Psychology of Time

How the Calendar messes with our minds.

The calendar we have, the Gregorian Calendar by name, with its 12 months from January 1st to December 31st, Saturday to Friday, from Year 1 C.E.

Although a wall calendar is an object, it’s a printout of a certain way of organizing the days. We have lots of variations, using the Moon, the Equinoxes and Solstices, the movement of Planets and Constellations, seasonal migrations, and so on.

If we go with the scientific evolutionary model, then Homo sapiens has been around 300,000 years, with the cognitive upgrade 70,000 years ago. We’ve only lived with calendars for about 5,000 years (although we’ve had earlier time-reckoning systems). The Gregorian calendar was a reform of the Julian Calendar introduced by Caesar the year before he was assassinated. The Julian Calendar was a reform to the Roman Calendar, which itself had developed over 700 years from a calendar of 10 lunar months to the one we use today.

The calendar forms a beat or a rhythm to how we organized our lives. More and more the seven-day week has become the primary rhythm for us, and this is true everywhere. Although there are a great number of calendars in use, the great majority of them have an uninterrupted 7-day week of some sort. The weekday-weekend rhythm is one that was more familiar in the 20th Century, but it’s becoming increasingly meaningless. For example, in Taiwan, people are scheduled a different 2-day rest period, because if everyone too the same 2 days off it would be chaos. We’re not agrarians, we’re not industrial workers. We live in a new era, and we need a new rhythm.

The way we think about time, the way we schedule, the way we think about the past, history, our personal experiences, our aspirations, are all framed by how we view time. Are we predestined or do we have free will? If all time happens at once, how come I have to wait to get to the end? What’s before birth and after death? How likely am I to ….? I’m late!

The model we’re using, the Gregorian, is a particular view of time: a finite line between the infinities before Creation and after Apocalypse. (see Mircea Eliade’s the Myth of the Eternal Return). This view predisposes us to the acceleration that we’re experiencing, at least in terms of the huge amount of new everything we’re tripping over with the spread of information processing and proliferation.

We only live in the present. it is the only time in which we can act. With the Gregorian model, we’re riding the crest of a wave that we’re waiting to break and it never will. We’re waiting for the Y2K, 2012, or Climate Revenge to annihilate us. The Apocalypse that our calendar – a Christian calendar remember – has as its foundation.

If we’re riding the very edge of annihilation, it doesn’t make for future planning, or civil discourse.

month 6

This Calendar has regular months. This creates an underlying rhythm, beat. Because every month is 4 weeks, every quarter is 13 weeks, every half-year 26 weeks, every year 52 weeks/13 monhts/4 quarters. This creates a regular rhythm.

This rhythm is tied to the seasons (as defined by the changes to the position of the Sun throughout the year), such that the rhythm gets linked to the environmental changes in light/heat/weather. Once this becomes familiar, then we can anticipate what’s coming, because of the beat, and the sun outside. Enough time anticipating, and it becomes intuitive.

This isn’t something the Gregorian is very good at. It’s hard to anticipate when we’re struggling to figure out which month has how many days or is this a Leap Year and when’s daylight savings again?

I’ve been living by this calendar for over a decade, and I can happily attest to how liberating it is. The New Year (at the Southern Solstice, ~ December 21st) is particularly intense, as it’s a time to shed what is no longer needed, and for figuring what to work on in the coming year.

This year, I managed to identify, diagnose, treat, manage complex PTSD all while trying to find a doctor to take my case, being turned away from care no less than 5 times. It has been 6 months, and I still haven’t gotten any treatment from the atrocious health care system in this town. I’ve managed to take care of it myself, without the brutal interventions that were suggested.

The calendar wasn’t the only thing, but it was instrumental. You can download a 13-month pdf or a two-page overview

13 months N

We’ve been living by this rhythm for 300,000 years as Homo sapiens, 3.5 million years as genus Homo, 13 miilion as great apes, 56 million as primates, 300 million as mammals, 540 million as animals,  3.6 billion back to LUCA, our last univeral comman ancestor, grandmother to us all. So, if we’ve been living by the rhythm represented by the diagram above for 3.6 billion years, why do we feel so attached to something we’ve only been using for 265 years?



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