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A Month of Sundays

By Allan Eastman

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Where Did When Begin?

Hourglass with clock in the background

Pictured above is an hourglass with a clock in the background - both are devices created by humans to measure time.

©iStockphoto.com/RapidEye

Last time, we struggled to come up with a satisfactory definition of what Time really is. The best conclusion that we finally had to go with is that we just have to accept Time as something we have to deal with, so we better agree on a standard that works for all of us. We need to all accept the measurements of duration that History has bequeathed us and that we commonly agree on and then get into step with the apparent forward motion of Time from the past through the present into the future.

But when you start to examine how we measure Time, the standards seem positively weird as well, as strange as some of the theories about what Time actually is. We have different numbers of days in the months. We break a week into 7 days and a day into 24 parts but hours and minutes into 60ths.

How come?

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Well, once again, it is not exactly possible to say for sure how it all happened because there is no definitive written record that declares that it is all so. But unlike trying to define Time through scientific or philosophical explanations, it is possible to make some very informed guesses about how our Time measurements came into being because they were invented by Human Beings. And they are all part of the very Human need to understand our world and give meaning to what we perceive as the Reality that we exist in.

This is a journey into the far country of the distant past which takes us deep into the realms of Myth and Mystical experience. It springs from early men and women’s esoteric relationship with Nature and the Cosmos.

Later, pure Science is able to confirm and explain some of these concepts and measurements but most remain stubbornly arbitrary. And relativity is at work here too – different people in different places at different times have had very different attitudes to what these measurements were.

Most of the World these days buys into the notion that right now,  it is the Year 2010 but our way of numbering the passing of the years, decades and centuries was only agreed upon as a standard less than 500 years ago. Countries like Russia only bought into it during the last century.

Many millions of Muslims around the planet will insist that it is, in fact, the Year 1431. They calculate their calendars from when the Prophet Muhammad set out from Mecca to Medina on the Hegira, which marks the beginning of their struggle to bring Islam to the whole World.

Some Chinese today would argue that right now is the Year 4707, others resolutely state that it is 4647.

What this means is that all these standards are Human inventions - they have no objective reality except for the belief or acceptance that we endow them with.

The domineering economic, political and military power that Western Civilization exercised over the last half Millennium has resulted in Western standards being taken up by most of the World but it still doesn’t mean that these standards are in any way absolute.

But we were going to delve into where these standards came from, so let’s do that.

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