The Time Before Tuesday
The answer isn’t Monday.
Our species by the best estimates traces its origins to approximately 300,000 years ago. Given the planet is 4.6 billion years old we arrived on the scene only an eye blink ago. Our modern sense of time is very different from 99.9% of our common history. Imagine hundreds of thousands of years without a Tuesday. Or a Monday. Or for that matter the idea of a week, month, year, a second, a minute or an hour. It isn’t if we lived outside of time. We surely did not. But the way we perceived time passing and how we organized our lives in time were radically different. Five thousand years separates the first recording of time by the Babylonians and Egyptians and the Atomic clock. It was the Babylonians whose calendar used a seven-day week with the names of gods and goddesses designating the days.
Tuesdays arrived much later. The name Tuesday has beentraced to the Teutonic myth of the Norse god of War — Tiu which Anglo-Saxons appropriated for the old English word for Tuesday which as Tiwesdaeg. While Tuesday and many other time reference words started from myth and superstition, ultimately time was appropriated by science with new tools for observation and measurement.
Imagine a way of life when meeting someone at 4.00 p.m. on the first Tuesday of January would hold no meaningful information. The creation of sundials, diaries, clocks, watches, and calendars arrived late in our development. Our economic, social, cultural and political systems are premised on a mutual understanding and acceptance of a common time. Even during the Cold War, neither side claimed ideological principles that would abolish the universally agreed upon standard to assess the passage of time.
The way we educate children, build high rise office towers, office hours, orbiting space stations, sport events, TV and movie showtimes, doctor’s appointments, voting cycles, public holidays, sick days, annual leave, credit card bills, tax returns is part of a very long list of activities and events that depend on a common consensus of time. We may have violent political discussions over policies ranging from guns to abortions, but no one on the extreme right or left are plotting to battle the other side over changing the names of the days of the week, or the number of days in a week, or weeks in a month. For those who say the diversity of cultures excludes co-operation haven’t paid sufficient attention to the general agreement about time.
Time is term that turns up everywhere in our language. From “I wouldn’t give him the time of day.” To “Time is money.” And “Time waits for no one.” “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” — Charles Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin.
Time is the coin minted by history, industry, government and society. No matter where we turn, we are trapped inside a time convention. We have the time of our birth, our 13th birthday, our 21st birthday, the date of our death. Time assigns a number that becomes an “age” that accumulates over time. There are dozens of videos on the theme of whether time is real or whether time is a fundamental feature.
Our standardized sense of Time creates the common tempo psychological state of modern people. Some people live in the past. But in the past where there were Tuesdays, and there are those who lived in the world of future Tuesdays. The railways in the 19th century was the technological development that required the standardization of time. In Britain British rail introduced a standardized system for calculating that substituted Greenwich Meantime for the local mean time previously used. Every village and town had its own local time. The multiple number of local times made train schedules a nightmare. Why was a standardized time system a radical and important invention? While local time parochialism worked perfectly well for villages and towns because prediction of the events or happenings was mainly local.
What worked for local economies was chaos for a national or internationally connected commercial and industrial based economies. Local time made scheduling unpredictable. Unpredictability made commerce and trading inefficient, more costly and increasing the risk arising from a chaotic world of local time zones. We took a train ride into the predictability tunnel on 1st December 1847 and no longer think of time as local except as an amusement or trivia question. Not that we have stopped thinking of personal time but that is another essay.
Thought experiments with observers on a station platform and passengers in a train led Einstein to discover the theory of Special relativity. Like local time before the railways, time had been relative to a location. For Einstein there was no absolute time. There was no cosmic Greenwich Meantime in his formula. In Einstein’s equations time is illusory. Time is dependent on the position of the observer. It makes no sense to ask what time it is on Alpha Centauri which is a mere 4.3 light years from earth as it would be ask where Tyr, the Norse God of War resides in time . Our best guess is a period of 78,000 earth years would be needed before a space craft arrived on Alpha Centauri. In Einstein’s universe our local time may have been standardized does not qualify it as guide to determine the relationship of our Tuesday to the idea of Tuesday on Alpha Centauri or any other star in the cosmos. We frame time around a context. The Roman God Saturn inspired the word Saturday, as this god ruled over agriculture, parties, and entertainment.
