When people had massive parties over New Year's Eve
, 1999, what were they celebrating
? The start of a new millennium
A millennium is a period of time lasting one thousand years. A new millennium starts every moment of every day. So what was special about this one? Nothing. The thing that people were celebrating was that in one particular calendar system based on the number ten and on the incorrectly calculated date of the birth of a religious leader, the first digit of one of several variables used to describe the temporal co-ordinates was changing from a 1 to a 2.
For millennia, people have been trying to subdivide time, to make it countable. But time is not discrete data, time is continous data. Time is not just a collection of numbers or a series of classes. It is impossible to exactly pinpoint a location in time; it is fractal in nature.
Many people count time in terms of calendar years, one Gregorian calendar year being a length of time, on average, equal to 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds (approximately: remember time can only be measured to the resolution of its units of measurement). This is designed to as closely as is reasonably possible resemble one tropical year (the period of time between one vernal equinox and the next), which has a duration (in AD 2000) of 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds. But the Earth's procession around the Sun is winding down: since AD1 the year has decreased in length by about 10 seconds, and the Gregorian calendar gains one day on the solar year every 3300 years.
In modern times, however, we compensate for this. A second is no longer defined in terms of how long these great balls of rock and gas take to complete their cosmic ballet, but in terms of the microscopic ballet of radioactive elements. A year is now equal to 290,091,200,500,000,000 oscillations of caesium-22. But even this has its inaccuracies. It can only measure time to the nearest oscillation. As engineering gets more precise and we need to measure time in periods shorter than this, the human race will again need to find a way of dividing time even more finely.
This is also a problem for our minds. Animation works because the brain can only perceive 12 fps. Strobe lights cause delayed inputs to our visual cortex, making time appear discrete. Perhaps what we need is a form of quantum strobe light, rendering us invulnerable to such divisional concerns as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and allowing us to peer into the smallest and quickest sub-quark processes, giving us, as it were, a temporal pause button.
Time is not discrete data, but perception is. This difference is what causes many of our society's anomalies, and provides us with yet one more insurmountable problem to surmount.