Car Thinking…

11 07 2008

Whilst taking an unplanned excursion around the north side of Manchester earlier on this afternoon, my mind wandered to more important things than where the diversion was actually taking us. Things such as time. Allow me to elaborate…

My initial thought was that time is fundamentally broken. By broken, I mean wrong. It has to be wrong in the sense that we have to have ‘leap years’ to catch up with time we have somehow lost. We know how long one orbit of the sun takes, yet our time systems mean that we cannot change the problem of having, technically, 365 and a quarter days each year. As a consequence, we have to add a day every fourth year to get ourselves back into the loop.

To me, this leads to the bigger question of how to ensure that we do not have to add a day to get ourselves back in balance. That is the problem, and, as far as I can see, the only solution is to redesign the whole time system we currently have. That is, scrap the 24 hour clock, scrap 60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute. Get rid of it all, and start again. I do not want to go as far as decimalising time, but something along those lines would work better, and would ensure we do not have the remainder at the end of three in every four years. Create something where it all just, well, fits. The system we currently have is, at best, a crude guesstimate of roughly how long a year lasts made by someone a very very very long time ago. We can now though work out exactly how long our orbit takes, exactly how many minutes one such orbit takes, and on this basis, we can work from there.

The basic units need not change, just what they are composed of. We can still have hours, minutes, days, months etc, but there should no longer be 60 minutes in an hour, or seven days in a week. It’s all too haphazard, to random. What is the significance of these numbers, 24 hours a day, 52 weeks a year, 7 days a week? To me there is nothing, other than mere chance. Would it not be easier to say, there are, for example, 100 minutes in an hour, 50 weeks in a year?

Perhaps not, as to do this, we would have to work out how ‘long’ a second, a minute, an hour is. And that would require restructuring time absolutely completely. Something which is obviously impossible.

Added to my ponderings came another thought. Nature is full of symmetry and balance, butterflies wings, ladybirds shells, night and day. To me, it seems that there should be a balance between the longest and shortest days in a year. It makes sense to me that the shortest (or indeed the longest) should mark the beginning of change, that is, a new year. As it is, we are a week out of sync. The shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, December 23, occurs roughly a week before the new year starts. This seems, unbalanced to me. If the new years began with the shortest day, and its middle point was the longest day, time would be balanced much better in my opinion.

Of course though, this is looking at things from my perspective in Britain, how would such changes affect the rest of the world? What woud happen, say, within the tropics, where days are much more of a regular length (12 hours day, 12 hours night)? The answer is, I do not know, but it would be interesting to find out.

All of which brought me to catching up with the final episode of the latest series of Dr Who. If you can hide 27 planets and a whole army one second out of sync with the rest of the universe, imagine what you could do with whole days. Perhaps my idea of restructuring time could be some sort of storyline for the new writer to sink his teeth into now that Russell T has bowed out (almost) in a quite brilliant manner…

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4 responses

13 07 2008
tim

there are 2 basic units of time:
the day – the time for the earth to spin once on it’s axis,
and the year – the time for the earth to make a complete orbit of the sun

the problem is that days won’t fit neatly into years, there’s always going to be a fraction left over. decimalising time isn’t going to change that because you can’t change the base units. therefore, i can’t see any advantage over the current system.

they’ve tried it before, though: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimal_time
and there are other options: http://forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=4996

14 07 2008
Luke_D

That was my point though, hypothetically, we *could* change the base units, so it does fit more neatly. The units of “day” and “year” are only units dictated by the restrictions of time based around “minutes”, “hours” and “seconds”. If we change them completely…

15 07 2008
tim

no – they’re constants.

hours/minutes/seconds are all subdivisions of a day and can be altered, but you can’t change the length of a year and neither can you change the length of a day.

if you did, it would mean that the sun would rise and set at different times each day; that in one year spring would be a time when plants started to grow, and in another would be a time when leaves fell off trees.

i think you need to think this through, because what you’re suggesting would make things far more complicated than the system we currently have.

also, your idea that the current length of a year is a “crude estimate” is utter rubbish. for a long time, the precise time that the earth takes to orbit the sun has been know, hence the reason why we have leap years.

the past and future times are also known, as are the times of other planets and satellites, and this is why it’s possible to calculate eclipses that will occur hundreds of years from now.

15 07 2008
Luke_D

Stop being so narrow minded about this. It is only accurate and precise based upon the current time systems of days and minutes etc. I’m not disagreeing, we do know exactly how long each orbit takes, it’s 365 and 1/4 days. What I am saying is that if we completely alter the units (ie instead of feet and inches we have meters and centimeters) then we can lose the need for having leap years. My suggestion is simply to streamline things (why do some months have 30 days and others 31 (or 28/9)? It’s a random thing generated to fit into a predefined structure of a year which is slightly off key.
We need an extra day every fourth year to catch up with our orbit, because in the interim period we get slightly out of sync. Because seasons do not start and end at exactly the same time each year, this isn’t noticed, as a maximum we are out by is 3/4 of a day, or 18 hours (a negligable amount in terms of the bigger picture). We then use the extra day to keep ourselves in check with our orbit, because if we didn’t we would get hopelessly out of sync and wind up in the situation you described, with seasons being at different times.
What I am suggesting is that a complete restructure would save us having to have this leap year, as we could structure it so as our years fill the current boundary of 365 and 1/4 days, without the need for having the 1/4 at all. If therefore the 1/4 is included in the new ‘year’ period (rather than excluded as it currently is), we would not need to have any form of a leap year at all.

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