Cycles of Time – Seasons Locale

19 February 2012

When your feet touch the bare earth…

After toying with numbers concerning the age of the universe, galaxy and solar system, looking at periods of millions and billions of years, I have to admit that it has less meaning than it did when I began this little exercise. Despite all these greater concerns, and of placing our singular moment in the context of infinite cycles, the importance in this paradigm shift is the focus on the here and now. We won’t be around in any recognizeable form in a few thousand years, so designing a calendar to persist so long is an exercise in moot. Nevertheless, the final step in looking at all this, is to associate the calendar with one’s proper seasons. We share the waxing and waning of the moon with everyone on earth, but the day and the seasons depend entirely on where you are.

What does the year look like where you are?

What are the annual fluctuations in the life around you? Do you have a hot and a rainy season? Do you have four seasons? One? What annual migrations are you witness to? What flowers bloom, and when? Living in Vancouver and Japan, I was witness to the cherry blossoms in early spring, and in Ottawa, the tulips, although much later. In Ottawa, the Canada geese fly south in the autumn, in Vancouver, every day around dusk, the crows gather to roost somewhere east of the city. These are the natural pulses to which we attune ourselves, if we bother to pay attention, and these are far more important to our well being than the new fall lineup of television, the new year, or Canada Day. They are far older, and outside the dictates of our distracted timekeepers.

What plants are native to your region? Which evolved there, and which are imports? Which can you eat, which are medicine? When do they push out of the earth, bloom, fruit, seed, die? Annuals, biannuals or perennials? Check your plant hardiness zone with this colourful, interactive map.

Which animals are your neighbours? Crows, cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, pigeons, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, groundhogs, rats, mice, rabbits, fox, coyotes? We have them all here. Some migrate, some hibernate, some move to the subnivean space, and some endure the long, cold winter, in better spirits than the most comforted bureaucrat. However you may feel about them, these critters are our neighbours as much as that noisy couple who live overhead.

And we’d do well to name our weeks, months and years after them. Customizing the names on the calendar, and using numbers to communicate dates, makes this a multicultural tool, the likes of which we don’t have. What better way to get a sense of a place than to learn the seasons. The Cold Moon, the Blackberry Moon. It’s not hard to figure out the rhythm of the seasons where the Algonquin live around the border of Ontario and Quebec. And yet, a simple number will tell you what that equivalent time is in your own calendar. Month of the Albatross. Week of the Purslane. Season of the Marten. It’s up to you. Why leave this in the hands of officials, who would more than likely name the months after officials, to lend weight to their position. Like July and August. Or worse…

Rethinking Where We Are

Taking our current national political boundaries as given (that’s a whole other argument, which I won’t get into here), how can we reorganize where we live to make more sense of it? It’s not like the borders of Saskatchewan follow any natural boundaries. No river or mountain was ever created using a ruler (in this case, a very appropriately named instrument). Let’s take a look at our broader environs.

There’s a start. It’s not like these regions are practical for political divisions, but for cultural divisions, it makes much more sense to base it on the landscape. Watersheds are also key, (at least until we use it all in unsustainable agriculture and concrete).

Since about 2005, for the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population lives in urban centres. Part of the consequence of urban living is the detachment from natural cycles, and dependence on human ones. From biology to technology. The largest challenge is adapting our millions of years of evolution to an environment that fights to counter it. Artificial light, polluted air, traffic congestion, and living by the clock, and the Gregorian Calendar.

We can make our cities sustainable. We can reform the way we live together. It will require a lot of energy and imagination. The energy comes from the living, not the dead. One of the most dire epidemics this country, and the world face, is a failure of imagination.

So let’s get on that, shall we?

306 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Cycles of Time – History

18 February 2012

A more recent timeline of homocentric events.

Previous posts on these subjects:

What is the purpose of reforming how we think of time? We’ve lived witht a distorted view of time for so long that our imagination about it has atrophied, and our health has deteriorated. It has permeated our language, and our thinking. In our industrialized environs, we have developed idioms such as “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” “24/7,” “Go go go,” “Time is money.”

This last is undoubtedly the worst mistake we’ve made in this respect. Equating time with money is erroneous, as they have very little in common, but it is evident in our language: we spend time/money, we save time/money, we waste time/money, we earn our time off/money. This is a twisted way of  thinking. Time isn’t a commodity, although we think of it as one (like pretty much everything else – porkbellies, for example. What a horrific way of reducing life to the lowest common denominator). Time can’t be saved, or wasted or earned or invested or spent. We don’t earn interest on time. We can’t insure our time. We can’t store it away in a timebank. Yet our language has come to frame it in such a way, since about the 1300s. Prior to that, spend referred exclusively to money. This is also around the time that the mechanical clock made its way around Europe. Currency only came to be associated with money in 1699, until then it referred to flowage or running (i.e. current, or Fr. courir).

Changing the way we think about time is key to good health. (more on that in upcoming posts, stay tuned). Remembering that our idea about time has been associated with the motion of the earth, sun, moon and stars far longer than it has the clock and finance. Our bodies have evolved with these natural time pieces for millions, even billions of years, if we consider our entire biospheric environment, far longer than our present attitudes seem to indicate.

