Isn’t it About Time?

by Dwayne Holmes

The year is 2016, and Evo Morales wants to alter time to free the people of Bolivia.

Well, sort of… In any case, I like what he’s up to and want a piece of that action.

Of course, if this is going to be a story of altered timelines, I should probably pick a better place to start.  Somewhere before the action begins.  Maybe I should start by answering a few basic questions like “What is the nature of time?” and “How the hell can someone change time?”

The answer to both is easy, time is — at heart — a social construct.

Let’s think about this. Even at its most objective and scientific, time is simply the defining of one sequence of events by comparing it to another sequence of events.  There is no true, universal baseline unit for quantifying one event’s passage into another.  So time is by necessity relative and arbitrary, beyond whatever use a certain set of events might have for an observer when choosing their baseline.

At its most subjective and ephemeral, time is what we use to define ourselves and the world around us. Or, since we are typically already socialized before we begin thinking about time, it is a cultural lens which refocuses and thereby shapes how we define ourselves and the world around us.  There are good times, bad times, times for work, times for play, sacred times, profane times, times to pretend you care about people you really hate, and times for them to pretend to care about you. The list goes on and on. There are no true, universal criteria by which to categorize any period of time.  It is, at any given moment — and even if we don’t realize it — up to us.

It’s the 1980s, and a book really gets me thinking: Eviatar Zerubavel’s Hidden Rhythms, a sociological account of how we experience time [1].  By 2016, it’s been decades since I read the book, so I can’t claim to remember much at all.  But I have to credit it for breaking me of my somewhat clinical way of viewing time and our relationship with it.  In the ‘80s it forced me to consider time as a social construct, a social phenomenon, or perhaps better said, a set of social habits.

This can be understood by looking at how we choose to arrange our days. Indeed, the very concept of a day itself involves our viewing our lives as part of a roughly circular cycle, based on the steady rhythm of a rising and setting sun.  If born on a planet which constantly faced its star or from which no star could be seen at all, everything could just as easily have been thought of as a linear progression, with no natural cycles.  Across most of the world, people have chosen to divide days into sub-cycles (called “hours”), with each sub-cycle placed into a linear progression to complete one “day” cycle.

Days are then fitted into progressive patterns of still larger cycles such as weeks, months, and years. While ultimately arbitrary, the larger cycles are usually based on some naturally recurring events such as phases of the moon, or positions of stars (including the sun).  Some cultures set years into still larger cycles, based on actual celestial or proposed “heavenly” events.  Across different societies time has been viewed as cycles within an open linear progression without end, cycles within a progression which comes to a full stop (nothing after), or cycles within grander cosmic cycles with no relevant progression.

All of these different ways of viewing time affect the way we interpret actions and events within our lives.

We are back in the year 2016, and Evo Morales wants none of it. Now that he mentions it, neither do I.  And as I’ve suggested, it is possible to break that system with the power of our minds alone.  So, he does.

The year is now 5524. Evo Morales has won (in this little bit of speculative fiction), and the Bolivian people have been freed from the oppression of an alien culture by breaking the psycho-social shackles of time itself [2]. How? How have the Bolivians managed to escape?  What does this freedom give them?

Well, they managed to escape, because it is not 2016. Like Tinkerbell, it is only 2016 if you believe 2016 exists.  And for Bolivians 2016 is bad news.  That particular set of progressive cycles refocuses social cognition such that the Bolivians appear a minor people stumbling late onto the stage of some grand timeline of some grander people.  However, from the perspective of 5524, the existence of the Bolivian people suddenly appears much deeper.  The time spent under the thumb of another culture is a mere fractional nuisance prior to the regaining of their freedom (and getting their own cultural progression back on track). This temporal-cognition-based freedom allows them to view their actions as independent from the concerns of others and meaningful within a context they can define.

Can they do that? Yes, they can.

Isn’t that dangerous?  You tell me.

Time has come undone. The year is now 5776 and 4349 and 1395 and 4653 and 1438 and so on [3].  This part isn’t speculative fiction.  Right now, people are living in these different time periods and it means something to them.  They are able to view themselves and their actions in a context that the year 2016 does not allow.  To someone fully socialized to believe in the year 2016, these may seem like hollow numbers, something meaningless… perhaps something humorous, like these people are clinging to a security blanket.  Grow up and get with the program, it is 2016.

Should it be?

We are in the past once more, around the mid to late 1990s (in the popular Western timeline).  The “millennium” is on the horizon and with Zerubavel’s social aspects of time working on me, I get a bit fed up with how bizarre our concept of time is.  How dysfunctional. The Gregorian calendar is a mess.

I won’t spend much time discussing its bizarrely uneven monthly cycles, except to note that we almost changed that early last century [4].  This opportunity was shot down by the US, based on a (supposed) problem that more practical, perennial calendars would pose for Christian religious practices. I guess I should also note that Evo Morales wants to change that too, breaking from the Gregorian calendar completely, with an easily understood and managed year of 13 months with 28 days each. But I don’t know that in the 1990s.

The bigger problem for me is the calendar’s bifurcation of human history. By placing the majority of human history before year one it manages to “cog-block” crucial periods of thought and development.  This is not an unintended bug, but a feature of the system.  The point of many dating systems has been to recognize a moment in time (often the rise to power of some leader), before which we need not concern ourselves. Everything prior to that moment being unimportant, not part of the progression, and cemented as such behind a temporal-cognitive wall that is year one of this or that dude’s reign.

Put more clinically, the Gregorian calendar hinders understanding of human history, by setting most of it in a category called B.C. (Before Christ), which requires different means of calculating their temporal relationship to all historical events labeled A.D. (Anno Domini).  What’s more, the fact that B.C. dates move in the opposite direction from those in the AD timeframe, creates an illusion of regression about them, like they grow less and less relevant.  The combined effect is anything but cognitively neutral.  It forces you to spend extra energy in order to place current events in context with much of human history. The Gregorian system does not want you to do that.  The intention is for you to define yourself and world events in the context of everything A.D., with everything else B.C. somewhat disjointed and out of place.

For many people in the Middle Ages, particularly where knowledge from ancient Greece and other civilizations was being suppressed, that makes sense.  But, in what I was taking to be the modern world, this makes no sense. Events around year one have no meaning to me, and after the Enlightenment (here I might begin with the Scottish Enlightenment), the most interesting things relative to which I would want to set current actions and events in “proper” context took place centuries to millennia before 1A.D. or more than a millennium after (when knowledge from ancient and non-Western civilizations enjoyed a resurgence in Western thought).

I felt particularly let down by scholars who tried to shed the religious connotations of the Gregorian dating system, while maintaining the system itself with flimsy changes to the post date abbreviations.  That is B.C. (Before Christ) became B.C.E. (Before Common Era), and A.D. (Anno Domini) became C.E. (Common Era), as if there was any relevant meaning to “Common Era” besides an oblique reference to the religious figure that the original abbreviations denoted. It is easy to tell what lies beneath that fig leaf, so why bother?  It doesn’t change the cognitive problem, which is our disconnect from the rest of human history.

