# The Universe in One YearDecember 31, 2001 8:49 AM   Subscribe

The Universe in One Year Every year on December 31 since I was in 7th grade I think of something I saw in an episode of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. I found this: Imagine that the history of the universe is compressed into one year—with the Big Bang occurring in the first seconds of New Year’s Day, and all our known history occurring in the final seconds before midnight on December 31. Using this scale of time, each month would equal a little over a billion years. Dinosaurs ruled the Earth for almost two hundred million years - from December 25 to December 30 on this time line. Most of our entire written history fits into the last 10 seconds of the year. It's something to think about while watching the ball drop tonight.
posted by stevis (28 comments total)

What I'll think about while I'm not watching the ball drop tonight is how completely arbitrary our calendar/year numbering system is, how many other calendars are in use in today's world, and how celebrating this number change is utterly pointless. Well, except for people who need an excuse to party.
posted by fleener at 9:03 AM on December 31, 2001

You count your lack of points, I won't be able to focus.
posted by vbfg at 9:06 AM on December 31, 2001

What I'll think about while I'm not watching the ball drop tonight is how completely arbitrary our calendar/year numbering system is, how many other calendars are in use in today's world, and how celebrating this number change is utterly pointless.

And I'm going to light a votive candle and quietly gaze at my Shrine to the Almighty Fleener, Avatar of Humorlessness, Smiter of Fun.

Jesus, lighten up.
posted by Skot at 9:11 AM on December 31, 2001

Very humbling. Columbus discovered America a second before midnight? So when did Haughey discover MetaFilter? I guess tonight I'll have to drink to both Chris and Matt in one fell swoop!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:15 AM on December 31, 2001

how completely arbitrary our calendar/year numbering system is

I don't think arbitrary is a good description of our calendar system. After studying calendar systems for quite some time, I find ours to be the most useful and meaningful of the systems out there. you might want to read The Calendar FAQ and look at some of the other calendars, and realize how not-so-arbitrary our system is.

BTW, I think someone *cough* fleener *cough* needs some prozac.
posted by presto at 9:22 AM on December 31, 2001

Another view:
According to the Christian Bible, the Creation was 6000 years ago. That's 16.43 years every day if we condense that to a one year timeline. So, Columbus discovered America 31 days ago, or November 30 around midnight.
posted by stevis at 9:35 AM on December 31, 2001

Interestingly, our current mental state lends itself to addressing only the worldly matters most prevalent, as such is perpertuated in our zeitgeist. Pondering the significance of the world's human history as it relates to the history of the planet et al stirs a intrinsic modesty that our race must... ooh! BattleBots is on! get em, spinewrecker! Push em onto the spikes!
posted by Zbobo at 9:48 AM on December 31, 2001

According to the Christian Bible, the Creation was 6000 years ago.

Huh? That may not be true, as I've pointed out before here on MeFi.
posted by gd779 at 9:52 AM on December 31, 2001

Boy you guys take things too seriously. Lighten up Skot and vbfg.

Presto, it is perhaps the most arbitrary of man-made creations. Existence does not mark time. The stars do not align themselves. Forest creatures do not stand up and take notice. The world doesn't stop on its axis. We've arbitrarily given it a number and celebrate number changes. Woo hoo!
posted by fleener at 10:32 AM on December 31, 2001

OK, here's the quote I was looking for. This sums up my position.

Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunder-storm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols. -Thomas Mann
posted by fleener at 10:44 AM on December 31, 2001

Fleener, tonight I will celebrate your existence, and mine.
Cheers!
posted by nprigoda at 10:45 AM on December 31, 2001

But seriously, although superficially we are celebrating a "New Year", perhaps what is really being celebrated (and this could be true in every case of celebration in the history of humankind) is our utter amazement that we do in fact exist.
posted by nprigoda at 10:48 AM on December 31, 2001

Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols. -Thomas Mann

I think once a year taking a good howl at the moon and releasing a hearty "Yawp!" has to be a good thing. This grand life may just be a hamster wheel but it seems awfully depressing to think of it that way.
posted by amanda at 10:52 AM on December 31, 2001

But seriously, although superficially we are celebrating a "New Year", perhaps what is really being celebrated (and this could be true in every case of celebration in the history of humankind) is our utter amazement that we do in fact exist.

