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An arbitrary number

January 5th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

I was surfing the blogosphere when I came across this post on Will’s site.

In the post, Will argues that the idea of selecting an arbitrary period of time – in this case the year – is a somwehat pointless exercise and in fact, in the case of moving from one year to another, actually does harm in certain circumstances. The example he gives is that of expecting a different outcome to an event based on the changing of an arbitrary number – ie the year 2008 to 2009.

Now whilst I agree in part to this sentiment – I am often drawn to the idea that the definition of a fool is someone that repeats the same action over and over and expects a different outcome – I find the rejection of the need to quantify time in arbitrary units a step too far.

It is true that there is almost no difference between 2008 and 2009 as the terrestrial year is based on an orbit – so the cosmos looks virtually the same in any two corresponding months (ie March 2004 and March 2008). This is not the whole story though. The cosmos is different. It is a year different. The universe will be bigger, the background radiation ever so slightly cooler, the sun ever so slightly depleted in material for nuclear fusion, the universe is different. This suggests that the definition of being a fool is not so easily applied here. March 2004 may have seen an outcome of one event that changes when repeated in March 2009 due to one of those variables (and the countless others) being important. The cosmological differences may seem a little abstract, so a few variables from the practical world down here on earth – the financial and economic differences will mean that the result of a monetary action last year will not be the same result as the same monetary action this year, the change in administration in the US may mean that the results of two politcal actions may differ from last year to next.

The 1st January is not significant, it is no more the start of one year than any other day, or midnight being any more significant that any other hour for that matter. The day and time do not matter, we could decide that Octber 23rd is the start of the new year and it would make no difference in terms of the universe, but the universe does get older second by second. So, whilst we may scoff at the idea of picking a day to celebrate new beginnings it does not take away from the fact that things can turn out differently if we try again.

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