Edwin F. Kagin is a lawyer‑poet. He believes that, through grace and faith,
this will be a regular column and, if events are predestined, that whatever
he believes makes no difference whatsoever. He can be reached in care of
this publication, or through e‑mail at: email@example.com
Permission for non-profit reproduction is given, so long as credit is given,
so the villagers will not go after the wrong person with pitchforks and torches.
Edwin on Time, or
New Year’s Eve, 2007 Fades to New Year’s Day, 2008, or Vice Versa
Time like an ever-flowing stream
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten as a dream
Dies at the break of day. (Isaac Watts, 1719)
There once was a girl named Miss Bright,
Who could travel much faster than light.
She left one day,
In a relative way.
And returned the previous night. (Anon)
My brilliant, beautiful, and single (email available upon appropriate request) daughter Heather is, at this writing, in the People’s Republic of China. This frolic and detour logically follows my child’s previous adventures, which include, inter alia, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro on one occasion and chatting with the Buddhists of Katmandu on another. The fact of this sojourn is mentioned only to explain why I came to realize that while it is New Year’s Eve at Kagin Manor in Union, Kentucky, it is now New Years Day in the space-time that hopefully still contains my Heather.
Time, you see, is not a real thing. It is something we make up. This may well come as a stunning surprise to some readers, who may be equally amazed to learn that there are not really lines on the ground between Kentucky and Tennessee, such as are shown on maps. Nor are there really lines of latitude and longitude—concepts that are doubtless familiar to readers who went to school when geography was still taught. They are all imaginary constructs—things that we accept by agreement as true because it is useful for us to do so and permits things like permitting us to sail around the world rather than causing us to fall off of the edge of the earth.
It must be so, otherwise how could it be January 1, 2008 in what we used to call China (and that is what it is called on almost every widget now sold in Wal-Mart and such) and at the same time (pardon the expression) be December 31, 2007 in Union, Kentucky?
If one had a fast enough means of transport, and a car (and other needed details nit-picking critics will point out in this work instead of writing their own essay), one could in theory celebrate the coming of the New Year at midnight tonight in Union, and then go celebrate New Year with Natty Bumppo, County Lawyer, in Central Time, and then speed to Yuma, Arizona to do New Year’s with Lisa Clark, the repentant witch of Camp Quest, and from thence to the Pacific Time Zone where David Kong, Bart Metzler, and other Atheists will surely be celebrating the coming of 2008 in an excess of revelry an hour later. If they are there that is. If they are in another time zone, they will not have New Year happen when it should.
So what is time anyhow, if all of these places can be at the same time at different times?
Time has certainly not always been done the way we do it now. In ancient (from our perspective) times, literate, intelligent people broke the day into 24 hours, a custom we of course follow. However, the day was further divided into 12 hours for daylight and 12 hours for the dark. Yeah. So an hour of daylight would last longer in the summer than in the winter, and an hour of darkness would last longer in December than in June. And, except perhaps at the two annual equinoxes, hours of day and night would be of different objective lengths. But each hour would still be an hour. I reckon anyhow. So, if one were disposed to visit a brothel of Pompey, and if the services offered at such mercantile establishments went by the hour, a clever customer, at this time of the year, might well conclude that one could get more bang for the buck by visiting during one or more of the longer twelve evening hours rather than during the shorter daytime hours. The reverse would, in this hypothetical, apply in the summer months.
Problems of a more family friendly nature might have occurred in things like cooking. If, say, the cookbook (if any) said to bake the roast beast for two hours, the same beast might be more or less done depending on the time of year it was cooked and whether it was prepared in the day or in the evening.
Of course, the problem with clocks was epidemic. Some wit observed that there were more opinions on some hot issue than there were different times on the clocks of Rome. Making accurate clocks is one of the great obsessive compulsive achievements of human kind. The clock on my computer faithfully shows the date, changes the year more accurately than Time Square does, and even adjusts itself for that human invented phenomena “Daylight Savings Time.”
We don’t have to base time on the movement of the earth. We could base it on lots of other things, and maybe have years lasting for thousands of days or weeks that were over in only a few minutes. It all depends on just what system we either agree upon or have forced upon us. On point is the present system, with the year 2008 supposed to be 2008 years since the birth of Jesus, presumed-by-many-to-be the Christ. That is not accurate of course, even if there really was a Jesus. King Herod is known to have died in 4 BCE If the book of Matthew in the Bible is to be believed, and the Magi consulted with Herod about the child Jesus before visiting his house in Bethlehem, then Jesus could not have been born after the date of Herod’s death. Oh, well, a mystery of faith. More on point, someone picked the dates and, to make sure everyone was on roughly the same temporal page, the system was adopted. At least in places frequented by most of our ancestors. Others people’s ancestors followed different roads and days.
