Standard Time

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology / Reality / Time /
2006 04 15 from Iona Arc, a pk blog

Sri Lanka wants to mess with its clock. Arthur C. Clarke is appalled, arguing for the world standard. Sri Lanka has already messed with its clock since Standard Time was invented and implemented politically, now it want’s to mess again.

Political time is a lot less screwy than political calendars thanks to clocks being a far more recent invention than calendars. The universe is the universe: our descriptions of it, our ideas about it, our prescriptions for societies … are something else again. My Sentiens: Stage Sense is one place at  where I discuss the arbitrary political nature of Standard Time as distinct from the natural time that Prigogine assumes is infinite and predates the universe. I’ll now discuss it again in the context of Social Epistemology / Reality / Time, repeating as appropriate. (Calendars too need more than a few words, but there’s already a fabulous web site on the subject. See this one while I find the URL for my favorite.)

First, there was time. We have evidence that men were recording lunar cycles by eighteen thousand years ago. Calendars developed. Much later, somebody came up with the sun dial: worked in good daylight only. Only recently have there been mechanical clocks. Only very recently has there been Standard Time: and standards require not only culture but politics: some authority sets the clock.

Prior to the telegraph “noon” was when you perceived the sun to be “overhead.” The sun is actually wherever it is. The spinning earth revolves around it, at an angle. Thus, noon moves around the earth each “day.” Noon, day … these are concepts of local perspective. If we were orbiting Jupiter noon on earth would make little sense unless we were in contact with some specific earthling in some specific location: Greenwich, New York, Tokyo … If I’m standing in a field in the Catskills, on the phone with somebody in another county or another state, we’ll have very different noons. If our measurements could be precise enough, my noon on this side of the street wouldn’t match your noon on that side of the street. With enough precision, we could be standing next to each other and not have the same noon.

high noon
Coop, noon
thanx cityartonline

Before the telegraph no one worried about that. With the telegraph, and the time stamping of messages, a guy in Brooklyn wires a guy in Hoboken. They seem to be “talking” at the “same” time, but the guy in Brooklyn time stamps his version of the message a few minutes before the guy in Hoboken’s time. In step the politicians, and we have Greenwich Mean Time, Eastern Standard Time, etc. We pretend that it’s noon at the same instant everywhere in the time zone, we pretend that Chicago is an hour earlier.

Just remember: in my house I can set my clock to any “hour” I want. It’s my clock. And if the clock breaks, the hour is set at whatever position it was in when it broke: unless I move it manually. The missionary gives the clock to the cannibal chief. In Eco’s illustration, the chief wears it as a necklace, the missionary has no idea what it means to him. And the chief doesn’t know what the missionary meant it to mean.

Meanwhile, real time is real time: infinite: unknowable.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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