Money is not our health. We have lived without an economy, but never without an ecology. So here’s to  change: to harmonizing our thoughts with something greater, and withdrawing them from petty concerns.

History Schmistory

In the Lost Millennium by Florin Diacu (book notes are forthcoming), much doubt is cast on our accepted version of historical chronology. Looking at historical records with celestial mechanics, possible overlaps and concurrencies in Dynasties in Egypt and Europe, and other methods, a few radical Russian mathematicians have come to the conclusion that our history may be 1,000 years shorter than we imagine.

Granted, there are a number of historicans and chronologists who argue their points and methodologies, however, it casts doubt on what we’ve accepted, and in some cases, there appears to be no conclusive evidence to point to a correct chronology. Diacu compares it to a teepee. One tent pole won’t hold it up, but three will lean on one another and support the whole. The trick is choosing an initial tent pole and everything else falls into place. So with historical references, such as the Peloponnesian War, the Council of Nicea, Olympiads, Eclipses and so on.

On the Hebrew Calendar, this is their Year 5772, however, the calendar wasn’t yet created. It is based on the date of creation. As such, it is projecting backwards. Same with the Julian Date, the Mesoamerican Long Count, the Proleptic Gregorian Calendar, the Chinese Calendar. They all project backwards from their inception date.

The most interesting the Lost Millennium mentions is brought up by the author’s colleague Tudor Ratiu in conversation.

“One thing I always found hard to accept is that there was no progress in the Middle Ages for almost a thousand years. To me, this contradicts the questing of the human spirit. Can you believe that nobody wrote books, created art, or developed science in Europe from the fall of Rome until the Renaissance?”

I’m not proposing to jump into the fray of reforming chronology (although that is a worthy exercise for people who know what they’re talking about). I am suggesting that there is some wiggle room as far as our commonly accepted history goes.

Key Events

The point in developing a perspective on history is to decide what defines a key event. Each culture has their own, as does each calendar. The Hebrew Calendar begins dating with creation. The Gregorian with the birth of Christ. The Muslim with the Hijra. As theAbysmal is intended to be a global calendar, and a calendar to translate between calendars, then the key events will be somewhat different.


  • 2.58 million years ago – current ice age began
  • 2.5 million years ago – genus Homo
  • 200,000 years ago – anatomically modern humans
  • 13,000 years ago – interglacial period of last ice age begins
  • 10 – 7 thousand years ago – agriculture (neolithic revolution)
  • 5,500 years ago – birth of civilization

Rounding these numbers off, and looking at events that may have some global significance:

  • 13 years ago – beginning of the electronic age (in global terms)
  • 130 years ago – beginning of the electrical age
  • 1,300 years ago – the Dark Ages – who knows?
  • 13,000 years ago – end of last glacial period, beginning of agriculture
  • 52 years ago – Year of Africa – African countries declare independence from France, the UK and Belgium
  • 520 years ago – Europe discovers America
  • 5,200 years ago – beginning of civilization
  • 26 years ago – UN’s International Year of Peace, Halley’s comet reaches its closest point to the Sun
  • 260 years ago – British Empire adopts the Gregorian Calendar, making it the most widely used in the world
  • 2,600 years ago – Gautama Buddha, Pythagoras, Confucius, Loatzi, and other greatly influential men walked the earth
  • 26,000 years – cycle of the precession of the equinoxes

These particular observations are multiples of 13, which is the basis of the Maya Long Count, however, they measure periods of 360 days, not years, so their timing is not the same as that above.

As a side note, the Roman Empire period from 44 BC (Caesar’s assassination) until 476 CE (a commonly accepted date for the fall of Rome) is 520 years. Just throwing that out there.

Where does all this lead? I have no idea, but hope to have something figured out by tomorrow.

307 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Cycles of Time – Playing with Numbers

17 February 2012

Science, Calendrics and Numerology – It’s Not All Superstition

Previous posts on these subjects:

Scaling Factors – Fractal Coils

In terms of developing a cohesive numbering system, it is important to make the distinction between the idealized numbers and the observed numbers. The Venus Cycle, for example, is idealized at 584 days, however, the current estimate is 583.92 days. The duration can vary from cycle to cycle. There are a few traditions that relate the smallest measures to the largest. I’m hoping to find a recurrence of certain numbers between shorter measures (nothing smaller than a second) to the longest (in the trillions of years). Should certain appear repetitively, or as multiples of others, especially across calendar systems, then that may just prove to be a basis for theAbysmal Calendar’s fractal time experiment.

Mesoamerican Numerology

The Maya harmonic number is 1,366,560 days. This harmonizes in whole numbers several time measures in Maya cosmology.

