Tuesday, August 9, 2011

the delusion of time

we were recently talking about the silly concept of money and the value of physical objects. main conclusion: money doesn't exist. while we're on the subject of crazy things we take for granted, let me tell you a little story about the delusion of time.
once upon a time (*smirk*) humans did not keep track of hours or minutes or years. we noticed the seasons as the length of day and night changed and grew warm and cold. we worked with those seasons to gather and store what we needed. if something got done today instead of tomorrow it was no matter. when hungry, eat. when tired, sleep. you're a baby until you can walk. you're a child until you reach puberty. you're an elder when you can no longer work as hard as the rest of the tribe but have wisdom to impart instead. seems fairly sensible, doesn't it? time is relative to what you're doing and measured by the movement of the sun and the beating of your heart.
then we started noticing things like the patterns of the stars and started keeping track of years and noticing various cycles. in an effort to understand our world better, we started playing with math and star gazing and really neat theories. we figured out that each day is the same length even though there's more and less light in each depending on the time of year. we noticed the length of the cycle of the seasons and came to all kinds of fun ideas about how the universe was put together because of it. so far so good, these are all naturally occurring cycles, even if none of these are nice round numbers that would make for easy math.
now we start to diverge a bit from the rational. at some point we decided that years and moon phases were not fitting nicely together, math-wise, and we wanted to divide up years and months differently. we also decided we want to divide up the day into more then morning, afternoon, evening, and night. this is where i think we went terribly wrong.
humans have this strange and arrogant desire for control. we also have this notion that just because math makes sense to us as far as explaining things to each other (the whole point of it, btw), it must be a universal truth. because of this, we adjust either our notions of the world, or our systems, until we are sure we totally understand how everything works. if we understand and measure things we can control them, right? *smirk* and if we control them we can change them and we have, MWUAHAHA! ULTIMATE POWER!
so for a system that can make sense in our brains (although the math is...interesting), we divided the year into 12 months for some reason. this is close to the lunar cycles we used to follow, but 13 moons don't fit nicely into a year. 12 doesn't actually fit either but it's a little closer. it used to be 10 but that really made no sense. since the math doesn't work, the months are different lengths. instead of naming the months things like the cold moon and the planting moon and other such things, we named many of them arbitrarily after some dudes who used to have lots of power and various gods. once you name something after someone it must BELONG to them, right? so August(us) wants more days then Jun(ius) and Februalia gets totally shafted, etc. since it still doesn't work we have leap years which almost makes sense. i once tried to create a lunar calender but it was such a headache i have no idea how it used to work. i think it was mostly just that we used to be a little less control freakish and didn't try to reconcile the phases of the moon with the seasons of the year. the sun and moon are two separate entities with separate cycles of their own. why should the math relate to each other from where we stand on earth? i'd actually like to see a round calender with an outer ring for the moon name, then one inside for moon phase, then one for seasons closest to the center. each ring would turn independently...anyways
a bit of math that mostly makes sense is that 365 almost divides evenly into 7, so we have weeks. 4 weeks is almost a lunar cycle but doesn't relate mathematically to months which is why weeks start and stop more or less independently from them. perhaps they were doing this math before we came up with the decimal?
now that we have a silly little system to divide up the year, we feel the need to have more precise control of the day. "i'll meet you at mid-day at the oak tree" is terribly inefficient, you see. in an era before clocks, you had to get good at looking at the sun to determine what point in the day it was. if it's THAT big a deal to wait for someone or something for a little while then we have to track better and have a system we can all relate to. a day is a rotation of the earth. it's a fixed natural amount. we arbitrarily decided that we would divide the day into 24 units (yay for more strange math). enter sun dials. they're easy for people to understand and reasonably precise. at some point we then decided we needed much more control then that. if it makes any sense to divide a day into 24 hours, it must make the same kind of sense to divide an hour in 60 min and a min into 60 seconds. kinda reminds me of the craziness of imperial vs metric measurements.
besides being rather dumb math, the big problem with dividing this much, and making it such a part of our lives, is that we've become slaves to it. yes, it's useful for various science and explaining things to other people, but otherwise how important is it, really? if you have to wait for a friend who's ten min late, is it the end of the world? if you were ten min late to a job interview it would be considered a huge deal. in theory you're being disrespectful by making someone wait. in practice, we're really all being disrespectful to each-other by insisting that not only should every clock in the world be perfectly synchronized, but we should each be perfect at keeping to every bit of a schedule, with no room for real life to interfere.
when was the last time you watched the clock while making love? while sitting on the beach? while dancing to your favorite song? time that keeps close track holds us to an impossible standard. it sucks the joy out of life. it leaves us no room to breathe and remember that we are alive. do you hold your pets to this kind of standard? your garden? your infant? why are we so harsh to each-other?
once upon a time we woke up at dawn, regardless of what a clock would have said. we went to bed when we were tired. we ate when we were hungry. we planted when the ground thawed, we harvested when plants were full grown. we hunted when animals were plentiful or culled the herd when we needed meat for the winter more then we needed to feed all our animals during the cold months. we slept more in the winter because that is the time for renewal. you baked the bread until you could tell it was done. time should be measured by what is done in it.
keeping close track of time has given us many insights and allowed us to share a lot of knowledge with one another. it has also caused us an awful lot of harm. use it when it is needed, but for gods' sake cut each-other some slack! hours and minutes are a human-constructed notion. the important things are those you cannot measure. the times that stand still or rush by. this is where our souls live. this is relativity.

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