Before beginning any inquiry into the nature of time, it must be understood that time is not a thing. Time is an abstract idea, much like the metric system of measurement, language or mathematics.
It allows us gauge our relationship with the broader universe. Time is not a thing that we measure, rather it is the measurement of cycles of experiences. The tools we use are the clock and the calendar.
Each of us has a unique inner clock that is capable of staying in synch with the broader universe. We don't actually need clocks or calendars to function, it's just how we've built things. So what does that mean for the leap year?
The Leap Year
Up until 1582 the calendar that the Christian world was using was the Julian (Roman) calendar. But there was a problem.
Pope Gregory XIII wasn't happy with this Roman calendar because it was fucking with his holy days. So he said; “Lads I'm not having this, we need to sort it out”.
Understanding that they were losing days somewhere, the lads got to work to solve the problem. They came up with a modification that thankfully, also accommodated Greg's Christian feast days.
The Leap Year Concept
When we try to relate the spin of the earth on its axis (1 day or currently- 23 hours and 56 minutes and 4 seconds) to the passage of the earth around the sun (1 year or currently- 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds) we see a discrepancy.
The length of “time” it takes for the earth to complete one revolution is not directly and evenly related to the path of the earth around the sun.
Not only that, but the length of a day and the length of a year is always changing. Albeit by relatively very small amounts every year, due to gravitational conditions that exist on earth and the effects from other planets etc in our solar system.
It turns out that our calendar system falls behind actual astronomical events by just less than 1/4 day every year, so we need to make it up by adding the apparently missing 1/4 day as 1 full day every four years.
Adding 1 day every four years is actually over cooking it by 0.0078 days, which accounts for an 11 minute per year difference adding an extra day every 128 years.
So every 100 years and 400 years we need to skip a leap year. But even this isn't an ultimate solution because there is a residue that is building up.
In a couple thousand years we'll need to address the situation once again.
Cycles Within Cycles
There is no science that is truly absolutely accurate. Results of experiments and study always have to be rounded up or down in order to come to a conclusion. Astronomical study is no different.
The Universe is infinite afterall.
Of itself and in the context of the system that it is used, the leap year is not stupid or preposterous, in fact it's necessary.
Although it seems that once people get a system that they can all agree on and it's kept stable, then there's no problem. Problems arise when the system keeps changing.
Give people a static set of rules that they can to stick to and you can determine and manage behaviour. Kind of like religious and political belief systems really.
What is preposterous though is the widespread misunderstanding among us that time is real. We have become slaves to a concept.
You only need to see the number of calendar systems there are currently in use to see how time is merely a concept.
What we have come to understand as time, would be more accurately explained as a continuous expansion and collapse of things.
What we've actually got are cycles within cycles – A fractal universe. Some of these cycles we can observe in full, others we cannot observe entirely.
On broader cycles within nature we can observe the seasons change year in year out, although we believe them to be linear not cyclical.
The path of our solar system around the center of our galaxy is something we can't directly observe given the scale at which that operates, but it too is cyclical.
When we turn a light on we don't observe the continuous on and off periods. Yes that's right, the light is turning on and off 50 times every second (60 times per second in US), it's just our nervous system can not detect it.
Everywhere we look there are cycles of energy rising and falling through our point of perception.
Have We Fooled Ourselves?
We have this system which mainly stems from the need of powerful organisations to control societies. And as such, we have developed this notion of linear passage of time.
In western society we accept the apparent birth of JC as a starting point for the sequential numbering of years on our calendar. But it's helpful to realise that it's just an arbitrary numbering system.
It could just as well be the year 304563 as it is 2016.
So have we fooled ourselves? I think so.
Rather than thinking of our existence as linear (i.e. we are born in the past, live along a line and die sometime in the future), we should maybe consider our existence to be expanding unilaterally.
Out of this stationary existence, this single point of attention in space, we emerge. We expand and eventually fall back out of to our broader perspective.
During our “time” here, we continually exchange information and energy with the environment. For example; when we breath or when we shed skin, or when we eat and defecate.
If you stop and give your undivided attention to this it may become clear that there is a fundamental truth to it.
The nature of the clock face is a perfect analogy for the true nature of time. That is to say it is a completely stationary thing going round and round until the batteries die.
Using linear analogy, the calendar goes back a long way to the earliest forms of modern civilisation (that we are currently aware of).
Each one with it's own system of tracking its relationship to the the heavens, and to the cycles of growth and decay that they witnessed on earth.
As strong power hungry nations conquered and imposed ideologies over weaker nations, the earth community became more and more integrated.
In the absence of telecommunications, meeting trade partners on the other side of the world was going to present problems. Especially if both parties weren't on the same system.
In many ways we can actually thank power hungry warring nations for the modern technological society that we live in. Mind you, that's not to say it couldn't be a damn sight better.
Kurt Brindley says
War and porn… two of the biggest drivers of technological innovation. Great post.
Hey thanks for reading Kurt. Much appreciated!