Harmonic Number: 1,366,560 = 73 x 32 x 13 x 9 x 5 = 73 x 20 x 13 x 9 x 8

1,366,560 days
= 5, 256 x 260 (sacred calendar)
= 3, 796 x 360 (1 tun)
= 3, 744 x 365 (1 Haab)
= 2340 x 584 (1 Venus Cycle – synodic period of Venus)
= 1752 x 780 (1 Mars Cycle – synodic period of Mars)
= 72 x 52 x 365 = 73 x 52 x 360 = 72 x 73 x 260
= 468 x 8 x 365 = 468 x 5 x 584

Chinese Numerology

Most importantly for the Chinese Calendar is the stem-branch system, which assigns 10 celestial stems and 12 earthly branches to different measures of time. The year in the Chinese calendar has both, although the earthly branches, i.e. the animals of the Chinese zodiac receive most of the attention. The celestial stems are a combination of Yang-yin with the five Chinese elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water). These two cycles combine to create a pattern of 60 years. 60 is a key number for tying time (60 seconds, 60 minutes, 60 years, etc…) with space (6 x 60 degrees in a circle). More on this below when we take a look at Mesopotamian numerology.

As described elsewhere, the I Ching is an oracular system developed in China consisting of 64 hexagrams made of 6 lines. Each line is either broken or firm as illustrated below (note, hexagrams are read from the bottom up, for what it’s worth):

This system is used by theAbysmal more for its binary structure, as well as its use in relating the Chinese calendar to the seasons and other attributes. If you’re interested in oracular readings, see here.

In terms of using this for numerology, there is the following attributations:

6 x 64 = 384  – this is total number of lines in the I Ching as well as the number of days in 13 lunations (13 x 29.5384 days = 384)

384 days x 64 = 67.29 years
= 6 minor sunspot cycles (6 x 11.2 solar years)

67.29 years x 64 = 4306.27 years
= 2 zodiacal ages (also 384 sunspot cycles)

6 x 4306.27  years = 25, 838 years
= 1 Precession of the Equinoxes

These numbers are generalizations, and not as accurate as modern astronomical measures of these phenomena. Nevertheless, they are an example of numerology at work. We have the luxury of being able to harmonize what works from various systems with what works in others.  One example of this is the relationship between 64 and 260 as detailed in the following.

Franklin’s Magic Square

Ben Franklin played with magic squares a great deal (I guess when he wasn’t busy doing countless other things). He arranged the numbers from 1 – 64 in an 8×8 square such that the numbers down each column, and across each row add up to 260.

Although the diagonals do not add up to 260, there are other patterns within the square that do.

Quite an astounding discovery. I’m sure both the Maya and Chinese are impressed. I know I am. If we join the numbers in the magic square beginning at 1 by drawing a line to 2, then 3 and so one, we get the following pattern:

There’s a certain symmetry that’s hard to ignore, and equally hard to find meaning in. Nevertheless, it’s fun with numbers, and may work itself into our fun with numbers later on. Maybe I’ll just hang it on the wall next to a picture of Ben Franklin’s brain.

Mesopotamian Numerology

Sumer, Babylon and so on, used a sexigesimal (base 60) system for reckoning.

Harmonic Number: 12, 960, 000 = 60 x 60 x 60 x 60

The calendar system they used was of 360 days + 5 extra days (different from the Maya tun which didn’t compensate with the extra 5 days). We can say that the Mesopotamians had 360 calendar days, divided into 12 months of 30 days each, whereas the Maya had 360 consecutive days, divided into 18 winal of 20 days each.

With the precession of the equinoxes, the stars shift about 1 degree every 72 years (it’s a little less than this, and the rate isn’t constant. The Mesopotamians calculated it as 72, which is pretty close). So along the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun agains the backdrop of the zodiac, if we could see them during the day), the sun would pass into any given sign one day earlier every 72 years. For example, the Sun passed into Aries on April 19th for the better part of the 20th Century, and now it does so on April 18th. (We’re referring to the astronomical constellations here, not the astrological zodiac. Those signs are fixed in place).

Every  360 years, the sun would pass through the entire zodiac, and start again at Aries. This cycle would take 25, 920 years (360 degrees x 72 years), which is close to the current estimate of 25,772 years for a full precession.

25, 920 = 60 x 432

432 is another key number in Mesopotamian, and ancient Indian time reckoning, especially as it pertains to longer periods of time.

60 seconds = 1 minute
60 minutes = 1 degree
360 degrees = 1 circle

60 seconds = 1 minute
60 minutes = 1 hour

24 hours = 86,400 seconds = 43,200 x 2

Hindu Time Measure

The sources for some of these immense measures of time is the Vishnu Purana. Once again we see the appearance of the numbers 360 and 432.