So I set about finding an alternative dating system which (like Morales of 2016), I felt would break the temporal-cognitive shackles of a long irrelevant (arguably dead) culture still hobbling the modern mind.  To create a deeper, richer history with a secular (and arguably more pragmatic) context and more meaningful sense of progression.

The most obvious move was to adopt already existing dating systems that covered the entirety of the periods (and major events) I felt were important.  The Hebrew calendar seemed pretty good, especially as the Jewish people were part of Western culture already and practiced in using their system alongside the Gregorian calendar, with a downside that much of the calendar (besides the year) is complex [5].  The Chinese calendar was another appealing option, with the benefit of having many more adherents, but a downside of its being much more complex and not entirely settled on what year it actually is [6].  Of course, a common problem to all existing systems is that they are very different from Gregorian dates, requiring a larger cognitive “switch” to adopt.

In the end I created my own calendar systems, capitalizing on the fact that the millennium was coming and people would have to change things anyway.

I thought of two options.

The first was what I called an “historical” calendar, the idea behind which was to capture the emergence of written language (in one fashion or another), and thereby provide a reasonably direct and continuous historical record of human activity. All one would have to do is add 4000 to the current year, at the turn of the millennium, and so 2000 AD would became 6000.  This wouldn’t require much thought on anyone’s part, beyond remembering (when referring to previous dates) to add 4000.  And all dates prior to year 0 of this historical system would be called “pre-historical”.  If people needed post number abbreviations they could use H.E. (Historical Era) and P.H. (Pre-Historical).

The second was what I called a “civil” calendar, relating to the emergence of large scale civilizations from smaller, tribal communities. This is even easier.  Just add 10,000. So 2000 AD, becomes 12,000 CE (Civil Era).  No one would even notice the difference (we could leave off the 10,000 for most common transactions), except when studying history where all the previous B.C. stuff would become part of a continuous history.

I made historical charts, converting Gregorian dates to my historical and civil dates. It was a liberating experience that helped put things in better perspective … at least for myself. Unfortunately – obviously — I wasn’t able to sell either concept and so they eventually sank into the junk drawer of my mind. What a waste.

That is until 2016, when I read the article on Evo Morales’s intentions to change the calendar of Bolivia.  If Evo could pull this off, maybe others around the world were ready to make a temporal paradigm shift too.

Surprisingly, while researching dating systems for this essay, I found my ideas were not new.  Not by a long shot. My Historical system was already in use by the Freemasons [7]… not sure how I missed that. And my Civil system was proposed by the geoscientist Cesare Emiliani (in Nature of all places), just a few years before I made mine [8].  Emiliani linked his system explicitly to the Holocene epoch (calling it the Holocene Era (HE) and Holocene calendar), for roughly the same reason I chose the starting date for my system: the emergence of large scale human civilizations.  Apparently research has shifted the official starting date of the Holocene, making it problematic for Emiliani’s intended naming system, but it looks like proponents have merely shifted from Holocene Era to Human Era. “Civil Era” still sounds cool to me, and perhaps less egocentric than “Human Era,” but in this case I’d rather switch than fight.

I’m not sure whether to be encouraged that my ideas already existed and have some followers (even if small in number) or discouraged that these separate efforts also failed to catch on with the larger public.  In the heady spirit of potential Bolivian independence, I’m going to go with “encouraged.” Certainly times have changed since I drafted my historical charts.

Perhaps such a project would be of interest to the secular humanist, religious skeptic, and/or atheist communities, which have all grown in size and power since the 1990s.  At the very least this would seem to serve their interests, while providing a more concrete and so plausible goal than fighting religious belief.  In fact, while secular in theme, and facilitating secular thought, it wouldn’t have to be anti-religious. Many religions have their own dating systems that are different from the Gregorian calendar so it wouldn’t affect them, beyond granting relief at not having a Christian-themed system as the standard.  And Christians themselves would be freed from the factually dubious dating system currently hobbling the understanding of their own religion (religious scholars agree that Jesus, if real, was not born January 1, year 1).  About the only people this would pose a problem for are religious zealots, who think the earth is less than 10,000 years old.

Maybe the stars are right for this to finally happen.

We are in the present moment. Right now.

And I’m just going to set this idea right here… and see what happens.

Notes:

1) http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520056091

2) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-36595192

3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calendar_era

4) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Calendar

5) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_calendar

6) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_calendar

7) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anno_Lucis

8) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_calendar

Categories: Essay, Essays

37 Comments »

  1. Dwayne,

    While I agree the concept of time is a huge stumbling block to our intellectual evolution, devising another form of calendar is applying a new coat of paint to an old problem.
    We experience time as the infinitesimally precise point of the present moving from past to future and this process is at the basis of our individual memory, collective memory and from there, culture and civilization. Trying to account for it requires looking back through the lens of this experience and so we all do experience it differently.
    The reality though, is that time is a measure of the rate of change. The present doesn’t move, but the events come and go. Future becomes past. Tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth turns.
    It is a bit like trying to figure out how and why the sun and stars move across the sky with such precision, before realizing it is the earth turning.
    Every action is its own clock and every clock is its own action. That is why they run at different rates and still exist in the same present, whether cesium clocks at different altitudes, or the metabolism of different animals.
    If time were the present moving from past to future, you would think the faster clock would move into the future more rapidly and that does seem to be the case, in that creatures with faster metabolism will evolve more rapidly, as will faster paced societies. Yet the opposite is also true. They burn energy at a more rapid rate and age faster, consequently dying and falling into the past faster.
    Even the concept of spacetime incorporates this past to future paradigm, as it treats time as a measure of duration, thus from one event to the next and relates it to measures of distance. From our point of view, this seems logical, as we take time to move through space, but duration is the state of the present, as events form and dissolve. It doesn’t exist external to it.
    By assuming the measure of time is fundamental, physics can’t even explain why time only seems to go onto the future, yet as a measure of action, it should be kept in mind the most essential aspect of action is inertia. The earth turns one direction, not any other and that is why time only goes in the direction of the action. It is like wondering why the temperature increases when molecules move faster.
    As an effect of action, time has much more in common with temperature, than space. What is measured is otherwise known as frequency, while temperature is an effect of both frequency and amplitude.
    Which gets us back to the fact that faster actions burn energy quicker than a similar action/amplitude with a slower rate.
    So if you really want to impress humanity of the need for change, by changing the notion of time, then you need to make the argument that a faster rate of activity doesn’t automatically get you into the future faster, no matter how exact your calibrations, if you are only rushing around and destroying the planet.
    Ultimately civilization can only move as fast as its environment can recycle its waste, or it just rises and falls to accommodate this feedback cycle.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I would want to take a slightly different tack and fully embrace the implications of the idea that *all* calendars (and possible calendars) are arbitrary constructs or practical conventions. We use them for convenience.

