Thee Incredible Weirdness of Being

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As this is the first post edition of the new year, now is as good a time as any to ruminate on time's many mysteries and machinations1. It would also be a good time to meditate on the mysteries of alcohol, but I am saving that for a little later.

Curiously enough, it is only in the last 150 years that we have begun to think scientifically about time as being the same as space. We have been doing it instinctively for years. For example, a year is completely a measure of space - when Earth (or indeed, any
other planet) orbits its sun once, that is termed a year. Similarly, one day is said to have passed when a planet spins once on its axis; the length of the day, however, changes depending on whether you are measuring the period of rotation relative to a local star or a number of distant ones. In our solar system, the sidereal day is about four minutes longer than the solar day.

Just to add to the confusion, a day is divided into 'day' and 'night.' However, the dividing lines between these two states changes from day to day and the changeover is so gradual that, unless we are inside and not looking out of a window, we simply do not notice
it until we start bumping into things. The line dividing day into day and night is fuzzier than the outer shell of an atom - and don't get me started on how electrons experience time.

To facilitate this fuzziness, the authorities devised a faeces-load of extra divisions, such as 'morning', 'noon', 'afternoon', 'evening', and 'midnight'. The delineation here is even fuzzier than that between day and night, since the changes are even more gradual and less dramatic than those already discussed. For this reason, increasing numbers of people are ignoring this tat altogether and, instead, measuring time the angles between two or three metal arrows, or the number of changes of a liquid crystal display. When asked for the time,
we do not say 'morning' or some such crap, but instead give a numerical code which does admittedly give a much more accurate account of how much the planet has rotated since a semi-arbitrary point than simply an arbitrary range of angles2.

Choosing January 1st as the start of a new year is not only arbitrary, but illogical. It would make much more sense to start in February, so that the first day of spring - Autumn to people in the southern hemisphere - would also be the first day of the year. Instead, we havea bizarre situation in which the year starts in the middle of winter3 and so we have to make it up at the end. The poet may see some special symmetry in the fact that we end in the same season we begin, but all I see is a crime against reason.

Once again, the ancients had us beaten. They started the year at a solstice or an equinox, when Earth is at a special position relative to the Sun. Either it was at its closest or its furthest distance. I propose we do the same. June 22nd, the summer/winter solstice, will be redesignated as January 1st, as this is the point at which Earth is furthest from the Sun. Divide the existing seasons as they exist in a spatial sense into two, creating an
eight-season year as Terry Pratchett imagined for Discworld. January 1st will be declared the first day of summer/winter, so that the seasons changeover will coincide with that of the year itself4. Important dates will be celebrated at the same configuration between Earth and the Sun so your birthday will be on a different day-name, but you will not lose any time between them. We would thus have a logical system of measuring time, which would
hopefully save a few headaches for some young children.

Until we meet again, my friend, this is Hussassan, signing off.

Thee Incredible Weirdness of Being Archive


06.01.05 Front Page

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1Damn alliteration...2In mathematics, a circle is defined as an infinite number of points, all equidistant from a common centre.
Infinity divided by any finite number is still infinity, so a 'morning' may theoretically contain infinity spatial and temporal points and therefore be infinitely long. Physics has recently said that this is poppycock and there are finite limits of smallness for space and
time. This also implies that by their definitions, e and π may not run to infinity decimal places after all.
3Or summer4Apologies to Australians for transplanting their new year into winter.

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