How long is an hour that passes without a watch?

Letter from Gene Rybarczyk

Millennium – February 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Dear Ed and Martha:

I was pleased to see the article regarding the correct year for the start of the new millennium on page 6 (or should it really be page 5?) of the January 2001 edition of Colorado Central. I have entertained what I had hitherto considered frivolous opinions regarding this controversy, but I believe Colorado Central may be the appropriate forum in which to air them.

Currently there are any number of calendars extant on spaceship earth. Among the better-known are the Jewish Calendar, the Muslim Calendar, and the Chinese Calendar (the latter best known to me from decades of research on placemats in Chinese restaurants). Each of these is dependent on its own system for measuring the passage of time and counting of “years.” Our common western chronology, the Gregorian Calendar, is based on the Julian Calendar, a product of Julius Caesar. He instituted that timetable, in part, to put an end to the shenanigans of some civic officials whose adjustments to the luni-solar calendar of that place and time often served the purpose of lengthening terms of office or manipulating the occurrence of elections. (Recent electoral adventures in mind, I wonder, How effective was that solution?) An interesting sidebar in this contention is that, in the context of Gaius Julius, it appears the concept of “zero” had not yet been discovered.

My point comes down to this: calendars are the creations of human beings and subject to the interests and purposes of particular cultures and societies. So, in fact, we get to decide when a new millennium ensues. For instance, we could decide that, oops, the first millennium was short a year. Too bad for them. Why should we, in our advanced and enlightened state, be subject to the shortcomings of an age that could not conceive of zero? I mean, we even have Seinfeld, an extended series of televised programs about “nothing.” Or we could simply choose to make any arbitrary year the significant first of any particular period. For instance, I have a fondness for 1949.

However, perhaps the overriding consideration is that, as report has it, the U. S. Naval Observatory has declared 2001 as the first year of this millennium. And since those folks are the official timekeepers for this co-op we call the United States, we do not want to get on their wrong side. So, to be safe, I celebrated both the 2000 and 2001 New Years as if each was the beginning of the millennium. And for a cocktail topic I asked this question: “If an hour passes in the forest, and no one is there with a watch, does time really exist?”

Gene Rybarczyk