    The danger of a project to switch from one figment of collective imagination to another is that the essential triviality and arbitrariness of it all is forgotten. It becomes (as with Evo Morales) a *cause*.

    My radical suggestion, then, is that we stick with the system we have. For those of us who are not Christian, the meaninglessness of it is a positive advantage. It helps us to see clearly that our system – like any other – is just a convenient (and arbitrary) convention. The only possible downside I can see in the current system (apart from the technical adjustments which have to be made occasionally) is for Christians for whom it is a sad reminder of another age. Then again, maybe they should not be concerned about the demise of *Christendom* (Christendom and Christianity being quite distinct concepts).

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  3. I would have thought that there were not many in the Middle Ages trying to suppress pre Christian knowledge, the attitude then was to recover and preserve thus knowledge.

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  4. Nice tongue-in-cheek piece.

    Mark English of course has got it right when he says we should:

    fully embrace the implications of the idea that *all* calendars (and possible calendars) are arbitrary constructs or practical conventions. We use them for convenience.

    and

    The danger of a project to switch from one figment of collective imagination to another is that the essential triviality and arbitrariness of it all is forgotten…My radical suggestion, then, is that we stick with the system we have.” Mark, that is radical!

    Back to the article:

    It doesn’t change the cognitive problem, which is our disconnect from the rest of human history.

    As an avid reader of history I see no disconnect, merely labels and these are easily assimilated. Studying history does after all take effort.

    alternative dating system which (like Morales of 2016), I felt would break the temporal-cognitive shackles of a long irrelevant (arguably dead) culture still hobbling the modern mind.

    Shackles, hobbling the modern mind? I have probed my mind, looking for the shackles, or at least evidence that my mind is hobbled. Nope, my mind is fully liberated, free to roam at will, to contemplate any idea, to explore any concept.

    Perhaps we should replace the word ‘shackles‘ with ‘resentments‘? After all you did say:

    …such a project would be of interest to the secular humanist, religious skeptic, and/or atheist communities, which have all grown in size and power since the 1990s. At the very least this would seem to serve their interests…

    More seriously though. At the dawn of cognition we developed the capacity to label and to categorize. Today we take this remarkable capacity for granted but it lies at the very heart of the way we conceive of the world and make sense of it. We are highly skilled at labelling and categorizing. We do it effortlessly and construct remarkably complex schemes of categorizing. The real world is a messy place and so our attempts at categorizing it are riddled with irregularities. We are used to this and adapt easily to it. After all the grammatical constructs of our language are the best example of this.

    Now there’s a place to start. If you really want to improve the world, try reforming the English language. But then should you succeed you will have destroyed the beauty of our language. And that is my final defence of our system. It is beautiful in its own arcane, historical way. Let us embrace beauty. It is after all one of the three transcendants, the True, The Good and the Beautiful.

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  5. Dwayne,
    You have failed to take account of the New Chronology of Fomenko and Illig and their theories of phantom time. Find articles on Wikipedia which chides with unconscious humour their over reliance on primary sources. You will learn that the Old Testament was written after the New.

    Fomenko claims that the most probable prototype of the historical Jesus was Andronikos I Komnenos (allegedly AD 1152 to 1185), the emperor of Byzantium, known for his failed reforms; his traits and deeds reflected in ‘biographies’ of many real and imaginary persons.[17] The historical Jesus is a composite figure and reflection of the Old-Testament prophet Elisha (850-800 BC?), Pope Gregory VII (1020?-1085), Saint Basil of Caesarea (330-379), and even Li Yuanhao (also known as Emperor Jingzong or “Son of Heaven” – emperor of Western Xia, who reigned in 1032–48), Euclides, Bacchus and Dionysius. Fomenko explains the seemingly vast differences in the biographies of these figures as resulting from difference in languages, points of view and time-frame of the authors of said accounts and biographies.

    I think that this is largely correct and besides the Bolivians would be better off adjusting their method of hat sizing which results in consistent bad fits.

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  6. Dwayne Holmes,

    Enjoyed, got me thinking

    Mark,

    “I would want to take a slightly different tack and fully embrace the implications of the idea that *all* calendars (and possible calendars) are arbitrary constructs or practical conventions. We use them for convenience.”

    I completely agree

    “My radical suggestion, then, is that we stick with the system we have. For those of us who are not Christian, the meaninglessness of it is a positive advantage.”

    We could go one step further, move year zero back to when the first ‘calendar’ was ever used, and we could change B.C. to mean Before the Calendar.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Brodix, interesting points.

    Perhaps if we wanted to…

    “impress humanity of the need for change [regarding our destruction of the planet], by changing the notion of time”

    …we should switch the current year to BC (before catastrophe) and begin counting down.

    🙂

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  8. Hi Mark, well in a way it is centered around a cause for me too, and I was certainly pitching it toward a few groups that could use it as part of their cause. So I’m not certain I’d take being attached to a cause as being negative.

    It is intriguing to think how holding onto the current system might highlight the subjectivity of time… but that does require people think about time in the first place. If people were actively considering which to go with and then selecting it for the reason you suggest it would be useful. A curiously subversive act.

    But most people just accept the hand they are dealt. In this case, the deck is stacked against putting much of human history in a coherent, continuous context.

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  9. Dwayne: Fascinating piece and very well written. A pleasure to read as well as to think about.

    As a Jew, one would think that I would resent the BC/AD way of dividing up history, but I do not. That’s because, without a doubt, modern Western Civilization is born out of Western Christendom, from the root sources of Jerusalem and Athens. To my mind, this is simply not contestable. And so the point at which BC turns into AD seems just about right, as it marks the point at which Greek and Hebraic civilization came together to create Christianity and with that, what we call “the West.”

    I also don’t see the dividing line that you see between the Middle Ages and Modernity. To my mind this is artificial and the result of popularized historical treatments of the Middle Ages. The Medievals were tremendously sophisticated thinkers, not just in theology, but in logic, mathematics, law, and even the sciences. And the early Moderns were as much medieval thinkers as they were modern ones — Descartes, in particular, comes to mind, here, as does Erasmus and Montaigne.

    So, I wonder whether, perhaps, your personal history with Christianity and feelings about it color your perception of the civilizational history a bit too much. As you know from the previous discussion, I too have my personal issues with Christianity and Christendom, given the people to whom I belong and our relationship with the Church, but I have so much of the history of the West and its ideas in my bones and blood that I find I am able to view Christianity’s contribution to our civilization through an objective lens, regardless. And not only is that contribution substantial, it is, in my view, determining.

    None of this, however, detracts from the essay. Indeed, it enhances it, in that it wouldn’t be the essay it is, without your particular slant. That’s what makes it so good and what makes disagreeing with it so productive.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Hi Robin, from my understanding there was an extensive period where pre- or non-Christian writings were suppressed. Of course some, that aligned with Christian doctrines was preserved and taught, but not all. Much was preserved by Islamic cultures and reintroduced/discovered later.

    ……….

