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From now on, as long as there are human beings on this or any other heavenly body, humans will have a continuous, ever-extending history that traces itself back unbrokenly to our day now and our planet here. What is going to happen to all those people—what will they do—in unending time? How in the far, far future will they think of us now, who are so near the beginning of it all, and whom they will know a lot about if they choose to? How shall we appear to them in the light of all that will have happened between us and them, in a period many, many times as long as that between the dawn of civilisation and today?

(Ultimate questions, Bryan Magee) What does "that" refer to?

And I don't understand the use of "in a period many, many times" in the last sentence. Could you help me? Thanks

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    It mean 'the time period' – "many times as long as [the length of time] between the dawn of civilisation and today". In other words, much further into the future from today, than from today back into the known past. Aside: I do not agree with that paragraph: it's a "feel-good" idea that sort of congratulates us, but overlooks the uncertainly of what the future might bring. Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 15:04
  • Does this help: "in a period (which is) many, many times as long as..." ?
    – gotube
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 15:08
  • Maybe the confusion comes from the ambiguity of parsing (a period many, many times as long as that) as a single noun phrase, which would leaves the remaining (between the dawn of civilisation and today) being as an adjective phrase describing all that will have happened? When it is actually intended to be parsed as (many, many times as long as (that between the dawn of civilisation and today))
    – Wyck
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 14:42
  • When I saw this in HNQ I was sure that the Q was going to be meatloaf related Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 14:48

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Let's remove a few unnecessary bits to get:

A period many times as long as that between the dawn of civilisation and today

That stands in for period. So you could also say:

A period many times as long as the period between the dawn of civilisation and today

As a whole the phrase is a comparison between future humans looking at us and us looking at the first civilisations. It's saying that these humans will be further in the future than the first civilisations are in the past. (The first civilisations developed around 10,000 years ago, so if future humans exist in 50,000 years the period will be 5 times as long).

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