Reckoning of Time: the Devas

  • 1 human year = 1 day of the Devas.
  • 30 days of the Devas = 1 month of the Devas. (= 30 human years)
  • 12 months of the Devas = 1 year of the Devas = 1 divine year (= 360 human years)
  • The lifespan of the Devas is 100 years of the Devas (= 36,000 human years)

Reckoning of Time: the Yuga

  • 4,000 + 400 + 400 = 4,800 divine years (= 1,728,000 human years = 4 x 432,000) = 1 Krita Yuga
  • 3,000 + 300 + 300 = 3,600 divine years (= 1,296,000 human years = 3 x 432,000) = 1 Tretá Yuga
  • 2,000 + 200 + 200 = 2,400 divine years (= 864,000 human years = 2 x 432,000) = 1 Dwápara Yuga
  • 1,000 + 100 + 100 = 1,200 divine years (= 432,000 human years) = 1 Kali Yuga
  • 12,000 divine year = 4 Yuga (= 4,320,000 human years) = 1 Mahayuga (also called divine yuga)

Reckoning of Time: Brahma

  • 1,000 Mahayuga = 1 kalpa = 1 day (day only) of Brahma
  • 2,000 Mahayuga = 2 kalpa = 1 day & 1 night of Brahma
  • 30 days of Brahma = 1 month of Brahma (259.2 billion years)
  • 12 months of Brahma = 1 year of Brahma (3.1104 trillion years)
  • 50 years of Brahma = 1 Pararddha
  • 2 Parardha = 100 years of Brahma (lifespan) = 1 Mahakalpa (311.04 trillion human years)


I’m not so sure what I’m going to do with this mess of numbers. Some of these have interesting correlations, others may harmonize well into some semblance of a time reckoning system, and others may not. The point is harmonizing traditions that may stem from common elements, and in cases where they don’t, harmonize them anyway. This exercise isn’t so much to accomodate different calendar traditions, as this would be near impossible, it’s more to look at numerological relationships in the context of daykeeping, and finding what may work for theAbysmal Calendar in looking at longer spans of time.

308 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Cycles of Time – Becoming the Body

16 February 2012

looking at time systems from the small to the all

Previous posts on these subjects:

Maya 13 Baktun – each column is 394 years from 3113 BC – 2012 CE

When referring to fractals of time, I mean to say the self-similar aspect of fractals. In the Long Count Calendar of Mesoamerica (the Maya, Aztec and others), uses units of 20 to organize their day count. There are periods of 20 days, similar to a month. 18 of those is a vague year (360 days). This vague year is called a tun. 20 tun, then 20 x 20 tun, then 20 x 20 x 20 tun and so on. The other number that is key to the timekeeping system of Mesoamerica is 13. Thus 13 x 20 = 260 is a doubly important number. 260 days is the length of their sacred calendar; 260 katun is the length of the period of history coming to an end on December 21st 2012 CE.

Although for us, the year is important for longer periods of time. Something I stumbled across was the period between three key years in calendar history: 1492 Europeans discovered the peoples of the Americas, bringing the Julian and Mesoamerican perspective on time together. 260 years later, 1752, the British Empire switched from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar, making it the most widespread calendar in use in the world. 260 years later, 2012, the end of the Long Count Calendar’s 13 baktun, or 260 katun period. Does it mean anything? Only what you want it to.

fractal patterns display self-similarity across scale

Fractals aren’t theoretical, they appear throughout nature, like in Romanesco broccoli.

Two archaic films (both from 1968) used the zoom to get across the scales of existence from the tiny to the enormous.

Beyond Numbers – Our Body in Time

This experiment in time is an exercise in developing our health, believe it or not (or at least give it a think). In several traditional medicines, diagnoses are made by looking at the face, the feet and other body parts as maps to the entire body. If there is a lesion in a particular spot, it tells of a deeper problem elsewhere.

If time is a matter of perception, as with colour, flavour, sound, sensation and so forth, then our understanding of it on a cosmic scale is completely dependent of us understanding it on a personal scale.

The 260-day cycle that the Maya use for their sacred calendar was original derived from the particular location where it was developed (by another culture on the Pacific Coast of Mexico). The Sun would pass directly overhead at its highest point in April, then slowly move its way South (to the Tropic of Capricorn), then return on August 13th. This would take 260 days. However, more recently, the 260 days have been tied to the length of human gestation. We currently round gestation off to 9 lunar months or 266 days. Using the gestation period as the foundation of a fractal timekeeping system is insightful. It ties our first experience of time as our very body develops to those of the cycles of the cosmos.

For the first 13 days of gestation, the cell (zygote) divides into 2, then 4, 8 and so on until it reaches 64 or 128 cells. Throughout this stage, the ball of cells is called a  morula Then something miraculous happens: gastrulation. The cells differentiate into three membranes which will develop into all of our tissues and organs: the ectoderm (which will become the skin and nervous system), the endoderm (which will become the digestive and respiratory systems), and the mesoderm (which will become the muscle and skeletal systems).

Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine uses these membranes (called doshas) as the basis for diet, health and well being. Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine both use symbology to tie the body to the greater social and cosmic cycles, through the use of the 5 elements, yin-Yang and other associated qualities. The difficulty I have with our very young tradition of scientific medicine is that it is so complex in its detail that there are numerous specialized fields, which leaves the layman further removed from sharing our cultural knowledge of how we regard our bodies and health, and many settle for the quackery of television and tabloid generalizations.

Prostrating before the masses.