    Hi Labnut, I explained how the BC/AD system can create a cognitive block. It does not stop one from thinking, but it makes things less than straightforward. I’m not sure how it can be debated that methodology is as simple as one single, continuous timeline. I can tell you that for me the bifurcated timeline did not make things easy for me.

    As far as suggesting a “resentment” I also explained that religious people, including most christians could be aided by this (as I pointed out some have called for it). And if you noticed I originally consider adopting the Hebrew calendar. I still think using their year system could be good. So this is not about religious bias.

    I guess I should make something clear about my essay. By a “dead” culture I meant the one where the calendar was created, not Christianity or religious culture. And by “dead” I meant in the way that we describe Latin as a “dead” language. The concepts and concerns of that time period are foreign to most people in modern cultures.

    But you are right that there are lots of discontinuities in life.

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  11. Hi Dan, thanks for the compliments! I actually was/am interested in how different cultures (including Judaism) view living with the current calendar system. Some people I knew seemed to resent it. Others didn’t seem to bother.

    I will reply in more detail tomorrow (or later tonight if I get the chance).

    Like

  12. dbholmes said:
    For many people in the Middle Ages, particularly where knowledge from ancient Greece and other civilizations was being suppressed

    and Dan-K replied:

    The Medievals were tremendously sophisticated thinkers, not just in theology, but in logic, mathematics, law, and even the sciences.

    I must agree with Dan-K. See especially this article:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Ages_(historiography)

    The historian of science Edward Grant writes that “If revolutionary rational thoughts were expressed [in the 18th century], they were made possible because of the long medieval tradition that established the use of reason as one of the most important of human activities”.[43] Furthermore, David Lindberg says that, contrary to common belief, “the late medieval scholar rarely experienced the coercive power of the church and would have regarded himself as free (particularly in the natural sciences) to follow reason and observation wherever they led”.[44]

    Lindberg and Ronald Numbers write: “There was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge [Earth’s] sphericity and even know its approximate circumference”.[50]

    The real turning point took place shortly before 1600 when the printing press spread across Europe. For the first time in history knowledge could be spread rapidly and inexpensively. This was the catalyst that launched the modern world.

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  13. dbholmes,
    And by “dead” I meant in the way that we describe Latin as a “dead” language.

    You need to be a little careful with such assertions.
    125,455 articles were published in Latin on the Wikipedia.

    By contrast 40,795 articles were published in Afrikaans, a language that I speak and love. It is most decidedly not dead.

    the temporal-cognitive shackles of a long irrelevant (arguably dead) culture still hobbling the modern mind.

    Hobbling the modern mind? The Graeco-Roman-Jewish origins of Western thought account for the pre-eminence of Western thought in the world today. Their ideas infuse modern thought, in the best possible way.

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  14. Labnut: I think by ‘dead language’ is meant a language that is no longer spoken as vernacular, by any given people. Of course, Latin is not literally dead in that it is still a liturgical language. Nonetheless, it is commonly listed as one of the “dead languages.”

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  15. It’s worth wondering why even bother having a category of “dead language.” There are languages that people still speak in daily life and languages that people do not. There are languages that are solely liturgical. And there are languages that are not used for anything anymore, other than historical scholarship.

    What’s interesting is that the status of a language can change. From the destruction of the Second Temple to the founding of the modern State of Israel, Hebrew was a liturgical language like Latin. But now it has become a vernacular language.

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  16. Dwayne,

    It does look like the reset button is about to get pushed in a big way. Though it seems most people are going to ride the status quo to the bitter end. I can’t say it doesn’t apply to me as well, but I happened to grow up much closer to nature than academia and seem to see a lot of things from a somewhat different point of view.

    As I said, I see thermodynamics as a more elemental aspect of how reality functions, than temporal narrative. We just happen to be in the path of a gathering storm.

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  17. Hey db,

    Two thoughts.

    First, there are already good anti-“Dark-Ages” comments here but I want to add a little more. Don’t know how much of this you know or don’t know but I’ll, so to say, enter it into the record. Greek was not being “suppressed” in the West. Written culture suffered a major decline from about 400-1000 for a lot of complicated reasons we don’t need to get into. In the East the everyday spoken and written tongue was Greek. Obviously Greek could not die out there. In addition those in the East had strong cultural reasons to want to hang on to Latin. We call them the Byzantine Empire but as far as they were concerned they were Roman. Giving up on Latin would have meant giving up on their own cultural past. Accordingly law and official documents continued to be written in Latin. There both languages survived. But in the West the spoken language was still predominantly Latin. In the classical world Greek had been a court language. Public oratory and legal proclamations were written in Latin and everyday interactions were conducted in Latin but letters between elites, poems and things of this sort were often written in Greek. (Think of how the nobles in Tolstoy speak French.) As civilian culture declined much of this disappeared. Accordingly the West “forgot” a lot of Greek culture and Greek texts. They began to reappear in the thirteenth century when they were reintroduced from Muslim cultures.

    On the second score, I find this preoccupation with the calendar as a little, well, if I am frank I would have to say creepy. It reminds me of how after the French Revolution certain parties tried to institute a “rational” ten month calendar. It reflects such a totalizing impulse. As though every detail of life has to be arranged to be ideologically correct. It weirds me out. Can we not live by the Gregorian calendar and choose not to be ruled by the worldview that made it? If anything I think the switch from BC/AD to BCE/CE was wrong not because it didn’t go far enough but because it started out at all. The mistake was to think we could not use BC/AD without falling under their ideological spell. To think they were some kind of threat to us. We should have just let them stay there and decide they didn’t mean what they used to. And they wouldn’t.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Possibly the “logical” calendar would be to always have the present moment as zero and just go +, or – from it.

    This though, points up the limits of logic, versus necessity, in that a functioning society needs some stable sense of order, even if it might be objectively arbitrary. Hence religions still hold their sway.
    The problem is reconciling these maps with the territories they try to define and the tendency of people to lose track of this dichotomy and treat the map as more real than the territory. Often due to social forces that are guided by the maps.

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  19. Dan-K,
    What’s interesting is that the status of a language can change. From the destruction of the Second Temple to the founding of the modern State of Israel, Hebrew was a liturgical language like Latin. But now it has become a vernacular language.

    That is a most astonishing fact. I can only shake my head in wonderment.

    dbholmes,
    The answer to both is easy, time is — at heart — a social construct.

    I wonder about this statement.
    We know the Universe was created 14.7 billion years ago(by God, by Pascal’s Demon or by Dawkins’ Demon).

    Imagine now that we have so greatly refined our scientific instruments that we can measure the age of the Universe to within one Planck unit of time, tP(greater precision is not possible). This would give a result of 8.08 × 10**60 tP for the age of the universe. This is a dimensionless number independent of any possible social construction.

    Such a calendar would have an exact starting point that all galactic and extra-galactic civilizations could agree on. Those that don’t agree we would simply extinguish, since they lacked the sophistication necessary for membership of the extra-galactic community. All local events would exist on an absolute, agreed scale. In this way we dodge all peculiarities of history, culture and politics.

