Friday, September 30, 2011

Inventing Time

I once mused about how we measure the passage of time. I may have done that here, I don't recall. Anyway, it intrigues me so I'm musing again. The divisions of time into manageable parcels is in some part a way of naming an observed phenomenon: a day for example contains both light and darkness in a cyclic pattern; a year, a pattern of seasonal changes; a lunar month, tracks the orbit of our favorite satellite. But we seem to need additional slices of time, slices that take steps away from that reality.

The gregorian, or western, calendar divides the year into twelve somewhat arbitrary segments that don't track the observable world. The division of the day into daylight and darkness apparently needed to be further divided, again somewhat arbitrarily, into twenty-four hours, an hour into sixty minutes, minutes into sixty seconds, and then the decimal system takes over to further divide time into infinitesimal pieces. Why did we need to do that?

However, the strangest of these arbitrary divisions is the week. The only rationale for the week being seven days long as far as I can determine, is the book of Genesis. If one needed to carve the year into chunks of days, why not five, which divides the year into seventy-three weeks rather than fifty-two with a day left over? Here's an interesting site to explore on the issue, if you're so inclined.

This is what happens when I wake up at 3:30.

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