Although our personal development begins with conception (I refuse to enter the debate on when life begins. My answer is 4 billion years ago), the process began long before, with our parents, their parents and so on, and on the molecular level, with their DNA. DNA as the basis of all life and reproduction (well, RNA as well), it is an important consideration.

DNA molecules are being developed into molecular computers, although this is still in the early stages. Bases pair up with each other, forming the rungs of the ladder in the animation above. There are 4 bases, two pairing types: adenine (A) forms a base pair with thymine (T) and guanine (G) forms a base pair with cytosine (C). In RNA, thymine is replaced by uracil (U).

Three consecutive bases form a codon, which defines the amino acid/protein to be developed in the cell. There are 20 amino acids defined by 64 codons. I’m not trying to get too deeply into molecular biology (which I always struggled with) or genetics (which I struggled with only slightly less), but at least want to look at the basis of life, and the basic math we associate with it. This has been done before, as I have previously posted about, by the folks at the 13 moon law of time site, founded by Jose Arguelles.

In the above graphic, the tao and I ching binary system links the 64 hexagrams with the 64 codons.

The Maya also held 20 as sacred, likely because it is our total number of digits (fingers and toes). It’s also the number of amino acids.

By the Numbers

What are the time periods most fundamental to us in terms of natural timekeeping? The Day, Lunation and Year are the foundation. Joseph Campbell associated the second with the resting adult heart rate, which if you’re going to build an arbitrary time system seems as good a starting point as ever. In Ayurveda, blinking and the breath are tied to 4 second periods. These are by no means measure of an actual breath, or an actual heart rate, but Platonic ideals, not as some idea of perfection to strive for, but as a symbolic number to tie things together. A mnemonic. It is more effective to have a system in place than to go with rote memorization.


The I Ching and tao use a binary counting system. As it’s the basis for computer language, it seems appropriate that we should become more familiar with it. However, our approach to binary thought in North America is divisive, whereas the taoist is complimentary.

We tend to see extremes as conflicting opposites. Light-Dark are seen as forces of good and evil. One is expected to align themselves with the good and oppose the evil. This creates a rift between the extremes. Light is good, dark evil. The taoist view is that the extremes define the space between them. Light and dark are polar perfections, and we exist in the interplay of grey, shade, shadow, red, green, indigo and all variation in between.

There is a progression from the absence (as with dark, or cold) to presence (light, heat). The in-between is the gradation. Both extremes are necessary, and opposing one in favour of the other brings imbalance. At least, that’s my dilettantish opinion on the matter.

The binary system reflects our first physical days, dividing from one zygote to 2 cells, 4 cells, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 through the process of mitosis. It is the basis of the I ching which is also tied to time, the moon, the seasons. It is an essential link.


The three embryonic membranes determine all of our body tissues. We perceive three primary hues of colour. Our sense of space is defined by three dimensions, in no small part due to the three semi-circular canals in the inner ear which determine our balance. Three bases form a codon.These are a few fundamental biological examples of 3. There are more.


Our DNA/RNA have four base pairs, we have four limbs, our hearts have four chambers, our livers have four lobes.


One way of defining 5 is 4 + 1 (my thanks to grade 1 math). 5 base pairs – DNA uses four, RNA uses a different set of four. Four limbs, but 5 extremities, if we count our head. Our two lungs have 5 lobes. We have 5 digits per limb. We can think of 10 and 20 as multiples of 5.


Human gestation lasts 9 lunar months.


We have 13 major articulations (neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles).


For the moment, it appears that the traditional Chinese, Indian and Mesoamerican systems of timekeeping might harmonize the levels of time best. These at least represent the East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Americas. Not to exclude others, by any means. Scientific astronomy, medicine and so forth will certainly play a role, but the essence of this is in its coherence, and self-similarity.

I am not above fudging numbers for the sake of a beautifying the system. =)

309 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Cycles of Life – Of Mud and Men

15 February 2012

the long cycles of the Dance: the Earth, Moon and Sun.

See Part 1 of Cycles of Life

Continuing our exploration of physical phenomena and longer periods of time, I’m taking a look at the Sun and the Solar System, and their relationship to Earth. Milankovitch cycles, geological time, evolution are also included, up to about the Holocene Epoch.

In the Invisible Landscape Terence & Dennis McKenna use the I Ching to tie the 64 hexagrams to lunations, solar cycles and the precession of the equinoxes as follows:

6 x 64 = 384 days = 13 lunations
(note: 64 hexagrams of 6 lines each is the amount of lines in the entire I Ching)

384 days x 64 = 67 years 104.25 days
= 6 solar cycles (6 x 11.2 solar years)

6 solar cycles x 64 = 4306+ years
= 2 zodiacal ages

6 x 4306+ years = 25, 836 years
= 1 Precession of the Equinoxes

This is a numerological system, and the results are approximate and idealized. However, it’s this kind of symbolic equivalence that I’m hoping to flesh out of theAbysmal Calendar system. Why? It’s all about the stories, my friends.

the Sun – Spottiest Timekeeping System in History

The Sun is our principal time machine, and as such, we’re familiar with its role in the Day, the Lunation and the Year. I won’t belabour those measures here. However, as the hub of the solar system, it is key to the orbit of the planets, which we have tracked for thousands of years. Those figure into timekeeping in many traditions.

