Time is Weird

There are aspects of time that are arbitrary. For instance, our years are counted forward from Jesus’s birth, and then backwards from his birth. Think about it: we have negative years, even though that makes calculating when something that happened before the common era hard for your average person. It always takes an extra effort to remember that 5 BCE is much more recent than 1934 BCE.

And that is really just some Christian privilege at work. The bishops needed to know when Easter was and ignored the millions of people who need to keep track of long stretches of time for any other reason and would find the negative numbers cumbersome.

The bishops’ decision doesn’t even make theological sense: everyone is born. No matter how many miracles you pile on, birth is birth. People are born of women, and whatever reason for the birth, it’s a pretty minor point ideologically. Even if you argue that the birth is the prelude and being human is a part of the ideology, that’s not as important as the resurrection. The birth should play second fiddle, but we count our years forward from it anyway. Very weird.

They also miscalculated the year he was born. They were off by four to six years. If you are going to arbitrarily pick a start point, based on the least theologically important aspect of your main man’s life, you could at least get the date right.

We could, quite reasonably, reset the calendar years so that we start counting forward far earlier. It would make plenty of sense, and make it much easier for anyone studying ancient civilizations, to start counting forward from when the Epic of Gilgamesh was written. That is the start of history in a sense, and it would be immediately obvious that the Egyptian pyramids make the Roman Empire look like a baby. (People always have to spell that out to explain how old the pyramids are. That wouldn’t be necessary if BCE didn’t exist.)

Not that we have to do it. It would be a hassle at first to re-calculate the years, and naturally there would be backlash. Picking a new starting point would involve some arbitrariness too. Do we start at the Big Bang? The founding of Ur? We don’t have an exact year for the founding of Ur, I don’t think.

And if we pick any point in time to start counting, there will be years before our starting point. Can we avoid the negative years?

But I do think that picking an earlier start point would make tracking history easier. The Neolithic shouldn’t be associated with the number 1900. It is too easy to see the number and gloss over the BC or BCE part. Lots of math mistakes can ensue that could be avoided if we called this year 3922 In The Settled Human Era.

The math is made harder because there is no year Zero in our common calendar. The bishops couldn’t handle the abstract concept of nothing, and we all have to clean up the math in the wake of their ignorance.

I’m not alone in noting these problems. Popular Mechanics wrote in 2016 that we should reset the years to start with the Holocene, 12,000 years ago. That would make most of human civilization on the same side of the number line.

Also, I personally have trouble remembering that if it’s the 21st century, the year starts with 20. It bugs me. I have to remind myself every time I read an article about the Interregnum starting in the mid-thirteenth century that the article is correct because they mean 1250. Annoying, that.

My point is that time has a certain amount of arbitrariness, and we could technically pick an arbitrary start point that makes it easier for everyone than it currently is.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store