Before we can explore time to any depth we must understand the concept of reference frames. A reference frame is a set of rules or measures that allows us to define an event or experience. Because time is a relative construct, it may be viewed from many perspectives and as a result may have many different definitions. Time exists differently for every individual, but it is through the sharing of experience that the group develops rules and understandings of the universe. As a result every culture has its own reference frame for time.
It would also be helpful to realize that time is something separate from the objects we use for measuring it. Time is a perceived rate of change and though a clock may tick away at regular intervals the clock is not time itself. And even with time acting as the backdrop for all movement in the universe, the movement itself is not time. Intangible... elusive... mankind has struggled to contain and control time from the moment we first saw its effect on the world around us and the long term effect it has on our bodies.
The main theme for tracking time requires a naturally occurring system of repetition and the dividing it up into usable sociological constructs. In looking for our place in the grand scheme of things, the sky has served as our clock and calendar from the very beginning of human consciousness. Ever watchful of changes, be it weather, phases of the moon or falling stars, humanity has looked to the heavens for answers to what is happening on Earth.
Unless your entire existence is spent in a cave or in the deepest trenches of the ocean, it is nearly impossible to ignore the presence of our closest star: the Sun. From it we derive the most basic and universal concept in the world, the period of sunlight and darkness that we call a day. A great portion life on our planet is regulated by the cycle of day and night. Insects, plants, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals... all creatures diurnal and nocturnal, utilize these periods light and dark for their survival.
Although it can be perceived just by looking at the sky, our understanding of the event has many interesting viewpoints. From today's perspective a day could be defined as one full rotation of the Earth taking up a period of twenty-four hours. However, it was not that long ago that it was viewed that the sun moved around the Earth. Even now we refer to "sunrise" and "sunset" even though we have rationalized that the sun is stationary.
The cycle of the day can basically be divided into quarters:
1. Noon (12:00pm)
2. Sunset (variable time due to seasonal change 6:00pm being the median)
3. Midnight (12:00am)
4. Sunrise (variable time due to seasonal change 6:00am being the median)
The period just before sunrise and just after sunset is known as twilight. During twilight there is time where there is a luminescence to the sky that casts no shadows. It is a time of transition from night to day or day to night and for this reason has a mystical significance to many cultures. The term “evening” has it origins with the ancient Hebrew culture for the twilight at sunset.
What comes first, day or night? By our current standards a day starts at or 24:00 hrs military time. But it is not uncommon for a day to begin with the sunrise. For the ancient Celts the day started with the setting sun.
Depending where you are on the globe your perception of the day can also be influenced by whatever time zone you may find yourself in (which can be considered its own reference frame). And how close you are to the equator or either of the poles will be determinative as to how much daylight you receive and the type of lifestyle you will live.
Although the night is considered as part of the twenty-four hour day, the separation of light from dark has embedded itself deeply in the human psyche. It is the only time when the greater universe is visable to the naked eye. Half of our existence is spent in the nighttime and if we are not sleeping, the star-filled sky and moonlit night become the setting for spiritual awakenings and communing with the unseen.
At night an entirely different ecological system wakens, creating a very different world from what is accustomed to us in our diurnal reality. Humans, being the adaptable creatures we are, are primarily diurnal in nature. Because we are mostly reliant upon vision for our survival, in the light depleted wilderness at night, we could easily fall prey to nocturnal predators. Our instincts shift to our secondary perceptions of hearing, touch, and smell for identifying any potential threats. Deprived of vision to anchor our reality, imagination takes over, filling the night with spirits and phantoms. It is neither out of foolishness or superstition that humanity has taken this stand. In dealing with the unknown, we look deeper into ourselves to find the answers and often find enlightenment. There is no culture that is without a spiritual connection to the night.
Even with the advent of artificial light sources the night raises our awareness of hidden dangers imagined or real. And if you have a hard time believing this, just remember this article next time there is a blackout.
Second only to the sun, the moon has served as a wondrous timepiece through the ages. Always changing and yet maintaining a consistent cycle for all to see. Many cultures today still use a lunar calendar for tracking religious festivals and special events.
A lunar cycle or lunation is 29.5305879 days, which is the amount of time to go from one New Moon to the next New Moon.
The entire lunar cycle is as follows:
1. New Moon
2. Waxing Crescent Moon
3. Waxing Half Moon
4. Waxing Gibbous Moon
5. Full Moon
6. Waning Gibbous Moon
7. Waning Half Moon
8. Waning Crescent Moon
9. New Moon
Of course there is no reason why a lunation could not be measured from Full Moon to Full Moon or Half Moon to Half moon. It just seems that most cultures like to start with nothing and end with nothing.
Because a woman's menstrual cycle follows a similar time frame as a lunation and the symbolic imagery the moon phases represent as a pregnancy, the moon is looked upon as a feminine object by many cultures.
Although scientifically unproven, the Full Moon has statistically proven to influence human behavior with increased crime, violence, and hospital emergency visits. Ancient tales of lunacy and werewolves only add to its enigmatic power.
For many cultures it has taken a long time to figure out that a Solar Year is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds. On top of the inaccurate length in their Solar Year the tendency has been to it divide up by the moon's lunar cycle and before you know it the months are offset from the seasons within a single generation.
The problem is actually threefold, dealing with three random cosmic variables:
1. One complete rotation of the Earth
2. One complete Lunar Cycle
3. One complete orbit of Earth around the Sun
First of all, everything is measured in Days. We can't help it; it is too deeply engrained in how we think about time. Sure people talk about years as a measure, but if you ask them what a year is the answer will usually be 365.4 days, not one complete orbit of Earth around the Sun. So the length of time it takes Earth to complete a full rotation is our basic unit of measure for the other two parts of this equation.