The solar cycle of sunspots has only been recorded since about 1755. Solar cycles have a mean duration of about 11 years, with a great deal of variance (from 9 years up to almost 14). At the moment, we’re about midway through solar cycle 24.

One coincidence of note: we began recording solar cycles in 1755, 3 years after the British Empire adopted the Gregorian Calendar, making it the most widespread single calendar in use. Not sure if that means anything, but we could make it mean something. That’s what our brains are for.

Lunar Periods of Note

from Introducing Biological Rhythms
Due to the gratiation effect of the Moon since its formation 4.45 billion years ago (bya), the Earth’s day has been slowly becoming larger*
Time Scale Duration of one rotation of the earth (h)
4.5 bya 6.0
4.4 bya 10.0
4.0 bya 13.5
900 mya 18.17
400 mya < 22
245 mya 22.75
100 mya 23.5
today 24.0
225 my hence 25.0
* As the Moon has slowly moved away from Earth, its effect on the Earth’s day length has also been slowing down. One second is added to our day every 62,500 years.

the Hipparchic Cycle is an eclipse cycle that closely matches integer numbers of several cycles:  synodic months (4267), anomalistic months (4573), years (345), and days (126007 + about 1 hour); it is also close to the draconic months (4630.53…)

Planetary Motion

Keeping this relatively simple, the orbital (sidereal) and synodic periods. These are also changing over longer periods of time, naturally.


Sidereal Period


Synodic Period


Mercury 87.6961 days 115.88 days
Venus 224.70069 days 583.92 days
Mars 686.971 days 779.96 days
Jupiter 4,332.59 days11.8618 years 398.88 days
Saturn 10,759.22 days29.4571 years 378.09 days
Uranus 30,799.095 days84.323326 years 369.66 days
Neptune 60,190 days164.79 years 367.49 days

There are also annual Meteor showers to mark the year.

Haley’s comet is the ony periodic comet that is clearly visible from Earth, and has a period of 75-76 years.

Milankovitch Cycles – the Earth in Motion

Milutin Milanković calculated aspects of Earth’s motion, notably Precession (precession of the Equinoxes in particular), Nutation and Orbital Forcing (changes to the Earth’s axial tilt and path of its orbit). He determined the relationship of these motions to changes in Earth’s climate.

The tilt of Earth’s axis oscillates between 22.1° and 24.5°. This cycle takes 41,000 years to shift from one extreme to the other and back. It is currently 23.44° and decreasing. It is estimated to reach 22.1° around the year 10,000 CE – 8,000 years from now.

The shape of Earth’s elliptical orbit oscillates between nearly circular (eccentricity of 0.005) and mildly elliptical (eccentricity of 0.058). It is currently 0.017.

The major component of these variations occurs on a period of 413,000 years (eccentricity variation of ±0.012). A number of other terms vary between components 95,000 and 125,000 years (with a beat period 400,000 years), and loosely combine into a 100,000-year cycle.

The more elliptical the orbit, the more variation in the length of seasons, solar radiation and temperatures.

The period of Nutation, the wobble in the course of the axial precession. The major component of the nutation cycle is 18.6 years, which coincides with the precession of the Moon’s orbital nodes.

The precession of the equinoxes proceeds at variable rates, but is commonly rounded up to 26,000 years (25,772 Julian years is the current estimate).

The Apsidal Precession is the rotation of Earth’s orbit around the Sun, causing a shift in the time when Earth is at its closest and furthest from the Sun. This is also expected to shorten the precession of the Equinoxes. This is estimated at 112,000 years. Its effect on the seasons is illustrated above.

Because the anomalistic year is longer than the sidereal year while the tropical year (which calendars attempt to track) is shorter due to the precession of Earth’s rotational axis, the two forms of ‘precession’ add. It takes about 21,000 years for the ellipse to revolve once relative to the vernal equinox, that is, for the perihelion to return to the same date (given a calendar that tracks the seasons perfectly). The dates of perihelion and of aphelion advance each year on this cycle, an average of 1 day every 58 years.

The plane of Earth’s orbit drifts up and down with respect to the invariable plane of the solar system, roughly equivalent to the orbit of Jupiter. This oscillation takes about 100,000 years, which is similar to the eccentricity period as well as the ice age period

As attractive as round numbers are, one cannot discount the 100,000 year problem.

the Earth – Geological Timeline

4.54 billion years ago the Earth is born

4.53 billion years ago – formation of Moon

Graphical Timeline and links

eon >= 500 million years
era >= 100s million years
epoch = 10s millions years
age = millions years

Hadean 4.7 – 3.8 bya
Archaen 3.8 – 2.5 bya
Proterozoic 2.5 bya – 542 mya
Phanerozoic 542 mya – present

Phanerozoic eon:
Paleozoic 542-251 mya
Mesozoic 250 – 65 mya
Cenozoic 65 mya – present

Cenozoic era:
Paleogene 65 – 23 mya
Neogene 23 – 2.6 mya
Quaternary 2.6 mya – present

Quaternary period:
Pleistocene 2.6mya – 11,700 years ago
Holocene 11,700 years ago – present

Holocene epoch – you’re living it.

