According to my proposition for a Rational Calendar, the first day of spring is today. What a marvellous opportunity to tell you about this calendar, as well as the closely related decimal time system!
I’ve presented this before, but only in Norwegian. Since then, several important changes have been made. The current version I call Rational Time, 1.5th Edition. First on the list for the next version is coming up with a less pompous name :)
The general idea is to simplify the measure of time by decimalizing it. Our current time system obscures the passing of time to us (we the users of the base-ten numeral system) by measuring time with several different units which relates to eachother non-decimally, namely seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. This is obviously completely irrational, and as with so many irrational things, this also has its basis in tradition — one that can be traced all the way back to the Sumerian civilization of approximately 2000 BCE.
The decimal time system reduces the seven units of time to two: Day and year. Hours, minutes and seconds are replaced with decimal places of the day. For example, a milliday is 1.44 minutes, and a centiday is 14.4 minutes (the question of what names to use is of course a disputed issue). The details of decimal time I leave to this outstanding guide, to which I almost completely adhere. The exceptions (decimal week and perhaps time zones) brings me to my proposed calendar:
The Rational Calendar
First of all, a reverent nod to the French Republican Calendar (read the Wikipedia article, it’s very curious). What I’ve done is simply to modify the Republican Calendar to satisfy my own preferences. Bypassing the details of what is original and what is not, I’ll cut straight to my own proposal:
The year is divided into the four seasons, each of which has 90 regular days and 1 or 2 extra days at the end. Days are called by their season, like for example: “the 91st winters day” or “the 11th day of spring”.
The beginning of each season is anchored to the exact moment of winter solstice in the following way: Winter starts at the date of winter solstice, spring starts on the date produced by calculating exactly a quarter of a year from the moment of winter solstice. A quarter of a year is approximately 91,3105 days, which means that when the winter solstice falls on an evening, spring will have 92 days instead of 91. The true spring equinox doesn’t actually coincide with the beginning of spring according to my calendar, but close enough: I will refer to this time as the ‘mathematical spring equinox’. Needless to say, the same logic applies for summer solstice and autumn equinox as well.
This way, the placement of leap days is decided by the actual length of the year, which — when constrained to the four seasons — results in an orderly enough pattern.
A week should of course be ten days instead of seven. I have yet to find a better idea for names than oneday, twoday etc. There are nine real weeks in a season. All “tenth weeks” of one or two days are holidays.
Just as days can have the time of day displayed as its decimals, years can have seasons displayed: 2008.25 is approximately this very day; the summer of love can be written as 1967.5; Jesus was born about 1.01.
It is of course silly to use the birth of one particular religion as the starting point of history. I would like to reform this as well, but haven’t found a great candidate yet. Some people would like the year of Hiroshima or the founding of the UN as year zero, but I think we should be cautious of making the world too young. Someone might be inspired to go on some kind of a “purification spree”… I’d much rather like to see year zero be defined as the beginning of civilization, perhaps 10 000 years ago. The event could perhaps be linked to something like the Pyramids or the earliest known fragment of the Gilgamesh? Or perhaps it could just be exactly 10 000 years from the year which we decide to change the starting point of history? That way, we both get an easy number and a long history.
The three circles of time
Imagine the year as a circle with four quarters in clockwise succession: Winter solstice would be the absolute top point of the circle, the winter season the upper right quarter, spring the lower right etc. The same applies to the circle of the day: Midnight is the absolute top point of the circle, night the first quarter, morning the next, followed by day and finally evening. In this way, the relation between the day and the year becomes intuitive. Spring is understood to be the morning of the year, etc. Time immediately becomes more understandable.
The third ‘circle of time’ is that of time zones. On this subject as well, I appreciate most of Lyle Zapato’s reasoning, but would like to add that I think it would be valuable, conceptually if not practically, to introduce four quarters of the Earth. As I will demonstrate, this makes it easier to calculate from one local time to another, by the analogy of the other circles of time. The four quarters could be given the following names: Pacific, atlantic, occidental and oriental. The pacific quarter is the first because the International Date Line serves as the top point of the circle.
Now it’s possible to determine approximately what time it is in the oriental quarter when you know it’s evening in the occidental quarter: The oriental quarter is the one after the occidental, therefore the time there is one quarter of a day later. This is a superbly practical shorthand when thinking about time zones. But to be absolutely clear, I’m not suggesting that these quarters should be used as time zones. For that purpose, they are far too crude.
Noise from my neighbors and my laptop made me consider buying ear plugs. The first thing I did was to search the net for some advice. I found this superb series of reviews of several different kinds of ear plugs, and was convinced that it was worth a try. I went out and bought a small set of Quies foam ear plugs [picture] from the local pharmacy, and was very pleased to find how well they worked in terms of noise reduction. They greatly enhanced my concentration under my less than ideal circumstances, but were too painful to wear for hours at a time. Naturally, having gotten this small taste of tranquility, I decided to go ahead and test the supposedly best ear plugs on the market, Hearos Ultimate Softness Foam Ear Plugs (pictured below). I ordered 20 pairs online, and was not disappointed. They are a lot softer than the Quies product — which is not to say that the pressure in the ear is completely gone: It’s still there, but less annoying.
Ear plugs immediately became something of a revelation to me. I think I’m going to make use of them for the rest of my life. And so far, Hearos is my preferred product.
