Relative importance

By Sean Carroll | August 10, 2005 10:17 pm

I want to say more about those rumored forces mentioned in JoAnne’s post, but tomorrow (Thurs) I’m giving a presentation on Time’s Arrow, and, ironically, I’m running out of time. The event itself should be great fun. It’s sponsored by the Illinois Humanities Council, and will be held at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I’ll talk about time in Einstein’s universe for half an hour, and then we’ll have responses from philosopher David Albert and artist Antonia Contro. Preposterous Universe readers will remember David from my report on a meeting last December. Antonia, in addition to being a talented artist, is the executive director of Marwen, a non-profit organization devoted to teaching disadvanaged youths about art. The moderator will be former Preposterous guest-blogger (and occasional radio host) Gretchen Helfrich, and I’m sure it will be a blast.

The event is sold out, but at some point it will be televised on the Illinois Channel (“like CSPAN for Illinois”). You can also check out two previous events in the Humanities Council’s celebration of the Einstein year: Peter Galison on Einstein and Poincare, and Janna Levin and Rocky Kolb on cosmology.

Here’s a teaser for my talk. How important is the notion of “time,” anyway? I did the obvious thing — I asked Google. So here is the number of search results returned when you search Google for various important concepts.

  • space:                   422,000,000 pages found
  • money:                 262,000,000 pages found
  • fun:                       173,000,000 pages found
  • love:                     170,000,000 pages found
  • sex:                       76,400,000 pages found
  • peace:                   89,900,000 pages found
  • war:                     179,000,000 pages found
  • harry potter:         20,900,000 pages found
  • time:                   972,000,000 pages found

Good news there about love vs. sex. Not so much about peace vs. war. But the important thing is, “time” kicks the rest of the concepts’ collective butts, with nearly a billion pages found. Yet another reason I should get a raise.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Arts, Philosophy, Science
  • Aaron

    Woohoo! “Space” beats “money” two to one! I hope they take this into consideration before the next round of NASA budget cuts. :) I’m extremely surprised, however, that “sex” bested “Harry Potter”! In any case, I look forward to watching your talk!

  • Ben Lillie

    OK Sean, if you’re going to use this argument, you do have to mention that the top entry for “time” is Tajikistan current local time. Perhaps this gives you some information on the direction of the arrow of time?

    Also, sex has been around for, I believe, over a billion years (someone who actually knows correct me on that), give Harry Potter time to catch up. :)

  • Athena

    Darn! Too bad the event is sold out, it sounds terrific and I would have enjoyed attending. Well, good luck and have fun!

  • Unrest

    By your count, I see you turned SafeSearch off for google. Cheeky bastard.

  • Alejandro Rivero

    A search restricted to .gov sites ( ) gives more or less the same order

    87,300,000 for time.
    35,300,000 for space.
    12,500,000 for money.
    10,800,000 for war.
    3,750,000 for sex.
    2,560,000 for peace.
    972,000 for love.
    964,000 for fun
    28,100 for harry potter

  • slanted tom

    Perhaps you have discovered a really useful way of judging the relative importance of concepts in our computer age.

    At the other end of the scale are combined concepts that generate one, two or no hits. Someone has written a book about such googling with one or two hits results and their creative usefulness.

    Someone else used “dumb engine” in a post, which I googled and found zero hits. I presumed it to mean the opposite of “intelligent design”. No surprise, this guy couldn’t explain to me what he meant.

  • Alejandro Rivero

    The traditional opposite of “intelligent design” is “blind watchmaker”, isn’t it? Or is it a term registered by Dawkins?

  • Christopher

    I thought the opposite of “intelligent design” was “Chrysler”

  • Alejandro Rivero

    Also “Audi”… I mean, I hate these ads where they speak of engineering for the masses and then in truth it is not possible to open the engine of the car nor to learn anything of its workings. Worse, people is getting used to; some months ago a friend come to show me his new card, I went down and I stood up behind the engine trunk, waiting for him to open it. He looked puzzled… is seems more people was only looking the interiors and the radio.

  • jimvj

    Doesn’t mass matter?

    Some day when the arrow of time is not so pointedly
    urgent, perhaps you could comment on this “explanation”
    of mass:


  • Sam Gralla

    Just a few minutes ago I discovered that an italian graduate student next to me did not know what a blog was. So, I decided to do a comparison for her:

    blog 139,000,000
    italy 152,000,000

    Drat! I was really hoping blog would win.

    (Incidentally: italia was 70 million. So I guess if we count funny-talkers too it is no contest. That’s a shame.)

  • Clifford

    And presumably you told her to drop everything and come to CosmicVariance, right?! -cvj

  • Jacques Distler

    Must be time-dependent. I get

    weblog 48,800,000
    blog 141,000,000

    Sum 189,800,000

    Italy 153,000,000
    Italia 28,800,000

    Sum 181,800,000

    The blogs have it, by 8 million votes.

  • Clifford

    Nice one, Jacques. :-) -cvj

  • Pingback: Stories about Nature | Cosmic Variance()

  • Aaron

    Well, Yahoo claims to have indexed more pages now, so let’s give them a try

    Blog 678M
    Weblog 165M

    Italy 344M
    Italia 212M

    Not looking good for the European country, here.

  • Michael Good

    Well, i guess “the” is the most important concept.

    “the” 3,450,000,000

  • Sean

    “The” is clearly the most important concept. Most telling of all is what actually comes up first on the google search.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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