Sunday, 16 October 2011

Observation and Calculation: Laziness and the passage of time

 There are certain feasts and festivals that are considered "movable" in Christianity.  Easter is the most well known by the general public outside the churches.  But Easter is only movable because of laziness and an insistence on defining lunar feasts based a solar calendar.  As we talked about around that time earlier this year, Easter started out as the Sunday after Passover.  Passover is fixed, but obviously to the Hebrew calendar, not the Julian or Gregorian.  Passover is *always* the week of the 15th through 22nd of Nissan, which is sundown on the third Friday of Nissan until sundown of the next Friday.  So Easter was always 24th of Nissan.  But non-Jewish Christians didn't observe the moon, so they had to ask a Jew when it would occur, and, as relations got more and more strained between the two religions, the Christians wanted to know it themselves.  So they figured out a calculation, so they wouldn't have to observe.  And they did it based on a solar date, the equinox, and even that was set on the calendar by then, not observed.

Both the Hebrew and the Islamic calendar are based on observation and lunar cycles, not calculation and solar cycles.  The Jewish months aren't set, nor are the Islamic.  The Romans said, this month is this long and this month is this long.  The lengths are arbritary, not based on anything in nature.  Hence Julius Caesar was able to steal a day from February and put it in the month he renamed after himself, and Augustus did likewise.  But the Jewish months are based on observation and not arbitrary.  When the moon disappears from the final crescent into the dark of the moon, the new month starts.  And the Islamic, when the moon reappears after the new moon, in the first crescent.  But this varies.  First of all, because the moon isn't tied to the solar days.  Some lunar months are 29 days and some 30 days, or some people say 28 or 31, it's hard since the new moon doesn't last only one day, just as the Solstice is hard because there are three days real close.  So the length of the months are different from each other and based on observation, not the same, and not arbitrary.  The length of each month are pretty close to the same each year, day wise, but this isn't guarantied.  Even if it drifts, the Hebrew and Islamic calendar will still be consistant, because the exact length of each month doesn't matter and won't mess up other calculations.

That's the thing, we're lazy, so we prefer calculation to observation.  That's why the standing stones were more accurate.  As I said, nature isn't orderly and consistent.  We like to make laws and rules to define nature, to show its order and show it as static, but they always fall short, because nature is chaotic and dynamic, always changing.  Just look at the length of a year.  We have a nice calculation of 365.2425 days, but this is an average.  Each year is different in length.  It's pretty obvious it would vary, if you think about gravity.  When Jupiter or Mars are closer, earth is pulled out further, and when Venus or Mercury are closer, it's pulled closer to the sun.  These four planets aren't on a cycle relating at all to any of ours.  Depending on the timing of this, if the earth stays out further more of the year, the year is longer, but if it spends more time closer, the year is shorter.  The same thing happens with the lunar cycles, hence to the tides, and so on.

And even the "Law" of Gravity doesn't give the whole picture.  Even Newton saw that Mercury osculated in a way the Law couldn't account for, be he couldn't find a solution and no one else could, so they just kind of ignored it until Einstein looked at it and started from scratch and came up with the Specific Theory of Relativity, which he later expanded.  The point is that *everything* effects everything else, so the universe and nature is far too complex to calculate.

So calculation will only give averages, not specifics.  To really know the cycles, it takes observation.  In Genesis, G-d says, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth."  They are signs.  A sign is meaningless if it isn't observed.  The seasons, the days, and the years, are seen watching these signs, not calculated with an easy formula.  If the earth took an extra day to make it around the sun, or the moon an extra day to make it around the earth, how many people would even notice?  And if we noticed, would it be when it happened, or afterwards when the calculations start failing?  Would we change the calendar, or just pretend it didn't happen?  And if we changed it, would we just change the calculation and hope it happened again the next year, or watch and wait and observe and see what happens?

Do we as a modern people notice the signs and omens around us every day?

~Muninn's Kiss

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