Improv jazz may come as close to the experience of being in the pre-Tuesday world and may have a message that may be useful in the post-Tuesday world in the deep future. The essence of improv is to creatively use surprise to express an emotional state, the flow into that state, not to push it away or to be fearful, but to be curious and playful.
A case can be made that our early ancestors lived in an environment without clocks, calendars. In our deep past, we lacked any local idea of 9.35 a.m. on Tuesdays or any other time or day of the week. We didn’t experience time in this methodical, mathematical and precise fashion. As result, for thousands of years, our species lived in a far different time-based world. A life without the standard periodical points of reference meant they lived in an environment with more surprises. Standardized time creates a different expectation about what is possible and likely to occur. Predictability is born from our modern time reference point. It is difficult for us to imagine living in a world without a precise and accurate time log to predict events. But that is the world in which we evolved. Timekeepers ushered us into a world where what you desire is predictable. Products are designed to satisfy the desire and to create new desires — all innovation, commerce and trade runs on the predictably rails.
Our modern sense of time is closely connected with our need for greater predictably and order. To dispense with time is to descend into chaos, or so the theory goes. There are ongoing debates as to whether time is fundamental, the connection between time and entropy, the absence of a time arrow at the quantum level. Our concerns are personal, local and immediate: Saturn, the God of banquets and hedonistic pursuits beckons us to cast a time horizon that targets Saturday.
Before the Babylonians our early ancestors measured time without calendars or from formulae based on the movement of celestial bodies. What makes their psychological lives different from our own is they measured time by sunrise and sunset, the change of season, the movement of game, the ripening of fruit, berries, nuts and edible plants. Nature was the timekeeper. The clock was read in the cycles of the moon, the change in streams and rivers, and the snow on mountains. The natural changes that could be read in the state of a forest or plain. Activities were planned on nature’s time scale. Our ancestors flowed through time on the arrow of time found in their environment. Our time sense fuels our parochialism: cosmic, nationalistic, historical sense of self. Time measuring in the era of Tuesdays feeds our sophism. And Tuesdays diminishes our personhood, becoming the rope around the neck that pulls out of bed and sends us to the office.
One day Romans woke up in 321 CE to discover Tuesday. There is more to time than the day of the week. Ever since that first Tuesday, we have measured time not by the events in nature but by an artificial construct of time sequences. Like Roman law, Roman time established a framework of social, political and economic life. Those influences were profound and continue to persist. It would have been difficult to assemble and lead an army into combat without an agreement about time. At the present moment, mass demonstrations or protest work with a consensus of meeting times. Every aspect of our lives has been regimented by applying a time scale. The tyrant of time is universally accepted. We move through time like on a long march from which it is impossible except for the most eccentric to drop out of the time grid. Our modern sense of time locks us into collective time vault from which there is little chance of escape.
The irony is the time we created hasn’t liberated us. It’s alienated us from nature and from the way we evolved as a species. We can’t go back to the time before Tuesday. The old Anglo-Saxon and Roman myths haunt our time corridors with their ancient gods in charge of our lives. We are born and die in a measured, calculated time prison that we accept as normal. One day far into the future what we think of as our modern consciousness that created technology and wealth will be looked upon by those in the deep future as a transitory phase between time cycles. To be liberated from the old time gods may be a goal of AI. In that timeless, quantum like state, we may return not to nature to mark time. Instead we surrender to a new god inside an artificially created world where Tuesdays no longer have any purchase on our lives. And it is always Saturday: feast day, fun and games, spectacle, adventure.
Every Tuesday and every other day become another blurry endless soma day.