On an autumn night at a local dive bar, a friend and I were having a discussion on the limited amount of life we have here on earth. I had recently finished reading Seneca’s “Dialogues and Essays”, in which he essentially claims that life is not actually short if you spend your time wisely. We found ourselves pondering this idea, and the conversation meandered into us considering if there is a limit to the amount of good that an individual can do during a lifetime. We concluded that since we are limited by ∼75 years of life, there is only so much we can accomplish for ourselves and those around us. 

The conversation then naturally shifted towards considering what our species would be capable of if we all worked together. The following thought experiment is a result of where this conversation went.

We are limited by our ~75 years of life on an individual level, but when we combine our lives with another person, the amount of time experienced doubles. For example, if I spent 10 years on a research project, I have completed 10 years of work. If a partner had joined me for those 10 years, we each would have contributed 10 years of our experience to the project, resulting in a cumulative 20 years of work. 

The take-home point: each person is given a certain amount of individual time on this planet. We each live our own lives, and that makes it easy to forget that every other person on this planet lives a separate one. Over one calendar year, you personally have lived one year, but so has every other individual on the planet. This means that in one calendar year, we experience ~7.5 billion years collectively (1 year for each earthling). Upon figuring this out, I figured it would be interesting to expand this concept to all humans who have ever lived.

Current estimates for the number of humans who have ever lived is ~108 billion. We can multiply this by the average lifespan of humans through history (~40 years) to obtain the approximate number of collective years that have been lived, through history. The result is 4.32 trillion years. Collectively, our species has lived over 300 times longer than the age of the universe. Today alone we will collectively experience over 20.6 million years of life. Just imagine what is possible if we all work together.

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