unfortunate key to this disconnect is that human brains are quite bad at comprehending huge numbers, and the workings of evolution fits comfortably in the huge number category. We need analogies to help us understand concepts that are outside our normal experience. For example, I know our galaxy is unfathomably large, but it helped to learn that the size of the solar system compared to the entire Milky Way galaxy is similar to the size of my palm compared to the entire continental U.S.
For the timescales that evolution works on, it’s difficult to understand just how long 4.1 billion years is, which is the approximate amount of time that life has been evolving. This is obviously a LONG TIME, but how exactly did our planet become so incredibly diverse? How does an angler fish a mile deep in the ocean possibly have any family relationship with a sloth? How has there possibly been enough time to connect everything that has ever lived backwards to a single common ancestor? It’s hard to wrap your head around.
So in an effort to really feel the timescale of evolution, what if the entirety of evolution happened over a 5k (3.1 mile) jog?
The assumptions of the evolution jog
To make create this running analogy, I had to make a few assumptions about how fast you would be running and how many steps you would take over the total distance. Here are the choices I made for our a little jog:
- That the starting point of life was 4.1…