(to begin, I somewhat misunderstood our resident cynic, Mr. Fleener. I apologize. I thought his point was that of all the calendar systems, ours (the US) was the most arbitrary. I shouldn't be so hasty in my replies.)

anyway, I think that maybe the quote above is somewhat off. maybe we are celebrating the utter amazement that we continue to exist, not just the fact that we exist at all, and another "Year" shows this amazing continuancy... of course, maybe the dinosaurs also had such celebrations.
posted by presto at 11:04 AM on December 31, 2001

amanda, I did not say it was a bad thing. I said it was arbitrary. It's up to you to decide whether you need an excuse to party.

presto, when's the last time you heard Dick Clark exclaim the joy of our continued existence? I say it's merely a party and a day off work. It has other meanings only if you're a philosopher.
posted by fleener at 11:25 AM on December 31, 2001

I don't know about the rest of you but I for one will not be celebrating the coming of a new year tonight....I will however be celebrating the passing of a very terrible old year. I for one, am very relieved to see 2001 just go away!
posted by carolinagrl at 11:36 AM on December 31, 2001

It's up to you to decide whether you need an excuse to party.

I do. It's been a crap year.
posted by amanda at 11:47 AM on December 31, 2001

the idea of this "cosmic calendar" shows up in a great novel I read recently.
posted by gwint at 11:49 AM on December 31, 2001

A different view: imagine that the history of the universe is compressed into the length of your arm, starting at your shoulder with the Big Bang, continuing out towards your hand. If you take a nail file and stroke it once on the very tip of your fingernail, you'll have filed off the entire history of man.
posted by Hjorth at 12:00 PM on December 31, 2001

Even the animal and plants respond to a yearly cycle, even if they don't celebrate it. And it you want to celebrate it, what better way than to mark off a spot and note when it's come around again? I think it's less arbitrary than it seems, though the choice of date could have been different. I'd plump for the winter solstice or the spring equinox myself. But it's not the date we celebrate, it's the year, and that is decidedly natural.

Also, what Amanda said. Goodbye 2001, don't let the door hit you in the ass.
posted by rodii at 12:01 PM on December 31, 2001

Imagine the history of universe is a salami. A really BIG garlicky salami, the kind with crunchy peppercorns embedded in it. Every time you make a sandwich, you...mmm, salami. Gotta go!
posted by rodii at 12:14 PM on December 31, 2001

when's the last time you heard Dick Clark exclaim the joy of our continued existence? I say it's merely a party and a day off work. It has other meanings only if you're a philosopher.

Well... yeah! everything has different meanings to different sorts of people. Those less interested in reflection, whether due to nature or current mood, can just celebrate being. Others will spend a few moments feeling utter awe at existence and maybe a sense of happiness that they continue to exist. There's nothing wrong with rituals, even tho' they're not especially rational. Putting aside one day a year to note that we've taken another circle around our star (as a group, as opposed to the individual recognition of this on birthdays) is a good tradition.

Anyway, sure, arbitrary, meaningless, blah blah, but if it is, then what isn't? (And if you're thinking this way, might not be a bad idea to stop by & talk to a doc.)
posted by mdn at 12:29 PM on December 31, 2001

Rodii! You're cracking me up.

Nprigoda, that's what I celebrate: mere existence, and our awareness of it. Cheers!
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:32 PM on December 31, 2001

Just as an aside: remember two years ago tonight? We were all worrying (or not) about the dreaded specter of Y2K. Should we be thankful we have more real boogiemen now? Two years hence, will we be smirking about how naively fearful we were in 2001? God, I hope so.
posted by rodii at 1:42 PM on December 31, 2001

Oh: slainte, Mo. And everyone.
posted by rodii at 1:43 PM on December 31, 2001

I'd plump for the winter solstice or the spring equinox myself. But it's not the date we celebrate, it's the year, and that is decidedly natural

if we chose a non-arbitrary date, we'd be smushing two different celebrations (the year and the relevance of the date - solstice being the sun coming back, equinox the start of spring) into one. To celebrate just the year, the date is basically required to be arbitrary. Unless we chose some famous astronomer's birthday or something...
posted by mdn at 1:46 PM on December 31, 2001

Unless you think the the year as having a story (say, birth, flowering, ripeness, decline, death) and you choose the date most appropriate to the end/beginning of that (midwinter).
posted by rodii at 3:43 PM on December 31, 2001

Didi greets 2002, roaringly! "The New Year's holiday and tradition dates back to ancient Babylon 4,000 years ago. At that time it was celebrated with the first new moon, which marked the first day of spring in late March. During the Roman era, the calendar was modified to be synchronized with the sun instead of the moon, and in 46 BC[E] Julius Caesar established a permanent calendar where the new year would begin on the 1st of January."
posted by Carol Anne at 4:00 PM on January 1, 2002

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