Our year 2008 will be year 4705 by the Chinese calendar (4706 according to a few astrological/zodiac opinions). The Chinese New Year is the second New Moon after the winter solstice. If this sounds silly, check out how the date for Easter is calculated.
2008 is, of course, also a Leap Year. This means that it has one more day, February 29th, than last year or next year, when the last day was, and will be, February 28th. It also means we have a Presidential Election (thank dog) and an Olympics this year. These are unrelated facts.
That is because, in 30 BCE, Julius Caesar’s successor Augustus changed the Egyptian calendar to make it as long as the Julian calendar by adding a day every four years. The Roman year did not start on January 1st as we know it should. Those Romans had the year begin on July 1st or on September 1st, depending on which century you are talking about.
Pope Gregory XIII replaced the Julian calendar, on February 23, 1582, with a revised one. His main motive was to make Easter more stable in holy calculations, and the “Gregorian calendar” is the one we use at our moment in history, despite the pantheon of non-Christian deities therein memorialized. Not all countries adopted this calendar at the same time, and this caused some interesting confusions. Shakespeare and Cervantes both died on April 23, 1616. But in “real” time (whatever that may “really” mean), Cervantes died ten days before Shakespeare died. That was because Cervantes died under the Gregorian calendar, while Shakespeare had the Julian calendar on the wall.
Here are a couple of things you can use to really impress some people. The Platonic Year (or Platonic Cycle), reflects the 25920 years of the precession of the equinoxes, and the Long Count calenda
r of the Maya marks a given day in time by counting the number of days that have gone by since August 11, 3114 BCE on the Gregorian calendar. I don’t have any idea why either. Yes, that is plagiarized information. Most information is.
Bruno is the unreasonably large English Mastiff that serves as the seminal mascot for Camp Quest. He is in the first line of defenses at Kagin Manor, standing guard against the terrorism of faith based initiatives, of whatever flavor, that might be hurled against it. This massive animal was born on February 12, 2000. February 12th is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln and of Charles Darwin, and February 2000 is four hundred years to the month after that great hero of our heritage, Giordano Bruno, was mercifully burned alive by the Christian Inquisition for saying the Earth went around the sun. Our Bruno’s full name is “Abraham Bruno Charles Darwin.” Just “Bruno,” or the “ABCD Dog,” for short. His four given names fit perfectly into the preassigned blocks and spaces on the American Kennel Club purebred dog registration form. Rarely has random chance been so clearly seen operating in our favor.
Bruno gets into this writing because, on February 12, 2008, he will be eight years old. And that means our Bruno is now an old dog. He has gray hairs on his muzzle, and he does not move as spryly as in his youth, displaying, despite his continued heart, and his bark that still makes the earth tremble, signs of advancing age, preferring nothing more than just lying around—a trait admittedly shared with certain human adolescents. Nevertheless, eight years old is old for his breed of dogkind. My grandson was born a month before Bruno, but he is still properly a child and will remain so until after well Bruno has gone the way of all dogs. Don’t seem fair to Bruno do it? Well, neither he nor I made the rules. Lots of dogs didn’t make it to eight. Even more potential dogs never even got born. Same is true for people. So don’t whine. Whatever is happening in your life more than likely beats the alternative.
The way we experience time is not the same for all events of our lives. You can prove this easily to yourself. Get something to measure exactly three minutes, like an egg timer. Then set the timer and have some attractive human of the opposite sex give you a nice hot oil massage for exactly three minutes. Then, get into a boxing ring with someone of about your same or greater skill level and vigorously box with them for exactly a three minute round, also precisely timed. Now, which experience seemed longer and which seemed to consume less time?
And if one twin stays on earth and the other twin goes off at a very fast clip from our planet and returns some years later, as we view time here, the twin on Earth will be much older that the twin who went off into space. Yes. It is true, and yes it has been proved.
Time is clearly not an absolute and time is clearly relative. Bruno almost certainly experiences time differently from humans. While Bruno, the retired Camp Quest mascot, is now old, a human born the very same day as Bruno will not be old enough to attend Camp Quest until February 12, 2008 CE (If you don’t know what BCE and CE, as used herein, mean, look it up—don’t have time or space to explain it just now). Whether Bruno feels as if he has lived as long as I feel I have lived is something that cannot be known, at least at this time in this dimension of this universe.
And during Bruno’s time in the flesh, we might wonder how many generations of gastrotriches have written their memoirs. And just how complex might such autobiographical ramblings be in their own terms? Gastrotriches have three day life cycles. Makes Bruno seem downright ancient.
Anyhow, it is time to stop for now. Don’t take life too seriously. You won’t get out of it alive anyway.
Happy New Year, Y’all!