Scales of History

20 December 2016

13 and 20 and 20 and 20.

Ah, theAbysmal Days, when apparently we Leap over theAbyss and my mind overflows with thoughts on the higher functions of how the way in which we view or perceive time affects the way we think. It changes our mind. Between what I’ve researched astronomy, chronobiology, body function by time of day, time of month, time of year, time of life, embodied cognition, neurobiology, story, symbol, imagination, creativity, history, and reaching back to anthropology as well as calendar systems themselves in order to come up with this. It isn’t idle chatter. It’s the result of my subconscious knitting it all together in the background, and as  has become habit, at the New Year, it presents itself for consideration.

Supercoiled DNA molecular model

In this case, it’s the shape of history, or at the very least longer measures of time. 260 seems to be at the heart of it. 13 is one sacred number to the Maya, the other is 20, which is multiplied much like we do with 10 in observing decades, centuries, millennia. I also noted that the 13 is often associated with the major articulations of the body (ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck), 20 is associated with the fingers and toes. Read the rest of this entry »

Ancestors and Relatives

15 November 2016

Genealogy, Identity and Community

Ancestors & Relatives by Eviatar Zerubavel

Chapter 1 – the Genealogical Imagination

…given the long history of human migrations, we often feel nostalgic about the long-lost time “when place, identity, culture and ancestry coincided.” “Standing on the land that ancestors knew” can thus

produc[e] a sense of genealogical connection that is sometimes explained … as an inexpressible sense of spiritual affinity, and often experienced bodily in “shivers down the spine” and “goose-bumps”… [It] is often imagined as a shared physical experience that links ancestors to their descendants across time

Read the rest of this entry »

Story of Life in Photographs

8 November 2012

I’ve been trying to find this particular TED talk since I had initially stumbled upon it. Fortunately, I stumbled on it again.

Here, Frans Lanting shares the story of life told through his photography.


check out his LIFE project

the Universe Evolves

24 August 2012

evolution in the billions.

Yet another computer~generated video of the greater universe. This one traces the evolution of the universe starting at about 5 billion years after the big bang.

119 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Natural Timescales

19 June 2012

the development of time

Virolution was an eye-opener. It provided a view at new theories in various branches of biology, mostly dealing with viruses, genetics, and evolution, explained in such a way that I didn’t feel that an advanced degree in microbiology was necessary. Its focus is the role of viruses in genetics, heredity, and evolution. What I found most encouraging was my own paradigm shift: viruses aren’t evil parasites. Such a judgement results from experience with viral illnesses, and fearing pandemics. Although those are certainly a part of our relationship with viruses, it is a narrow view.

In some instances, the relationship is mutualistic-symbiosis.Who’da thought?

In and among the interviews and revelations, the Virolution got me thinking about our individual, cultural, and evolutionary bodies, and how we have perceived time over the long haul. The essential elements are: the period of the Year, Lunar orbit, and Earth’s rotation; the development of light-sensing organs; our reproduction and gestation periods, and; our cultural perception of time.

The Earth’s rotation around its axis has been slowing down since its creation 4.5 billion years or so ago. Shortly after its creation, the Earth rotated once every 6 hours, four times faster than now.

  • 4.5 billion years ago – it slowed to once every 10 hours
  • 4.0 billion years ago – once every 13.5 hours
  • 900 million years ago – once every 18.17 hours
  • 400 million years ago – once every 22 hours
  • 245 million years ago – once every 22.75 hours
  • 100 million years ago – once every 23.5 hours
  • today – once every 24 hours
  • 225 million years hence – 25 hours

1 second is added to our year every 62,500 Years or so.

source: Introducing Biological Rhythms

  • 3.8 billion years ago – simple cells
  • 3.4 billion years ago – photosynthesis
  • 1 billion years ago – multicellular life
  • 600 million years ago – animals
  • 500 million years ago – fish
  • 475 million years ago – terrestrial plants
  • 300 million years ago – reptiles
  • 200 million years ago – mammals
  • 150 million years ago – birds

The genus Homo developed some 2.4 million years ago, and Homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago. As early as 3.4 billion years ago, with the development of photosynthesis, life on Earth entered into an intimate relationship with the Sun’s light (its heat is a given), one that remains fundamentally important to all living things.

The life cycles of the oceans are tied in part to the phases of the Moon (29.53 Days), in part due to tidal action (12.4 hours). The sexual cycles of a variety of marine species are tied to the Full Moon, such as the palolo worm (on which the Trobriand Islanders base their lunar calendar). On a particular Full Moon, the worms teem at the ocean’s surface in a frenzy of reproduction.

There’s little doubt that our behaviour is still tied to the cycles of the Moon, despite how much we have removed ourselves from its influence.

Human Reproduction

Pregnancy and birth are likewise tied to the Moon. Granted there is a great deal of variability from one individual to another, however, menstruation is linked to the New Moon, ovulation to the Full Moon. Regardless, we gauged pregnancy by estimating 9 lunar months (266 days), although modern estimates put it at 40 weeks (280 days), and scheduling C-sections is a step further away from this link.

Nevertheless, natural birth often takes place at the New or Full Moon.

Our mother’s tie to the timing of the Day, the Year, and the Moon is the medium in which we gestate in the watery darkness of the womb. Our first perception of time as individuals comes from our mothers, our gestation, and our emergence into the world at birth.

Cultural Time

After our birth, our emergence into the world and first breath comes our education and acculturation. At some stage, we learn about the seasons, and the calendar or calendars in use. This is the final stage in our perception of time, beyond our evolution, beyond our gestation, or observation. We are tied to a particular notion of time, whether it be cyclical, such as the Chinese calendar, fractal, such as the Maya, or linear like the Gregorian.

There is also little doubt as too the fundamental role a calendar plays in one’s life. If you remain skeptical about this last point, suggest to someone they change their calendar, and see what reaction you get. Often, at least in my experience, it is equivalent to asking someone to change their language, their religion, or their hockey team. However, as it has become second nature, very seldom does anyone have a cogent argument. It is not an easy point of view to defend with logic, because it is so ingrained it would be like asking someone to change their internal organs.

Nevertheless, the fundamental timepieces in the longer view, the Earth’s rotation, the apparent motion of the Moon, the Sun, the Planets, and Stars are what we have in common. The particular ways in which we have chosen to organize these phenomena are key to our various traditions of cultural expression, and will continue for the foreseeable future.

theAbysmal Calendar is simply one more.

185 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Evolution of the Moon

18 March 2012

or, Why I’m so Glad we’re spending a kajillion dollars on space stuff.

278 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