“Clockers – II” / A Memorable Fancy #376

Sometime in their freshman History of Civilization course, college students are introduced to the idea of “clocks”; how “clocks” had been used for several centuries and then abandoned.

Professor Krone patiently presents the idea of clocks; some students have a hard time grasping it. When they finally do, their admiration of the ancient times quickly dissolves.

The most glaring problem with clocks, Krone explains, is that they display a different time-number each day at the same time, leading to utter confusion. For example, Lauds could occur at “5” by the clock, or “6” or “7” or some fraction in between, depending on the season of the year and the distance from the equator, thus ignoring the natural cycles of human life based on sun, moon, and seasons. Compline, Terce, Sext and so on are also affected. This is critical, because these hours had long since escaped the monastery and become part of the rhythm of ordinary human life. Navigators, of course, had long ago given up the use of clocks in favor of the sextant.

For upper-level students, clocks are presented as evidence of a deeper problem. Even though clocks typically “jumped” from minute to minute every minute, or sometimes (in the case of many wrist-clocks) every 20 seconds, they were based on the fallacy that time is infinitely divisible: minutes, seconds, milliseconds … femtoseconds; where does it end? The answer is nowhere, because the infinite divisibility of time is an impossible absurdity. Even in the twenty-first century the idea was sometimes challenged by those willing to take a stance against received opinion.

The students grin, or yawn, or have interesting thoughts about the person of the same or opposite gender seated at the next desk. Nonetheless, the lesson sinks in: “Clock” is one more ancient invention that had been tried and abandoned, joining television, space travel, computers, vaccination, and so many others.



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