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Subject:  John McPhee's (et. al) metaphor on geologic time Date:  8/27/1999  10:33 AM
Author:  GabbyG Number:  8 of 186

“Consider the earth's history as the old measure of the English yard, the distance from the king's nose to the tip of his outstretched hand. One stroke of a nail file on his middle finger erases human history,” John McPhee, Basin and Range.

There are others that are almost as enjoyable. I like this one from Mark Twain;

“Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is, I dunno. If the Eiffel Tower were now representing the world's age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man's share of that age; and anybody would perceive that that skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would, I dunno.”

An intellectual understanding of geologic time (or “deep time” as McPhee coined in Basin and Range) is not that demanding. We all know how many zeroes to place after 10 to make a billion. But to get into the inner-workings of a billion years is impossible. We understand “deep time” only as a metaphor.

There is the geological mile metaphor with humans representing the last few inches. Or the metaphor based on a twelve-month calendar with homo sapiens appearing just before Auld Lang Syne. The geographic metaphor, when a snail is placed at the South Pole during the Cambrian Period is allowed to advance toward the North Pole and arrives now at the end of the Quaternary. Since biblical times, and probably before, people have used metaphors (or parables) to convey a difficult message.

I have long been trying to come up with the perfect investing metaphor that conveys all that is involved. I continue to be stuck between a rock and a hard place (are all geology puns as bad?). Any thoughts???


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