    We would now have an absolute starting point, 0tP, and an absolute measure of time, tP that is independent of social construction, across all galaxies. Since all planets rotate around their star and all planets revolve on their own axis we would introduce local planetary constants for rotation and revolution(with suitable sub-divisions).

    But then our minds are simply not designed for handling such enormous numbers and inevitably we would look for a more recent starting point, an event of great significance. And what event could possibly be of greater significance than the date on which God chose to visit this planet in person? Some of you will think this is premature and we should wait for Dawkins’ death before we honour him in this way. But history is cruel and will quickly discard his memory so we should act now. We would restore the term AD – ‘After Dawkins’, to replace the unseemly term CE, or ‘Christian Era’.

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  20. Hi all, since several replies brought up the same issues I’m making a single reply referring to the issues and singling out specific authors where useful. I definitely read them all and appreciate the comments. As Dan suggests this may profit more in the journey than the destination.

    1) Religion & Me:

    This was not meant as an anti-religious screed. Yes it’s true I’ve had a rather bad relationship with the popular monotheistic faiths (though I grew up within and surrounded by one). That history certainly hasn’t helped me appreciate living “In the Year of our Lord, Jesus Christ” 2016.

    However, that is not the motivation behind my “cause” at all. I would have written the same essay if we were using “Year of our Lord, Diocletian”, which we may very well have been(Coptics still do) if some 5th century monk had not gotten all “creepy” and switched it to Jesus because he didn’t want counting years based on someone who persecuted Christians.

    I suppose an interesting question is if calendar reform proposals would have found more support if the years were still based on a roman emperor/persecutor of Christians?

    2) Dark Ages:

    I don’t remember using the term “dark ages” anywhere so I don’t know why that’s being added to my argument. The one college level history course I took was on the “Medieval World” so I am aware that the common portrait of the “dark” and “middle” ages are not accurate. In fact that whole “dark ages” concept fits perfectly with the initial parts of my essay dealing with the social dimensions of time… and methods of “cog-blocking”…and could be a great Electric Agora piece by someone with better historical knowledge than me.

    On that note, I recommend the documentary series “Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives” which nicely skewers myths about pre-Renaissance life.

    3) Secularism/Modernism:

    Despite all of the sophistication and wonderful things going on during those times, it is still rather clear that the culture was not secular in the sense we have today. Western culture at that time was rather local in concern, feudal in nature, and focused on “Christendom” (as opposed to Christianity, a distinction that I thank Mark and Dan for making and wish I had made clearer in the essay).

    It is news to me that lack of printing presses is the main reason many ancient Greek sources were not available in the West. That was NOT part of the course I took, which did discuss purges/suppression of non-Christian and unpopular Christian works to suit Church doctrine (perhaps this concept has changed among historians?). That sort of begs the question how/why such texts were preserved in Islamic cultures which also lacked presses. Not to mention how non-Western cultures managed to keep a relatively continuous preservation of their ancient works without presses.

    But we can leave all of the ancient pagan thought suppression aside. My only comment was that the cognitive effects/goals of that calendar system made sense in a specific time frame where their limited concerns made sense. I would have written the essay if pagan thought had been praised and promoted throughout the middle ages, if the “bifurcation of time” had been set at the height of Athenian power, or at some point during the Renaissance by humanistic (even atheist) calendar reform proponents, who while fully engaged with ancient thought sought to replace concerns for “Christendom” with concerns for “Reason-dom”.

    What I take to be the main concerns of modern secular culture (which is not the same as saying anti-religious), is non-local, non-feudal, non-singular empire/topic in nature. It is largely concerned with an accurate understanding of human life across cultures, history, and political interests. That is more broad and general in scope.

    My argument is that this is something which a bifurcated timeline set to highlight a specific culture, history, and set of political interests hinders rather than helps. It is happenstance that it is a Western, religious based calendar system I am challenging.

    4) BC/AD/BCE:

    I agree with Dan that if we were going to draw a historical line to demarcate pre-Christendom eras from (post)Christendom eras the common BC/AD line is useful. And I also agree with Dave BCE/CE was/is wrongheaded, and not just because it didn’t go far enough. I don’t think BC/AD “threatens” anyone or causes people to fall under some religious spell. I personally refuse to use the BCE/CE endings because it just seems silly. That is not a meaningful reformation of a calendar system, just an attempt to change the meaning of words within a calendar system. I likened it to adding a fig leaf. something traditionally used to hide something offensive.

    5) Pre-occupied & Creepy & Ideologically correct:

    The labels David threw at my proposal both amused and disturbed me. And if I am to be honest seemed a bit lazy, covering a poor defense with a strong offense. Clearly change of any kind will take action by somebody dedicated to creating that change for some reason. Accepting the argument provided here means we can renounce all change from here on out, with three simple labels.

    Pre-occupied? I’m not sure how “pre-occupied” I am about calendar reform. I thought about it a long time ago and invested some effort to see if it would work to help me better place historical events and it did. But it didn’t get support, so I shelved it. Then decades later I saw the piece on Morales and it reminded me of that work. So I wrote a fun essay in one day about it, which on top of drawing attention to social aspects of time, suggested maybe people with more interest/energy for advancing modern secular thought (including secular-minded religious types) might pick it up. What line has to be crossed to distinguish honest effort toward a goal with pre-occupation?

    Creepy? Calendar reform goes on all the time, throughout history. That’s why we have so many systems and so many proposals for changes (whether new or alterations). Are all of these people/changes creepy, or just the ones that happen to alter things for reasons you don’t like, or the system you don’t want to change? I mean was Dionysius creepy for switching from Diocletian to Jesus? Pope Gregory for being pre-occupied with creating a calendar to better handle Easter? What about the changes in the intervening time which altered the date by weeks/months/ years? What distinguishes these calls for change as less creepy than those by Morales and I?

    Ideologically correct? So the Gregorian calendar system is not ideologically correct? As it is I discussed considering religious and semi-religious systems, and then explained how I went about creating a secular system which could be useful to other religions and cultures as well. Is pursuing an easier system to use across many cultures demanding ideological correctness? How so? Really, this charge seems ironic since the whole point was to remove patently ideological elements from a system, not insert elements into it, in order to facilitate a more general usage.

    6) Apologies:

    Sorry this was so long. This is all the time I had to write today, and so I wanted to use it to “set aside” the religious/historical issues which many people were raising.

    I will be able to write more tomorrow and intend to reintroduce the proposal from a slightly different direction (hopefully interesting/challenging)!

    In the mean time I am curious what people feel is important about the current system? What does it provide that the proposed system (just adding 10K ) would not? Is this the best system that humans should use for the rest of time? If not, what is problematic with trying to establish a more useful system now?

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  21. Hi Labnut (and Dan), as an aside on Latin. Dan understood my meaning and usage. I understand Latin is still used. I was using common terminology so don’t think that was so controversial. Yet Dan has pointed out there is a valid question for the concept of so-called “dead” languages… or cultures.