Glaciations & Glacial Ages

Glacial Ages refers to the longer periods in which ice sheets advance over and retreat from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. During any given age, there are periods of glaciation as the ice advances, and interglacial periods where it retracts, such as the one we’re in now.

There have been five major Glacial Ages

Last glacial period ~13,000 years ago (estimates vary)

Evolution and Mass Extinction Events

The basic timeline of evolution:

  • 3.8 billion years of simple cells (prokaryotes),
  • 3 billion years of photosynthesis,
  • 2 billion years of complex cells (eukaryotes),
  • 1 billion years of multicellular life,
  • 600 million years of simple animals,
  • 570 million years of arthropods (ancestors of insects, arachnids and crustaceans),
  • 550 million years of complex animals,
  • 500 million years of fish and proto-amphibians,
  • 475 million years of land plants,
  • 400 million years of insects and seeds,
  • 360 million years of amphibians,
  • 300 million years of reptiles,
  • 200 million years of mammals,
  • 150 million years of birds,
  • 130 million years of flowers,
  • 65 million years since the non-avian dinosaurs died out,
  • 2.5 million years since the appearance of the genus Homo,
  • 200,000 years of anatomically modern humans,
  • 25,000 years since the disappearance of Neanderthal traits from the fossil record.
  • 13,000 years since the disappearance of Homo floresiensis from the fossil record.

The largest of greater Extinction Events (EE) is the Permian-Triassic EE which saw the demise of 96% of aquatic species, and 70% of terrestrial. We’ve had a few of these during Earth’s history, and the major events are worth noting.

There are lesser extinction events as well, the most recent of which we are believed to be responsible for.

It has been suggested variously that extinction events occurred periodically, every 26 to 30 million years,or that diversity fluctuates episodically every ~62 million years.

grey denotes all genera; green are well defined genera; the red line is the trend; the yellow arrows are the big five EE; the blue arrows lesser EE

Summary from Part 1:

  • 13.7 billion years ago, Universe born
  • 13.2 billion years ago, Milky Way born
  • 4.56 billion years ago, Sun born
  • 225-250 million years – Solar orbit of Sagittarius A* (Galactic Centre)
  • 88 million years – oscillation cycle of solar system during galactic orbit
  • 1,190 years – Solar system travels 1 light year
  • 7 days – Solar system travels 1 AU
  • 3-5 billion years hence, the Milky Way will collide and merge with the Andromeda galaxy.
  • 10 billion years hence, the Sun dies
  • 100 billion to 1 trillion years hence, the galaxies of the local group are expected to merge.


So many numbers, so much meaning, so much meaninglessness. I hope to sift through the data, and come up with some rough estimates of key periods and events to use as anchor points in a calendar system that refers to longer periods of time (epochs, eras, etc…). If this works out by any stretch, it may be something of interest to the Long Now Foundation. Not that they don’t have their work cut out for them already.

310 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Cycles of Life – the Comic Cosmic

14 February 2012

A long time coming – the long cycles of the Cosmos

We have to describe and to explain a building the upper story of which was erected in the nineteenth century; the ground-floor dates from the sixteenth century, and a careful examination of the masonry discloses the fact that it was reconstructed from a dwelling-tower of the eleventh century. In the cellar we discover Roman foundation walls, and under the cellar a filled-in cave, in the floor of which stone tools are found and remnants of glacial fauna in the layers below. That would be a sort of picture of our mental structure.
C.G. Jung Mind and Earth

For the form of cosmology is clearly much closer to that of poetry, and the thought suggests itself that symmetrical cosmology may be a branch of myth. .. Perhaps, then, this whole pseudo-scientific world of three spirits, four humours, five elements, seven planets, nine spheres, twelve zodiacal signs, and so on, belongs in fact, as it does in practice, to the grammar of literary imagery.

Northrop Frye Anatomy of Criticism (1957)

The entire body of scientific record is a story, although I would hesitate to call it a narrative. There are too many authors, and there’s simply too much material to be told even in seven generations. Nevertheless, let’s see about addressing it with broad strokes a billion years wide.

One particular calendar reform proposal, the Human Era, got me to thinking about the longer-term measures of time, history, and how we came to be here, sharing information on this wondrous network we call the Internet. Cesare Emiliani proposed that we add 10,000 years to the current Common Era (CE) to bring the calendar in line with the Holocene Epoch. So 2012 CE becomes 12,012 HE. It’s a good idea for reform, however, I believe the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar is one up on this.

