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Another brief history of time

Babylon Sisters - so sexagesimal

Other societies (like China) may have used time counting based on the number 60 (hence the 12yr cycle of their Zodiac), but the Babylonians made it famous with their 12 zodiac signs of the constellations. Here’s a hallucination of the prompt “sexy Babylonian woman with a clock”

Sexagesimal means based on 60. 360 degrees is what we use to describe circles (that’s 12 sections of 30 degrees) and since our experience of time is a circular/spiral of sorts, we also use 60 to define time. So there are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and then you know the rest. Interestingly, the Mayan calendar is also vaguely sexagesimal because a solar year is based on 360 days (which is 18 periods of 20 days) and they counted in units of 144,000 days (the long count or B’ak’tun or approximately 400 years), implying that 2012 was the end of the 13th b’ak’tun and implying the universe is only 5200 years old…but I am going a little Cliff Clavin so let’s get back to it….

But before we do, did you know that if you combine 12 Babylonian zodiac signs and 12 Chinese Zodiac signs, you get 144 different combined animals? Check it out for fun!

For everything..."turn, turn, turn"

If you think about it, life is so subjective and one minute we worship one god, and then the invaders come, and we worship another. It’s no wonder that people revered those who could accurately understand and predict the movements of celestial bodies and keep time. They seemed to know something more eternal and even those Mayans knew the planet’s wobble on a 26,000 year cycle accounting for the changing of the constellations of in the sky. See this blog about the “procession of the equinoxes” if you want to go full Cliff Clavin mode.

The key point is that time and the movements of everything seem to be circular as we experience them; but truth be told, we are really in a spiral, travelling solar system


Perpetual motion versus entropy


Why don’t orbits of the planets decay like other satellites?  Honestly, I’d love to know the answer!  

I had the honor of meeting and working with the late Harold Rosen, the leader of the team that invented the first geosynchronous satellite at Hughes. You can read about satellites here.

As for our own lived dogma, they tell us there is no such thing as a perpetual system like the solar system and that disorder or entropy is a fundamental concept. 

When we consider the mechanisms of aging I explain in my books, the notion of depletion and derangement of stem cell ecology seems a necessary and sufficient condition to explain why we are wind up clocks and not self-winding. We live with timebombs, not self-winding Rolexes inside our cellular DNA.

Time travelers need ships

I have loved watching film and TV shows about time travel but I don’t think it really would work so well because of the simple fact that our planet is moving really fast around the Milky Way and in the Solar System and the estimates of WHERE exactly to go would be much harder than the WHEN, in my opinion. You wouldn’t want to end up embedded in Earth’s core or a few miles out in space. 

So in my estimation, whatever space-time tunneling that would be required would require a self-powered vehicle that could safely transport in time AND space to a safe vicinity to avoid the risks of a rounding error turning you into a dead person.

Norse, or course

Of course, the Norse deities were the source of the names of our current days of the week owing to our historical roots in the English language and culture.

Here is an infographic:

But the real architect of the 7-day week is said to be Emperor Constantine, who declared Sunday a day of rest and worship. The Chinese are said to have adopted a seven day week around the same time in the 4th century CE.

Interestingly, the Islamic calendar is fully Lunar which is why Ramadan always changes.

In contrast, the Jewish and Chinese calendars were combined Lunar/Solar so they added a “leap month seven times in every 19 year cycle. The Jewish year is 5784 and the Chinese one is 4722. If you think about it, isn’t that far off the the Mayan estimation of how old the universe was at 5200.


I came to praise your calendar, not bury it

The reason today is February 29th (a leap year) is that Julius Caesar created the extra day every four years. That’s because the time it takes for the Earth to return to the same position looking out in space is currently 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 36 seconds. In 1582, Pope Gregory, modified the 11-minute-per-year error to just 26 seconds-per-year by adding a rule: when the year is divisible by 100 and not divisible by 400, then the leap year is skipped. This means by the year 4909, it will be off by only one day. 

What about the months?

Not surprisingly, given the Greco-Roman roots of Western Civilization, the names of the months also derive from that culture. Note that the original Roman calendar had only ten months and that is why OCT, NOV, and DEC (common number prefixes) were so named despite now being the 10th, 11th, and 12th.  I think we are getting a little Clavin-esque again.

How often do YOU think about the Roman Empire?

My previous two blogs were about Valentine’s day and Slavery and Saturnalia in the Roman Empire. Now that we are talking about time-keeping, I realize that every single day, our means of timekeeping are forcing us to think about it!

Interestingly, we could reinvent timekeeping with an old idea of THIRTEEN 28 day lunar months and a year day on December 29th, with an extra one every leap year. In this system, the day of the week would always coincide with a predictable day of the week! I’m all for it and we could rename the months after artist and scientists instead of dictators and imagined deities. 

The death of "Korean Age"

Growing up in a minimally Korean household, I was cognizant of the concept of “Korean age” which generally speaking, rounds up from 10 months to 1 year for gestational time served. That meant Koreans who used the international age since about 1962 were often used to and actually preferred their “Korean age which was 1-2 years older. Why? Because in that system you were born one year old and every January, EVERYONE got one year older. But why would people continue to use a system that made you seem older? Because in that culture, which is status-obsessed, older is better and associated with being treated with more respect.

On December 8th, 2022, the use of one’s Korean age was taken away by the lawmakers’ pens.

Unless you were a Korean person, you wouldn’t have known or cared but yes, this was actually a common practice.

What the Dickens?

If you’ve made it this far, I can’t help but pile on a full Cliff Clavin fact. Actually, “Dickens” was an expression for the devil even though it shares the name of the author of arguably one of the best opening paragraphs in literature from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. I think my ability to research this blog shows what a marvelous age we live in with a minimally-tainted version of every factoid at our fingertips. And yet so many of us fail to avail ourselves of the ability to do our own research.

Speak of the Devil

In other news, three days ago on Feb 26th, 2024, international financier and heir to the Rothchild banking dynasty allegedly died. Here he is posing with artist Maria Abramovic in front of work of art entitled “Satan Summoning His Legions” by Thomas Lawrence (1797).

I don’t believe in any deities like Janus for January, Thor for Thursday, or even Satan for the anti-Christ. As for non-theistic Satanists, it’s just another way to advance personal ambitions under the guise of a greater calling. It’s not money or a Satanic Cabal that controls the world, it is the absence of people acting from their intuition and sense of justice.

I think the planet revolves because of gravity although I wish someone would explain the lack of decay of the orbits of the planets. Maybe Jennifer Lopez is right and that it’s LOVE that makes the world go around?

And I don’t trust any authority to tell me what is right and wrong just because others entrust them. So what if you can predict seasons and make calendars?  That doesn’t make you a priest, just an astronomer with better equipment.

Although would-be historiographers point to an eighty-year cataclysmic cycle dating from this painting (the Napoleonic Wars when this painting was made, then the US Civil War, then WWII, and now), I prefer to think that every day, month, year, and generation as possessed of a new opportunity to create something better and more just. 

And I believe that these eschatological omens of doom are merely self-fulfilling prophecies by grifters intent on subjugating us through fear.

To Paraphrase Dickens:

It was the best of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the epoch of belief, it was the season of Light, it was the spring of hope, we had everything before us, we were all going direct to Heaven…”

 I guess it’s all in how you choose to read the signs.


Now that I think about it, the characters of Cliff Clavin from Cheers and even Winston Smith from 1984 don’t even make sense with all of the human experience in our pockets and constant government/corporate surveillance. I guess we are more in a slow-motion apocalypse forged from our own desires unless we are ever vigilant.

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