We spend so much time thinking about time. Did you ever stop to consider how arbitrary it is?
Concepts of Time
Today is February 29. Leap day. An extra day on the calendar.
Have you stopped to consider this?
I don’t mean: have you stopped to consider what you’re going to do with your extra day, or do you wonder when people who were born on February 29 celebrate their birthdays on the other 3 out of every 4 years.
What I mean is: have you considered the entire concept of having an “extra” day.
Measurements of Time
We are conditioned from an early age to cling to these notions of the structure of time. We talk about time as though it’s an absolute: there are 24 hours in a day. 365 days in a year. (Well, not this year.)
We talk about time like it’s an objective truth.
Except it’s not an objective truth.
It is subjectively common; we universally accept that there are 24 hours in a day, and 365 days in a year. And it may be practically useful to think in these terms: the structure provided by time allows us greater ease in coordinating with other people. It facilitates flights and meetings and television schedules.
But clearly, it’s not an objective truth that there are only 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year. That’s an approximation. We are forced to face this reality every fourth year when we add a day to the year. So this year has 366 days.
Have you ever stopped to consider this?
How would you explain this to someone who just dropped on this planet from another universe?
Even the notion of 24 hours in a day is arbitrary.
It’s based on a particular definition of an hour as being 60 minutes. And of a minute as being 60 seconds.
Even on a regular day, the notion of a 60-minute hour isn’t universal. Anyone who has ever been to a New York City therapist knows that an hour is, at most, only 50 minutes long. Sometimes only 45 minutes.
By that measurement, there are more than 24 hours in a day.
Before the invention of artificial light, a “day” was only as long as the sunlight lasted. That creates different lengths of days at different times of the year. Today, we largely ignore the guidance of the sun and the seasons.
This is a Human Thing
Someone — a human being — came up with these units of measurement. They are particular to our experience on this earth.
What other being on this planet counts minutes and hours and seconds? Who else counts months and days and years?
Other beings on this planet go by the feel of the weather and the seasons.
They hibernate in the cold months, and in the warm months, they frolic and play.
When they sense the change in the temperature, they allow that feeling to guide them.
They don’t count down the days to the next month or year.
In short, they don’t measure time.
Have you ever stopped to consider why February 29 comes only once every four years?
I don’t mean the science of fixing the approximation from the 24 hours in a day issue.
I mean, have you ever looked at the calendar and wondered: who created it this way?
Look, I love systems. And a calendar is a system. But if you’re going to create a structure or system, shouldn’t it at least make some sort of sense?
Our Gregorian calendar is arbitrary.
Today is a perfect example.
For 3 out of every 4 years, February has 28 days. January and March, the months before and after, have 31 days. If we took a day from both January and March and gave those days to February, all 3 months would have 30 days each.
Wouldn’t that make more sense?
And if we are going to add a day to the calendar every four years, why not add it to June, so we get that day in the summer?
At least summer in the Northern hemisphere. I realize that it’s summer somewhere else right now.
Isn’t that odd: we don’t change the “month zones” in different parts of the world to account for the different seasons, but we do change the “time zones” to account for whether it’s daylight or night time.
Why not do away with “time zones” too and have a universal time? Let 6:00 be 6:00 and we would know that if it’s 6:00, most of the people in New York City are probably just waking up and most of Los Angeles is still asleep. Just like we know that in February, it’s winter in New York and summer in Brazil. It’s not June in Brazil just because it’s summer there now.
Time is Arbitrary
I stopped to consider this day. I mean, really considered it.
What this day tells me is this: time is arbitrary.
Of what value to us is the concept of measuring our life in seconds and minutes and hours and days?
Is that truly the measurement of a life?
How long should it take to do great work or make an impact or accomplish a goal?
How long should it take to discover who you are?
We don’t all get the same number of days. Not every day has the same number of hours. Not every hour has the same number of minutes.
It’s all arbitrary. We can redefine it however it best suits us.
What if we defined time differently? What if we stopped counting hours and minutes and days?
Imagine how much time we would gain if we simply stopped measuring time.