    I hope my last reply addressed any misunderstandings about which “culture” I thought was “dead”. I was definitely not talking about Christianity or religious thought in general. Having lived around evangelicals for much of my life, it would be hard not to notice they still exist. 🙂

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  22. dbholmes,
    It is news to me that lack of printing presses is the main reason many ancient Greek sources were not available in the West.

    It is news to you because nobody actually made that claim.
    This is what I really said:

    The real turning point took place shortly before 1600 when the printing press spread across Europe. For the first time in history knowledge could be spread rapidly and inexpensively. This was the catalyst that launched the modern world.

    This is an uncontroversial claim. I could also have pointed out that knowledge then travelled by foot(horse, donkey or human), a slow and hazardous process. Travel was hazardous because of the then prevalence of brigands, highwaymen and assorted thugs. Authorities slowly asserted some semblance of central control, making travel safer. Communication and trade flourished in response.

    It was the felicitous combination of the cheap production of information via the printing press and safer travel conditions that led to the rapid dissemination of knowledge across Europe. This rapid dissemination of knowledge had an extraordinary effect on the European mind, stimulating the greatest intellectual flowering of the mind ever.

    Medieval Europe was not some place trapped in darkness because important information was withheld. It was a place of many universities and a fine tradition of thought. But the spread and development of this thought was made painfully slow by the need to hand-produce expensive manuscripts on vellum and to distribute them by foot under dangerous conditions.

    The growth of civil order, paper and the printing press dramatically changed this and the result was the greatest flowering of thought ever recorded.

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  23. dbholmes,
    In the mean time I am curious what people feel is important about the current system?

    It works.
    The problems are inconsequential.

    What does it provide that the proposed system (just adding 10K ) would not?

    Stability.
    The moment you open the possibility of changing the date/calendar system you open the door to innumerable competing cultural, national and religious claims. How would you resolve these claims? Who would resolve these claims?

    Is this the best system that humans should use for the rest of time?

    We don’t need the best system. We need a stable, widely accepted system that is workable.

    If not, what is problematic with trying to establish a more useful system now?

    Why take the risk of a hugely disruptive process that will ignite fierce competing nationalistic and cultural claims when there is so little to be gained?

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  24. Dwayne: Once we take this beyond an interesting and fruitful intellectual exercise and actually talk about really changing the calendar, my objection is essentially of the “solution in terms of a problem” variety. I just don’t see the problems you indicate as being particularly serious, and the hassle and pain in the ass involved in the change would require a very serious problem to justify.

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  25. dbholmes,
    I much enjoyed your whimsical essay despite my many negative comments. However it seems to me there is a deeper issue which is worth discussing. Roger Scruton, in the final chapter of his remarkable book, The Soul of the World, writes:

    …cognitive dualism that I have defended in this book implies that the world can be approached in two ways—the way of explanation, which searches for natural kinds, causal connections, and universal covering laws, and the way of understanding, which is a “calling to account,” a demand for reasons and meanings.

    1. In the first way we look for order, symmetry and rationalism. We find this appealing and it is its own justification. When you spoke of cognitive blocks you were in fact using the wrong justification for your calendar system. Our need for symmetry, order and rationality needs no justification. It is its own justification because it appeals deeply to an innate part of our mind.

    2. The second way of understanding, is a demand for reasons and meanings. This is an even more deeply held need and this is why we give cultural clothing to all our artefacts. Our present calendar system has attached to it our ways of understanding. That also needs no defence. It is its own justification because it also appeals to an innate part of our mind.

    A narrow segment of our modern world is tilting towards the first way, attempting to deny the way of understanding, that of reasons and meanings, giving precedence instead to the way of explanation. This is a mistake. The way of explanation and the way of meaning are both innate parts of us. We need both and we cannot deny any one part without deep psychic damage.

    We can already see the grave damage as one part the modern world scornfully dismisses the way of understanding, the world of reasons and meanings.

    1. There is a retreat into the solidarity of strong, fundamentalist views. It is a reactive state, a defensive state, a response to attacks on deeply held ways of viewing the world. And this is why affective partisan polarisation now plagues the civic body.
    2. As formal ways of understanding the world become discredited by these attacks, people inevitably seek out alternative ways of understanding. This has led to the growth of the counter-knowledge movement and to the growth of esoteric, mystical beliefs. It also leads, I believe, to a retreat into strong tribalism where the tribe becomes the final refuge for understanding. I also suggest that the narrative immersion, so well described by Dan-K, is another reaction where people seek to create their own temporary narrative understanding of the world.

    At its heart it is a confusion of the meanings of explanation and understanding. They are not the same thing but the modern world increasingly insists that explanation is understanding. It will fail because they are not the same thing and because the need for understanding is an innate part of us. But the attempt to substitute explanation for understanding may produce grave consequences.

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  26. Hi Labnut, I’m sorry I misunderstood your point then. I’m in total agreement that the printing press improved dissemination of information, and that piece of technology definitely effected cultural development.

    For the rest of your replies (part which I agree, part I don’t), see my next post to everyone where I will cover some of those issues.

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  27. Hi all (particularly Dan and Labnut), I’ll try to mix some “fruitful intellectual exercise” in with the “granola pragmatic discussion” to keep it interesting. 🙂

    It is true that the “problems” of the current system are not earth shatteringly serious. They certainly don’t rise to the issues Morales is trying to solve for his people, even if I connected my idea to his as a literary device. (BTW… no one mentioned if they think his efforts are wrongheaded?).

    Then again, few, if any, calendar reforms were to correct vast “problems” which made the systems at the time unworkable. Dionysius didn’t want Diocletian. The Gregorian made marking Easter easier. They were cultural conveniences, not pragmatic imperatives. So why do we need stronger reasons to make changes today, when modern technology/culture means such changes could be adopted faster and easier than in the past? If they could do it then (and they certainly did), why is it so hard now?

    Along those lines, while people make it sound like calendar change will be difficult, I have not heard any plausible reason why it would be, particularly if we just add 10K. That would only effect the writing of dates in texts/databases dealing with events currently listed as BC, or the people of 9999 when they need to make their next date 20K instead of 10K. That’s it. Nothing would have to change in the day to day world at all. For all practical purposes it is still 2016 because it would remain 2016.

    My essay described the benefits of placing human history within a single continuous timeline *[1]. That really did make relating and so understanding events easier for me, and no one has given reasons why it wouldn’t for anyone else. It would also make things easier for people in the archeological/earth sciences. My frustration with our calendar’s poor handling of time came as I was getting into earth sciences and looking at dating of objects/phenomena. It is not so surprising that the guy who proposed the same system and wrote it up in Nature (around the same time) was in the geosciences. A bifurcated, two-directional timeline is really not straightforward, elegant, or convenient.

    Now let me make it interesting.

