ViewPoint: Six and A Half Inches


By Peter Chow

Please hold the tittering and innuendos.

We’ve come a long way in measuring the space we live in.

Inches, feet, yards, meters, angstroms, arm-lengths, fathoms, exameters, parsecs, furlongs, leagues, mils, micromicrons, pearls, piks, roods, shackles, smoots, and twains are just a few of the quirky, eclectic terms we use to describe dimensions.

Indicators of our cleverness and diversity.

These dimensional quantifiers have taken our eyeballs to the edge of the known universe at the big end of the scale.

The radius of the observable universe is estimated to be about 46.5 billion light-years or 440 quintillion kilometers (one light-year is 9.46 trillion kilometres or 5.88 trillion miles and a quintillion is 10 to the power of 30).

They’ve allowed us to split atoms at the small end.

A typical virus particle is about 250 to 400 nanometers (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or 10^-9 m), and the typical atomic nucleus measures about 10^-14 m (0.00000000000001 m).

An atomic nucleus is almost as small to a virus as a virus is to us.

A proton is 0.87×10−15 m.

Currently, the smallest physical size scientists can measure with a particle accelerator is a quark, a subatomic particle 100,000 times smaller than a proton, or 5 x 10^-20 m. Accurate measurements of physical dimensions have enabled the design of marvelous things — cars, jets, rockets, skyscrapers, the Hubble Space Telescope, computers, and smartphones.

We have clean water, entertainment, air conditioning, and electric power at our fingertips.

But something has gone wrong in our world.

As clever as these scales of spatial dimensioning and the products of their application are, cleverness does not provide a de facto segue into “smartness”  or “goodness.’”

Where has it gotten us?

What have we achieved?

We can peer a billion-trillion miles into space but not see our neighbour’s descent into poverty.

We systematically relegate those that are different from us physically, mentally, economically, sexually, or emotionally to categories that negate social acceptance or understanding.

Even less-than-average homes have more amenities than the wealthiest castles of old yet thousands of people must make do with plastic tents on sidewalks and under overpasses.

We can instantly access the knowledge of people with multiple doctorates in any subject on our iPhones, yet a significant portion of us choose to believe charismatic loudmouths on radio and TV and social media spouting utter nonsense.

Our principal religious figure drove moneylenders from the temple, yet we have lived with a rapacious predatory economic system so long that most of us don’t even recognize it as such anymore.

We exhort pride in our nation, yet lawmakers bow at the feet of corporate CEOs, granting them their every wish in exchange for money in a sad dance of immorality and corruption.

How can our measurement system fix this?

What can we put a measuring tape on that tells us, “Here it is!!… We’re four dekameters short on empathy….We’re a couple klicks light on logic….a cubit too long on self-centeredness……and lacking several fathoms along the path to loving one another.”???

What magical dimension is going to point us in the right direction???

What spatial specification do we need to fix this sordid fugue our world has fallen into???

There are a few physical dimensions that are really important to mankind.

The 94,281,000 miles (plus or minus a few smoots) from the Earth to the Sun puts us in the Goldilocks zone, allowing water to exist in a liquid state rather than boil away as on Venus or remain forever frozen as on Mars.

This makes life on Earth possible.

The 7,917.5 mile diameter of the Earth is the major factor in the gravitational pull of our planet.

Most exoplanets (planets outside our Solar System) are larger, usually much larger, than Earth.

If our beloved planet was such, it is highly unlikely any space program could exist.

We would be forever constrained to the planet’s surface.

It would be too difficult to lift anything off the ground, much less into space.

While such dimensions are important to us, they are not relevant nor pertinent to the problem at hand.

Six and a half inches Is the most important dimension to mankind  in general.

Six and a half inches is the average distance between an adult human’s ears.

The brain has a volume of just 1200 cubic centimeters or, more prosaically, a third of a gallon.

It represents a space that is less explored than the cosmos.

The human brain consists of about 86 billion neurons and another 85 billion non-neuronal glial cells….. 456 trillion trillion atoms.

That is 460,000 times the number of stars in the universe.

The fastest supercomputer in the world can do about 55 quadrillion (one thousand trillion) floating operations per second.

It is thought the human brain is about 180 times faster.

It may not seem like that before your morning coffee.

This is the space we must thoroughly explore and understand.

We need this knowledge to discover the ideas needed to move forward as a civilization and as a species.

Instead of paying lip service to justice, equality, and freedom, we must use our brains to make these a reality rather than abstract notions.

If we fail in this regard, our civilization, and the environment and climate in which our civilization exists, will be torn asunder.

Out of the 300,000 year history of Homo sapiens, we, me and you, are at the most crucial and precious time of human existence.

What we do right now determines our fate as a species and as a civilization.

Humanity is hell-bent on proving that advanced civilisations have both the capability and propensity to wipe themselves, ourselves, out.

Whether it is nuclear weapons or the toxic environmental toll on the planet we inhabit, advanced civilisations seem to be doomed from the offset.

Our Humanity’s Future is not absolute nor pre-ordained and long term catastrophic climate change is a real existential threat to our species’ survival.

In the Search for Extra-Terrestial Intelligence (SETI), astronomers and cosmologists estimate that Extra-Terrestial Intelligent Civilizations only last 100–1000 years, only the briefest flashes of intelligent brilliance before they inevitably burn themselves out.

Tyrell:  “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy.   Look at you. You’re the prodigal son.   You’re quite a prize!”  (from the 1982 movie Bladerunner)

Our Industrial Civilization is already 200 years old;  our Electronic Civilization only 100 years old, our Digital Civilization only 40 years old..

Will Mankind become the symbol for Grand Experiments defeated by vice, greed, ignorance, and stupidity, to crumble into dust?

It depends.

Six and a half inches.


  1. Quite an interesting article and Peter Chow has added an extra kick to my morning coffee. Well worth the read and Worth bookmarking for future reading. It would take me a lifetime to research enough to compose such a view point article. Thank you.

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