Natural time – Part 1
With the New Year approaching, a discussion of time is exceeding apt—or “timely,” if you’ll pardon the pun!
“New Year” is, after all, one of three universal measures of time on our planet. The other two are months and days.
As far as I am aware, all human cultures mark the onset of a new year in some way (but not on the same dates), while the lifestyles and even the biology of humans reflect monthly and daily rhythms.
The rhythms that give us our sense of time, are derived from two principal motions of solar system bodies: “Rotation” and “revolution”.
When I speak of “time,” it is a reference to natural time—units of measure, based on events which recur periodically, independently of human influence.
Natural time is astronomical, because it is dependent on the rhythmically changing relationship of rotating and revolving bodies (Earth, Moon and Sun).
“Minutes,” “hours” and “seconds,” for instance, are neither natural nor astronomical. They are manmade. So is the week, which differs from culture-to-culture.
In physics, revolution and rotation are the same. But in common parlance, a rotating body spins around a central point or “axis”. When one body moves around another though, it is “revolving”.
“Day” and “night” experiences occur as Earth spins on its axis. It turns once every 24 hours, with a given surface area spending 12 hours in the sunlit half and another 12 traversing the shadow.
In evolutionary terms, this periodicity has profoundly affected Earth’s biology. The light-dark (day-night) cycle, has imposed diurnal and nocturnal rhythms on most terrestrial organisms.
It influences both their behavior and body chemistry, including predation, reproductive activity, work, play and critical metabolic processes.
Perhaps the most extensively investigated instance of this are 24-hour “circadian rhythms” which, Wikipedia reports, “have been widely observed in plants, animals, fungi, and cyanobacteria”.
Light-sensitive clocks are built into the hypothalamus of the human brain, where they impact an array of processes, such as blood pressure, bowel movements, mood and vulnerability to illness.
Malarial infection, for example, is strongly correlated with Earth’s rotation. Hence “tertian” (three-day) and “quatran” (four-day) malaria are among the five types that infect humans.
The Moon goes round-and-round the planet, as if whirled on a string. Each revolution is termed a “month” (“moonth,” in times past).
Gravity is the “string” that twirls the Moon about the Earth. At the same time, this invisible force also ties Earth and Moon to the Sun, as they career around their parent star together.
In roughly 365 and a quarter days, Earth and its satellite will cover some 340 million km, orbiting at an average velocity of 29 km per second.
At the end of every revolution, the planet’s most highly evolved lifeform reacts wildly: Holding all-night parties and prayer sessions, getting drunk, dancing lewdly, killing each other, crashing cars, etc.!
I’ve not read any explanation, from anthropologist, psychologists or evolutionary biologists, for this riotous end-of-year behavior on our planet.
End of month reactions are far more civil. People dutifully collect their salaries and pay their bills. Women routinely shed blood. But that’s probably the most extreme of the monthly behaviours.
To be continued.