    1) Since the main “problem” is what I just discussed, what about an alternative fix? We keep the Gregorian calendar as is, BC/AD with the full meaning regarding Christendom. Except… we change the dating in BC to run as a forward moving, continuous timeline. Like AD it also has a year 1. BC runs from 1 to 10K. Then it switches to 1AD. Would reformation of the BC timeline alone be problematic and why? What would the reason be for rejecting such a proposal?

    2) With all of the arguments given against my proposal, am I to assume everyone is equally against adoption of the metric system by the US? 🙂

    Though I had not mentioned it, my temporal frustrations with the Gregorian calendar roughly coincided with my physical frustrations with the system of “English” or “Imperial” units. I watched as members of gov’t debated adopting the metric system in the US and heard all the same arguments lodged against calendar reform. “Needing stability”, “Opens the door to any system”, “Lack of problem with current system”, “Will cause difficulties”. Well, the naysayers won, something which still stands as a complete embarrassment to me. Europeans tend to chuckle and kid me about it, a relatively frequent topic as I work in the sciences. To be clear, adoption of the metric system would pose a lot more difficulties/cost than calendar reform and it is not at all necessary. Am I “creepy” and seeking ideological correctness for thinking it still makes sense, rather than using a system of measures based on some past era’s very different (and awkward) idea of physical standards?

    *(1) Note: This was just about the handling of historical dates. There is about zero question that ditching an annual calendar for a perennial calendar would make life easier for everyone in a practical sense. Our annual calendar is only better for calendar makers (it’s why you have to buy one every year), or the convenience of remembering an exact, invariant 7 day cycle.

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  28. I must admit I find the BC/AD convention useful gir getting a feel of how long ago thing happened.

    For example Julius Caesar was born 100 BC, a nice aa easy number to remember. So the consulships of Sulla and Gaius Marius were just before and Augustus and and Tiberius just after. Alexander the Great, about 365 BC snd Confucius about 550 BC.

    Using some of the suggestions would not be so comvenient.

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  29. Hi Labnut, there was a slight temporal disconnect in our posts. I submitted my last two to you before your last to me (as seen here) was up, so I did not address your last reply! 🙂

    Those are interesting distinctions and I agree could have different effects. I’m going to have to think about their relative importance. I tend to think results may not be as drastic as you posed, but that’s not too much of a surprise since I agreed with Dan’s take on narrative immersion.

    No problem on the negative comments. I get someone can like something, yet disagree (even strongly). I was more concerned with some of the parts where we seemed to be speaking past each other.

    ………..

    Hi Robin, I am actually surprised to hear that… which is not to say it ain’t true.

    Maybe it is just me but I feel somewhat temporally dyslexic using that system. I mean sure if something is BC and another AD I immediately know what came first. And a few small year differences within BC are ok for me to handle. But large dates or differences in dates (especially when comparing ranges of dates) and I get lost.

    For example, to me Julius C at 9900, Alexander the G at 9644, and Confucius at 9450 is more straightforward and the relative differences between them easier to consider.

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  30. db (you big creep),

    On “Dark Ages”. I know you did not use the term but there is a well known mythos that floats around in the culture and gets expressed in movies and popular culture and is occasionally propagated by intellectuals who should know better (usually to serve some ideological end). I think your comments were influenced by that whether you were aware of it or not. In fact some of your comments since then still read that way to me. You came close to implying that Western Christendom suppressed pagan thought while the Caliphate did not. If that’s what you meant it is certainly false. Dan likes to say that Christianity is genealogically Jewish and theologically Greek. I like that phrase. The church fathers were deeply concerned with combining their pagan intellectual heritage and their Judeo-Christian heritage. Often they were ambivalent and uncomfortable with the intersection. Augustine, after his conversion, described the great pagan literature as a beautiful vase filled with serpents. It made them uncomfortable but they also saw it as important and preserved it. The usual “Dark Ages” narrative involves some great force (usually Aristotle or the Church) “suppressing” everything good (culture, art, science). It’s important to me to note that this is false. It’s a small part of your essay I know, but the topic is interesting and I thought it worth commenting on.

    On substance. You write in the comments that thinking of time as dated differently “really did make relating and so understanding events easier for me”. I really have a hard time wrapping my head around that. I can’t imagine seeing ancient Egypt or Babylon civilization as being more comprehensible if it were dated zero instead of negative four thousand. Neither do I feel my cognition is “blocked” by it. It might have been if I had always used that dating system and never been taught history. But having been educated I can see beyond it just fine. I see why people used the dating system they did and not another. I see ways in which it’s helpful and ways in which it’s not. The dating system seems to have some hold on you that it doesn’t have on me or else you think it has some hold on us both which I very much doubt it has.

    I’ll take up your example of the metric system. The metric system has very material advantages. Calculating you many inches are in one hundred yards takes awhile. Calculating how many centimeters are in one hundred meters takes seconds. The metric system is also the system used in every field of science and every other country. There is material advantage in being on the same page as them. So while the transition would be a hassle it would be worth it in order to reap the various benefits. I just see no analogous benefit in changing the dating system.

    You said you found it “amusing and disturbing” that I called your argument “creepy”. I hope it was more the former. Note it was your argument I was referring to not you. I never called you creepy until now (winky face). Unfortunately the word still describes my feelings. One reason is that by arguing over this you seem to view even the smallest details of life as something to be engineered. Some of life should be reflected on, considered, designed. But much of life does, must and ought to just happen organically. That ought to be embraced. The only alternative is a hopeless struggle with history. If we start to try to clean up the calendar we are likely to never stop scrubbing. We will always be finding new things tainted by the past.

    I also realized your thinking reminds me of the kind of “politically correct” thinking I have been so vexed by. It reflects the kind of tendency to ferret out hidden moral and political assumptions (however small, however subtle) in every aspect of the world. I also see in it the same kind of sense of passivity to culture. It is as though we had no choice but be “cog-blocked” by the dating system. If I give a false relevance to the birth of Christ or fail to weigh the importance of events before 0 AD, that’s on me, not the dating system. I ought to exercise my own judgment. I realize you are not denying autonomy or making any sweeping judgments about history, but I still find the drift of your thought here interesting. You clearly have an impulse to try to redefine the culture where I do not.

    I realize this is not the major cause celebre of your life and I didn’t think it was. These were just some remarks on something you liked to think about and these are just my thoughts in return.

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  31. Different people have different mathematical skills and ways of remembering things I suppose. I can add without thinking about it, but subtracting takes up processing time for me.

    If the system changed I could probably get used to it. I would probably think of 9900 as 9.9, and 9644 as 9.6 etc. Actually I prefer to do it visually with a big date line with a number of other events marked so that I can put it in context.

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  32. dbholmes,
    Along those lines, while people make it sound like calendar change will be difficult, I have not heard any plausible reason why it would be

    That is because you have failed to consider the social dimension of changes. The social dimension is actually a vast interlocking network of interests, many incompatible. Resolving that network of competing interests is never done by agreement since agreement is not possible, so instead it is done by fiat, as happened in the past. Who today has the power to dictate changes? Special United Nations committees will consider the issue and every regional block will want its vested interests taken into account. Behind the scenes there will be wheeling and dealing, persuasion and coercion. The new dominant power, China, will be determined to leave its imprint on the system as it strives to extend cultural dominance. All that will come out of this process is deadlock, acrimony and frustration.