Some people might worry about whether putting a 2 cm long object into the auditory canal might damage the ear drum. I did, and asked a doctor about it. She ensured me that its not dangerous, because the ear drum is out of reach for most ear plugs. And even if it were to be reached, it will withstand a careful poke.
How to use foam ear plugs:
- Wash your hands. Roll the plug into a compact cylinder, and push it into the upper back side of your ear, toward the north pole of your hair. It will probably help also to pull your ear in this direction, to better expose the entrance of the auditory canal.
- Take them out carefully, be sure to let air through, so that your ear drum won’t pop.
- The plugs might be a bit filthy the first couple of times you pull them out, but that would probably be mostly ear wax you’ve managed to push inside the auditory canal with a Q-tip, not a native product of the canal. Q-tips shouldn’t, by the way, venture beyond that which is reachable by your smallest finger. The canal cleanses itself of wax (by the movement of your jaw), so don’t worry about it.
- To clean the ear plugs, just use water and regular soap. In my experience, the plugs become bloated while wet, and slightly harder to compress when dry, but still possible to use. I don’t yet know for how long though.
The movement of one’s body to music (dancing) is associated with mental movements.
The act of dancing function as an emotional amplifier, or perhaps more like an accompanying instrument in an emotional composition: The motor coordination parts of the brain sings along with the music.
Watching other people dance can produce much of the same mental movements (because of mirror neurons, I suppose). Accordingly, mental dancing is not at all conditioned on moving one’s physical body. Even imagining dancing (or the visuals of someone dancing) should be enough — at least with some practice.
The kind of dancing I have in mind here is not the modern discotheque mating ritual. And the victorian rhythmic display of social altitude is hardly any better, as the mental sensitivity is dulled by the social motivations involved. Ballet and modern dance are more like it, I guess, but I prefer to exemplify by pointing to tai chi and sufi whirling, because these are explicitly contemplative forms of bodily activity. It needn’t be all that complicated though, and definitely not mystical. Nor need the whole body be involved. — I think the best way to approach this is by giving a few experiments:
Put on some music you like. If that’s not possible where you are right now, just imagine the music.
- Move your disgusting larynx in accord with the melody, but don’t make any sound. Also, make almost imperceptible facial expressions reflecting the emotional qualities of the music (almost imperceptible because no more is needed than a hint, and it’s a lot more socially comfortable that way). I suppose most people do this instinctively (although not so much on purpose).
- Move one of your hands to the music, like this: Open the hand on higher tones, close it on lower. First practice some precision. Then add emotional expressions to your hand’s movements. (Interestingly, this works best when you don’t look at the hand.)
- Don’t move anything, but try to imagine vividly that you do. You’ll probably need a set of rules for the dance, or else the imagination will be absorbed in the tedious task of ex nihilo creativity (— freedom is cumbersome).
Firstly, it is worth noting that even a very narrow spectrum of muscles can create mental dancing with some success. Secondly, and most importantly, attend to the fact that merely imagining dancing with (some part of) one’s body augments the emotional response to the music — this suggests the possibility of the dance to completely detach itself from the body. In other words, it should be possible to teach the imagination itself to dance, unmediated by the body.
In fact, this could probably work as a description of what the mind does every night, when we dream — “imagination’s dancing to the melody of the signals from the sleeping body”, perhaps? — From such a point of view, it seems that mental dancing might just be a question of allowing the mind to become absorbed in selected strands of its continuous (but “suppressed”) imaginary production. Meaning that it is as much a question of letting go as it is of disciplining. The neuroscience of jazz improvisation seems to confirm this. However, I do wish to stress the importance of simplicity and formalization when setting the stage for an attempt at mental dancing. Concentrated imagination can be demanding. You don’t want to overheat your hardware.
I find imagined visuals to be the most interesting: Real-time visualization of an imagined scene or story, like spontaneously creating a music video. It is very important for the depth of absorbtion that this is both real-time and improvisation. This can make quite a toll on a tired mind, so it’s best to keep it to simple ideas. Practical examples:
- When listening to Radiohead’s In Rainbows, I kept imagining Thom Yorke as a puppet outside in the night. On one song he’s dipping a fishing float rhythmically in the ocean, until the song makes him jump in the water and sink to the bottom, while, with a dreamy fatalism, he watches the fishes on the way down. On another song, he’s standing in my fathers backyard, singing, while the landscape is doing the dancing: The sun rises and falls repeatedly, the mountains grow, the ground dries up and cracles etc.
- When listening to Tinariwen’s Aman Iman (which, by the way, is highly recommended), I imagined a North African desert giant walking in my footsteps, personifying the music with his facial expressions and walking rhythm. This was when I was walking outside, something which makes it harder to imagine the more detached, far out stuff.
- Visuals can also be very basic and transient, almost like visually augmented emotions: Things like imagined dimming of light, imagined lightness of the body, sparkles of light, artificial joy in the stomach etc. These are a lot easier on the brain power, but harder to remember vividly. The same logic applies as to dreams: Keep it somewhat anchored to reality, and you will recall what it was like a lot easier. A personal recommendation of music for this kind of brain dance: Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air.
The learning curve of mental dancing is similar to that of bodily dancing or juggling: It starts out depressingly low, but rises rapidly with practice.
I don’t believe a lot of people consciously immerse themselves in the imaginary, but I think they should, because 1) it’s relaxing, like yoga for the mind (try it after a long day), and 2) you get to know thyself. Furthermore, as Kermit can attest, it’s just plain groovy:
Thanks to information aesthetics for the find. Perfect timing!