A Sense of Proportion

Consider this:

  • The light travels around 300,000 kilometers per second.
  • An actual beam of light would take only 1.25 seconds to reach the the Earth from the Moon.
  • From the Sun, which is more than 1.3 million kilometers away from the Earth, it would take about 8 minutes and 19 seconds.
  • What about the next closest star Alpha Centauri? It takes 4.3 years!
  • And the nearest large galaxy Andromeda? Two and a half million light years!

Can you comprehend how far Andromeda is from us? I can’t!

This reminds me of the Total Perspective Vortex, the most horrible torture device (from Douglas Adam’s hilarious book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy):

When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, “You are here.”

This devise was invented by a philosopher Trin Tagula just to annoy his wife who constantly nagged him about not having a “sense of proportion”. And the philosopher’s defense was:

In an infinite universe, the one thing sentient life cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.

To show her what ‘having a sense of proportion’ really means, Trin subjects his wife to the Vortex. Unfortunately, the shock (of realization) destroys her brain!

Such is the vastness of the infinite universe we live in!


Here’s a brilliant portrayal of the observable universe (click on the image below to enlarge) by my most favorite cartoonist Randal Munroe – the creator of XKCD:


Also read my earlier “A Sense of Scale” posts: 1, 2


2 responses to “A Sense of Proportion

  1. I’m glad I found your blog. Very refreshing. Will blogroll it.

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