Logarithmic timeline

A logarithmic timeline is a timeline laid out according to a logarithmic scale. This necessarily implies a zero point and an infinity point, neither of which can be displayed. The most natural zero point is the Big Bang, looking forward, but the most common is the ever-changing present, looking backward. (Also possible is a zero point in the present, looking forward to the infinite future.)

The idea of presenting history logarithmically goes back at least to 1932, when John B. Sparks copyrighted his chart "Histomap of Evolution".[1] Around the same time it was also explored by the cyberneticist Heinz von Foerster, who used it to propose that memories naturally fade in an exponential manner. Logarithmic timelines have also been used in futures studies to justify the idea of a technological singularity.

A logarithmic scale enables events throughout time to be presented accurately, but enables more events to be included closer to one end. Sparks explained this by stating:

As we travel forward in geological time the more complex is the evolution of life forms and the more are the changes to be recorded. Further, the most recent periods of evolution hold the most interest for us. We need therefore increasingly more space for our outline the nearer we approach modern times, and the logarithmic scale fulfills just this condition without any break in the continuity.

Two examples of such timelines are shown below, while a more comprehensive version (similar to that of Sparks' "Histomap") can be found at Detailed logarithmic timeline.

Example of a forward-looking logarithmic timeline

In this table each row is defined in seconds after the Big Bang, with earliest at the top of the chart. (see Cosmological decade)

Seconds after Big Bang Period
10−45 to 10−40 Planck epoch
10−40 to 10−35
10−35 to 10−30 Grand unification epoch
10−30 to 10−25
10−25 to 10−20
10−20 to 10−15
10−15 to 10−10 Electroweak epoch
10−10 to 10−5
10−5 to 100 Hadron epoch
100 to 105 Lepton epoch
105 to 1010 Epoch of Nucleosynthesis
1010 to 1015 Epoch of Galaxies
1015 to 1020

The present time is approximately 4.3×1017 seconds after the Big Bang; the Sun and Earth formed about 2×1017 seconds after the Big Bang. 1020 seconds is 3 trillion years (3×1012 years) in the future.

Example of a backward-looking logarithmic timeline

In this table each row is defined in years ago, that is, years before the present date, with the most recent at the top of the chart. Each event is an occurrence of an observed or inferred process. (Note that the logarithmic scale never actually gets to zero.)

Years ago Period Event, invention or historical development
10−3 to 10−2 last 3 days See, for example, the content of Today's events, -1 day}}|Yesterday's and -2 days}}|the day before.
10−2 to 10−1 last 36 days See, for example, the content in Portal:Current events
10−1 to 100 last year Events in 2023
100 to 101 2012 onward Internet, biotechnology, nanotechnology, global warming, more...
101 to 102 20th century Car to spacecraft, nuclear power, antibiotics, electronics, totalitarianism, world wars, more...
102 to 103 1000 to 1900 Renaissance, printing press, Industrial Revolution, colonialism, firearms, steam engine, more...
103 to 104 Start of Holocene, 8000 BCE to CE 1000, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age Cities, empires, writing, wheel, civilization, religions, philosophy, more...
104 to 105 Pleistocene ends, Paleolithic ends, Mesolithic, beginning of Neolithic Ice Age, music, art, cave paintings, dance, tally stick, medicine, Neandertal extinction, Flores Man extinction, advanced Homo erectus sub-species extinction, Ice Age ends, domestication – agriculture and animal husbandry
105 to 106 Pleistocene, Paleolithic Humans (150 kya), language, spirituality
106 to 107 Pliocene, Paleolithic begins, Lower Paleolithic hunting-gathering, tools, fire
107 to 108 Late Cretaceous, Cenozoic Grasses, mammals, Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event
108 to 109 Paleozoic, Mesozoic Cambrian explosion of life, animals, flowering plants, Permian–Triassic extinction event
109 to 1.4×1010 Precambrian, cosmology Big Bang, Galaxy formation and evolution, Earth, life

References

1. Onion, Rebecca. "The Entire History of the World—Really, All of It—Distilled into a Single Gorgeous Chart". Slate. Archived from the original on 15 September 2013. Retrieved 5 September 2013.