Monday, April 6, 2009


In less than ten minutes, the 1977 short film "Powers of Ten" depicts the relative scale of things in the Universe using factors of ten. The film, made by Ray and Charles Eames, is an adaptation of the 1957 book Cosmic View by Kees Boeke.

It begins with a view from one meter above (100) of a man resting on a blanket. The camera then slowly zooms out to a view ten meters above (101) to show that the man is at a picnic in a park. The camera further pans to a view of 100 meters (102) to show that the picnic is taking place on Chicago's lakefront. Further on we see on the way the views of Lake Michigan, our earth, our solar system, the Milky Way… the zoom continuing to a view of 1024 meters - the size of the observable universe.

The camera then zooms back to the man's hand and moves on to zoom into views of negative powers of ten -10−1 m (10 centimeters), and so forth. The zoom moves the range from the surface of the skin to the inside right up to the proton in a carbon atom at 10−16 meter. The film thus travels two extreme extents of our universe.

However, the lessons from the film go beyond the attempt to understand the universe… they guide us on how to be better at understanding our situation. We need to travel the journey between the larger-picture and the smaller-picture to see ourselves and our situation from a perspective that moves from a wide-angle outlook to a deeper insight. It is only such perspectives that will help us comprehend the larger vision and the minute intricacies of the situation that surrounds us.

To BE BETTER at understanding our situation…
let’s learn to zoom to the powers of ten’s vision!

- Pravin K. Sabnis

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