Next comes the problem of the Moon. It has a lunation cycle of 29.5305879 days. And everything beyond the decimal point is not immediately visible to the casual viewer. So a month was originally thought to be 29 or 30 days long.
And finally comes the problem with Earth's orbit around the Sun being an approximately 365.4 day cycle. In order to create a dependable and consistent calendar year we have been struggling for ages to put the 29.5305879 day Lunation into 365.4 day Solar Year which gives us a result of 12.3736107536145597697362469373663 months in a year. If you go with 12 Lunations you get 354.3670548 days, which is 11.0329452 days short of a Solar Year. And if you go with 13 Lunations you get 383.8976427 days, which is 18.4976427 days over a Solar Year. This only goes to prove that the universe we perceive is about as orderly as muck stirred up at the bottom of a pond.
I don't know about you, but I have never seen decimal points used on any calendars. We prefer working with whole numbers whenever possible. Ultimately we are dealing with random cosmic phenomena and whole numbers are unlikely to occur naturally, so there must be adjustments made in order to create some consistency to our calendars. In dealing with the subtle layers of chaos of our universe, I think it is appropriate that many cultures had festivals or holidays with days out of time to make adjustments to their calendars.
The most significant part of the Solar Year is the transition of seasons. Depending on where you are in the world these transitions can mean very different things. Because the Earth is tilted on it axis, the Sun's light shifts its position as it travels along a band of the sky we call the ecliptic. The ecliptic gives the Sun the appearance of moving north and south at regular intervals throughout the year. This effect becomes more pronounced as you get closer to either of the poles. Beyond the
For the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of the globe there are four seasons:
1. Winter Solstice marks the southern most position the Sun and is located in the constellation of Capricorn (marking the Tropic of Capricorn). It is also the longest night of the year in the north and the longest day in the south.
2. Vernal Equinox marks when a day and night are of equal length in both hemispheres. In the northern hemisphere it is the beginning of Spring and the start of warmer weather. In the southern hemisphere it is the beginning cooler weather.
3. Summer Solstice marks the northern most position the Sun is located in the constellation of Cancer (marking the Tropic of Cancer). It is also the longest day of the year in the north and the longest night in the south.
4. Autumnal Equinox marks when a day and night are of equal length in both hemispheres. In the northern hemisphere it is the beginning of Fall and the start of cooler weather. In the southern hemisphere it is the beginning warmer weather.
The closer you get to the Equator the more balanced the amount of sunlight you will receive. But because it is central to the warming of the oceans to the north or south it causes annual shifts in precipitation. Dry seasons, rainy seasons, and monsoon or hurricane seasons are what are normally tracked in sub-tropical regions. (see Egyptian Calendar)
Depending where you are on the globe, each culture will have different associations to the meaning of a season. Because a change in season indicates a change in the weather, it also lets us know when certain foods will be available. Our survival relies upon being able to accurately track the seasons and is essential for successful farming, hunting and gathering. Though a season is not a completely fixed concept is has been used for setting planting and harvesting for agrarian cultures. For animal husbandry it may mark a time for putting cattle out to pasture or a period when they may expect their herd to be in estrus or give birth. (see Celtic Calendar)
With the advancement of civilization it became necessary to for the ruling class to regulate the activities of its citizens. Work schedules had to be maintained along with tax collection and offerings to the elite hierarchy in order to maintain the infrastructure of society as a whole. However, a working class without leisure time can become depleted of energy and unstable, therefore days of rest had been established in order to improve productivity and circumvent revolts. And so the concept of the week was created. Typically the week was some sort of division of a month which was estimated to be somewhere between 28 and 31 days. For the ancient Egyptians a week was ten days and there were three to a month. For the ancient Romans there were eight days to a week (see Roman Calendarium) and there were about four to a month. The number seven has a mystical significance among many cultures and it was
The ancient Sumerians were the first to have a twenty-four hour day. It is unclear as how they tracked the hours of their day or why they chose to divide the day and night sky into twelve equal parts, however, their system of hours was later adopted by the Egyptians. It is known that the Egyptians tracked the hours of the day using obelisks. Nicknamed "Cleopatra's Needles", the obelisks acted as sundials. At night, the Egyptians tracked the hours by watching the movement of the stars. This system of hours has been handed down through the ages to the Greeks, Romans and eventually spread throughout
The long count system is common to all people and cultures, although it may take many forms. It consists of picking a piont in time and using a standardized unit, measuring backward or forward from that point. Currently, the standard units are seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, years, centuries, millenia, and aeons. Birthdays and aniversaries are both examples of using the year as a standard for the length of time passed for these significant events. Historians typically use years, centuries and millenia for establishing when an event has occured and its duration. Scientists of all professions may use any and all units of measurment to perform studies where the age of their subject is required.
Our survival relies deeply upon an understanding of our physical needs. In cases where a person or people become disconnected with their physical nature, the long-term depravation will result in poor health, death and/or extinction. In dealing with our physical nature, our bodies natural cycles also necessitate the use of time divisions.
Humanity's obsession with time is understandable. Of all the creatures on our planet we are the only ones (that we know of) that have a full awareness of the past, present, and future. From observations, we have seen that there are many creature that live almost completely in the present and react soully on instinct for reacting to changes in the environment.
With our expanded brain capacity, our memories allow us to recall how past events affected us and/or our environment. This knowlege has allowed us the opportunity to project our awareness into the future of probabilities and possibilities, making us a species capable of being proactive. The discipline of understanding cause and effect relationships has given us mastery of our environment unlike any other creature on our world. Every science and technology is based upon this knowlege, allowing us to understand the cause of past extinctions of other species and prepare for what it will take to survive into the future.
To see a more comprehensive listing of world calendars visit: http://www.timeanddate.com/