Sunday, October 03, 2010

Guardians of Time (Part II: Stomach More Accurate Than All)

Attempts to tame the time, that is, to master its transience, are old as civilization. It is not known who and when invented the first gnomon - public sundial - but it is known that his smaller namesake was used until the end of the 18th century as a measure of accuracy of already present mechanical clocks. If you had then a mechanism for measuring time, you also had and a sundial (to avoid larger deviations).

When people started to measure time, a lament of the Roman comedy writer Plutarch (250-184 BC) was recorded:

"The gods should have killed the one who first invented the clock and set the sundial, which, to me, a poor man, is breaking the day into pieces. Before my stomach was my clock, the best and most accurate of all. It always called me to eat, even when there was nothing to eat, but now, though, we do not eat even if we have something to eat, if the sun is not right."

Of course, people continued to search for a device that will accurately measure, or mark, the passage of time. Besides the help of sun's rays, the water flowed, forming clepsydra which scaled time with a constant and regular flow of water through a small opening. Then, somewhere, and sand intervened, and so the sand clocks, even in some places today, marked leaking of time, which was eventually reined with bells calling and informing people in the certain hour about what is going on or what follows. Then came a pendulum, that was boring, but it was a tested measure of time. Its ability was first uncovered by Galileo (1564-1642), then Huyghens (1629-1695), but Foucault eventually with his pendulum, in the middle of 19th century, put a lot of things into place.

More and more successfully,  people competed in the taming of what "goes, lasts, passes, flows, flies, is never at rest or standing,  and all that was, is and will be…”

To return to Guardians of Time (Part I: The Time Has Come), click HERE.

To read Guardians of Time (Part III: Life to Silkworms), click HERE.
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