Monday, September 23, 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everybody. At least, according to the French Revolutionary calendar that was adopted in France right after the Revolution. It was used from 1793 until 1805. Read more here. One purpose of the calendar was to produce a scientifically-based calendar system.

Part of the scientific basis is that it was modeled after nature, after the seasons and the phenomena associated with them, rather than arbitrary months invented by human governments. For example, March used to be the first month, but Roman emperors added January and February, apparently for purposes of tax revenue. Because the Romans stuck two months onto the beginning of the year, the names of the months now make no sense. “September” means seventh, “October” means eighth, “November” means ninth, and “December” means tenth. But the French Revolutionary Calendar begins very close to the Autumnal Equinox, which was actually yesterday. The seasons, and the movements of the Earth relative to the sun, dictate this calendar.

The French Revolutionary Calendar is also based on the moon. Each of the twelve months has thirty days, consistent with the phases of the moon. Twelve months therefore have 360 days; the remaining five days were special days added to the end of the year. Today is the first day of Vendémiaire, that is, the month of grape harvest.

The traditional religious calendar had feast days of the saints. The French Revolution swept religion aside and established non-theistic science as its basis. Their calendar named each day after (in most cases) plants, although many were named after animals or farm implements. For example, today is raisin, or grape. I guess the revolutionaries had their priorities straight, didn’t they.

The Revolutionary Calendar was just one way of rethinking the world. The scientists of the French Revolution also produced the metric system, which is not only still used but has been expanded. The metric system is based on nature. For example, they said the meter was one-ten-millionth the distance from the equator to the North Pole. (They were pretty close.) It was also based on powers of ten. Instead of 16 ounces in a pound and 2000 pounds in a ton, or 5280 feet in a mile, there were 10 millimeters in a centimeter, 100 centimeters in a meter, and 1000 meters in a kilometer. And it is based on water, also. A milliliter is one cubic centimeter (cc). A milliliter of water weighs one gram. A calorie is the amount of heat that can raise the temperature of 1 cc of water 1 degree Celsius. Water freezes at 0 and boils at 100. How nicely it all fits together. No wonder scientists have used the metric system for a long time. And every major country other than the United States uses the metric system. As scientists continue to explore the very large and very distant and very small and very brief, they have expanded the metric system to 24 orders of magnitude both ways from the base. There are a million million million million yoctoseconds in a second, and a million million million million meters in a yottameter. The French revolutionaries did not imagine this possibility. Now the metric system has spread around the world, while the Revolutionary Calendar has been largely forgotten.

The Revolutionary Calendar is certainly not the only one based on nature. The Jewish calendar begins with the Month of Nisan in spring.

The reason I like to observe the Revolutionary Calendar, in addition to the regular calendar, is that it helps to fit my thinking into the cycles of nature. It helps me realize that we are part of nature, rather than being masters over it. Just as we cannot force the sea to not rise (see my earlier blog entry), we cannot force January 1 to be the first day of the year in anything other than an artificial sense. We have to start thinking of ourselves as part of the mesh of nature, of evolution, of ecology.

So happy 1 Vendémiaire, everybody!

Don’t forget to check the preceding entries about the climate change workshop this past weekend.

1 comment:

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