    Far reaching changes are not decided by small groups of reasonable people exercising mutual goodwill. It is decided by a messy political process where factions compete for dominance, producing a very uncertain outcome.

    I saw this first hand as I introduced large systems in a large company. The intrinsic merits of the systems were never the real issue. Instead I found that new systems always disturbed the relative power balances of the stakeholders. Some had their power diminished, some had their power enhanced. It disturbed their perceptions of their standing in the company. Perfectly good systems would be rejected for dodgy emotional reasons dressed up in sophisticated argument(it sounds like this forum and Massimo’s forum). A successful project manager understood this. He carefully identified the many stakeholders. He took care to understand the nature of their stakeholding. He took care to address their interests as far as possible. And then he made very sure he had a powerful sponsor who could make the agreements stick.

    I say all this because a good idea is only 10% of the job. We can’t even agree on that so what chance do you have? Dan-K called it an interesting intellectual exercise. That is a good thing. It provokes intellectual exploration and uncovers new insights. That is a very good thing. Kudos to David on his last comment. It is that kind of comment that makes these essays and the resulting discussion so worthwhile.

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  33. Time to pull us out of the Dark Ages… 🙂

    I’m not a historian, and may have a lot of historical misconceptions based on popular myths/trends. But I’m not making the errors anyone has suggested about the Dark Ages…. a term I never used nor advanced as a working concept.

    My essay had one sentence describing the context where the desired cognitive effects of the Gregorian calendar made sense (would have value) with some brief commentary in replies to others (brief since they were off topic). While sacrificing nuance for brevity, nothing I wrote was factually wrong, without being unpacked beyond what I said.

    So we can (happily) close that side topic in agreement about the so-called Dark Ages… BTW I did enjoy the historical info/analysis everyone provided (still recommend Jones’ series too).

    The irony is that the effect the negative term “Dark Ages” has had on understanding that period (which people seem to agree with) mirrors the underlying thesis of temporal cognitive blocking I advanced (which people seem to want to disagree with). By blocking I did not mean can’t access at all, but access with a cognitive bias of some kind.

    Just like naming of eras, regnal dating arguably serves social agendas based on their ability to direct/effect attention about the past. I mean that is why Dionysius chose to switch from Diocletian to Jesus. Unless… the regnal dating system underlying the Gregorian calendar is uniquely cognitively neutral, contrary to the beliefs/wishes of Dionysius?

    In hindsight I probably should have used the phrase “where knowledge of Jesus and ideals of an emerging Christendom were being promoted” instead of “where knowledge from ancient Greece and other civilizations was being suppressed” (which while true could be misinterpreted).

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  34. Hi Labnut, ah I should have been more careful with what I said. I meant difficult to implement: cost to introduce, difficult for people to understand or adjust to. I thought that was what you and Dan were talking about.

    The fact that it might be hard to get agreement on (and so enacted as opposed to implemented), is something else. I’m aware how hard that can be given that general calendar reform failed last century, despite the world being in favor of it (except the US). And of course, seeing that Cesare got nowhere during the 1990s even within the science community.

    It will be impossible to get calendar reform enacted while there is no interest… which it seems there still isn’t any. However, once enacted it would be rather easy to implement, practically nothing.

    A problem for your argument is if bureaucratic difficulty constitutes a reason proposals should not be put forward for change, then nothing should/would be proposed and so change never happen. What you described is true for all decisions made by organized communities. Not sure why time is singled out as entailing greater effort than any other decision. And before someone argues other decisions involve problems of such import that they need to be solved, there are plenty of decisions made by world bodies on more trivial subjects than reform of calendar standards.

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  35. Hi David, the defense you gave for switching to the metric system would not grant cover for promoting or adopting the Julian, Gregorian, or reformed-Gregorian calendars. None of them offered benefits close to adoption of the metric system (or greater benefits than the system I outlined), and they all came at greater cost to implement than the changes I proposed.

    It is doubly strange that you criticized me earlier by comparing my ideas (mistakenly) to French rationalist reform of time standards (as if that were an insult), only to laud French rationalist reform of all remaining standards!

    Here is an interesting map showing adoption of the metric system: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_system#/media/File:Metrication_by_year_map.svg

    It starts in France (sacrebleu!) centuries ago, with some countries not coming online until the 1990s (note: though UK adopted the metric system officially, it still uses some English units for common purposes).

    Now imagine each nation in turn considering its adoption saying what you and others have argued about temporal reform. Each time there was great cost (much more than calendar reform) with no concrete benefits beyond using a more straightforward system of dividing units, which is only really useful for very large or small numbers (not most common uses). And it’s not like the metric system didn’t require fixes. It changed throughout its entire existence.. and likely will continue to… which requires organizations to handle this. So much for any “stability” argument.

    BTW, as someone who has used both metric and english units in their education/work, the speed is roughly the same for calculation. And there is nothing about it that intrinsically creates “material advantages”. It only provides intellectual/cognitive advantages (which apparently don’t exist to you) generally leading to a shorter learning curve, and ease in remembering.

    The fact we are down to a few holdouts may form an argument of convenience for joining the crowd. But this did not exist in the beginning and so argue why metric reform should have ever spread past France (or within France) to begin with. I mean… why couldn’t these people have just left things as they were? Why did they have to “engineer” even “the smallest details of life”?

    My point stands. The arguments deployed against modern calendar reform in this thread work against basically all proposals involving change, unless one engages in serious special pleading.

    “…you seem to view even the smallest details of life as something to be engineered. “

    Yeah it’s stuff like that I find disturbing and not amusing. How did this get from changing one thing to changing all things… and engineered nonetheless? It seems a way to dodge discussion about a wonky bifurcated calendar system by attacking the man.

    “But much of life does, must and ought to just happen organically. That ought to be embraced. The only alternative is a hopeless struggle with history. If we start to try to clean up the calendar we are likely to never stop scrubbing. We will always be finding new things tainted by the past.”

    I’m sorry but please explain why this did not go for any and all prior calendar reforms? I’m waiting to see you make a meaningful and consistent distinction between past and modern calendar reform.

    As it is, I agree with the first two sentences. But the last three ignore such changes have and will continue to occur, unless we decide to trap things in amber, placing time off limits like it is fragile or sacred.

    Not sure how advocating change is incongruous with “happen organically”.

    Finally, my argument was not just about “tainting” from the past. It was also about adopting a more straightforward system. The fact that you think BC years can be treated like negative numbers and that there is such a thing as “events before 0 AD” only tells me you don’t understand the Gregorian system, or understand it and have adopted a different system for your personal use but want to pretend otherwise. If the Gregorian calendar worked the way you described, I’d have had less issues with it.

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