The Long Count Calendar is the one that notoriously comes to the end of the cycle of 13 baktun on December 21st 2012 (or 12,012 HE). The long count measures days, and arranges them into groups of 20 (with one exception of 18). 20 days make a winal, and 18 winal make a tun of 360 days. Every successive grouping after this is by a factor of 20. 20 tun make 1 katun and 20 katun make a baktun. A baktun is 400 tun, which is about 394 1/3 years. 13 of those is 5,125 1/3 years.

Longer periods of time have been named by Mayanists. 20 baktun = 1 piktun, 20 piktun = 1 kalabtun, 20 kalabtun = 1 k’inchiltun, 20 k’inchiltun = 1 alautun. There are greater measures possible, of course, but what could it possibly measure? The alautun is approximately 63,081,431 years. It’s close to the beginning of the Cenozoic Era following the extinction event that finished off most of the dinosaurs. Any connection between the Maya calendar and geological points of reference is purely coincidental. (4.134105 x 1028 years) is the longest date found at a Maya site (Coba) and it is believed to be their duration for one cycle of the Universe.

The Hindu Vedas relate vast spans of time from microseconds to the lifecycle of the Universe, a little over 311 trillion years.

The reason I bring up these calendar systems, is that they open up the possibilities of new ways to consider history. Each calendar measures its epoch from a significant moment: the Hebrews from Creation, the Romans from the founding of Rome, and many others. In our current, secular world, the date of creation is the Big Bang, estimated at 13.7 billion years ago (in Long Count terms that’s about 220 alautun).

The other events of significance regarding our little lives on earth would be the formation of the Milky Way and our Solar System. On a geological scale, there is the formation of Earth, the geological stages, the evolution of life, development of human beings, and the creation of culture and civilization and history. Jose Arguelles argued that the 13 baktun measure the history of human civilization from 3,113 BC to 2,012 CE (or 6,887-12,012 HE). Regardless, it’s those stages of creation that I intend to explore here, along with any associated periodicity.

I riffed on this earlier in Scales of History (how I do go on, and repeat myself).

thank you US Geological Survey – I love this graphic

What I hope to accomplish here is some kind of equivalent relationship between the smallest period and the largest basing it on scientific phenomena. This is by no means exhaustive, or even thorough, but a starting point for considering a system of timekeeping that reminds us of our place in the cosmos. We already have a few time periods to build from: 1 second is about one heartbeat (for an adult at rest); 1 day is the period of the Earth’s rotation around its axis; 1 lunation is the Moon’s synodic period; 1 year is one orbit of the Earth around the Sun.

There are local phenomena which are fundamental to time reckoning, like when certain plants bloom, or fruit, when animals migrate, when the ice freezes, and so on. These are less important to those of us who don’t garden, hunt or fish, but are important for those of us who respect plants, animals and fungi as our neighbours.

click to enlarge – it’s well worth it

Timeline of Major Events

Birth of the Universe – the Big Bang

13.7 billion years ago

Although there are competing theories about the nature of the universe and its destiny, the one that resonates with smaller events is the big bang to big cruch cycle. As the expansion of the universe appears to be accelerating, I would speculate that we are somewhere in the first half of the cycle. As new observations and discoveries regarding the nature of the universe are ongoing, who knows how this might change in the upcoming months and years.

For the time being, I’m comfortable using this cyclical theory of the timeline of the universe. Estimating its lifetime is a huge challenge, so for the moment, we’ll just let it do its thing at its own pace.

the Milky Way

13.2 billion years ago it formed

3-5 billion years hence, the Milky Way will collide and merge with the Andromeda galaxy.

100 billion to 1 trillion years hence, the galaxies of the local group are expected to merge.

Every 500 million years, Sagittarius A* goes through a period of starburst

The Milky Way’s rotation rate is 15 to 50 million years depending on the location

Galactic Atlas showing stars and constellations

the Solar System – Population I Star

4.56 billion years ago – lifetime 14+ billion years



A galactic year: 225–250 million years – the time it takes the solar system to complete one orbit of the Milky Way. It has completed an estimated  20–25 orbits during the lifetime of the Sun.

In addition, the Sun oscillates up and down relative to the galactic plane approximately 2.7 times per orbit – this was thought to coincide with mass extinction events, however, that no longer appears to be the case. 88 million years per oscillation (assuming its regularity).

The orbital speed  is approximately 251 km/s.

The Solar System takes 1,190 years to travel a distance of 1 light-year (10 trillion km), or 7 days to travel 1 AU (about 150 million km)


  • 13.7 billion years ago, Universe born
  • 13.2 billion years ago, Milky Way born
  • 4.56 billion years ago, Sun born
  • 225-250 million years – Solar orbit of Sagittarius A* (Galactic Centre)
  • 88 million years – oscillation cycle of solar system during galactic orbit
  • 1,190 years – Solar system travels 1 light year
  • 7 days – Solar system travels 1 AU
  • 3-5 billion years hence, the Milky Way will collide and merge with the Andromeda galaxy.
  • 10 billion years hence, the Sun dies
  • 100 billion to 1 trillion years hence, the galaxies of the local group are expected to merge.

More tomorrow in Cycles of Life part 2.

311 Days to Dec 21st 2012