From sun time to clock time

“So long as mankind lived by raising crops and herding animals there was not much need for measuring small units of time.  The seasons were all-important–to know when to expect the rain, the snow, the sun, the cold…Daylight time was the only important time, the only time when men could work…

No change in daily experience is more emptying than the loss of the sense of contrast between day and night, light and dark.  Our century of artificial light tempts us to forget the meaning of night… “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day,” announced Jesus (John 9:4…), “the night cometh, when no man can work…

The first step in making night more like day was taken long before people became accustomed to artificial lighting.  It came when man, playing with time, began measuring it off into shorter slices…Our precise uniform hour is a modern invention…sundials, or shadow clocks, were the first measuring devices…

For centuries the sun’s shadow remained the universal measure of time…

Only by escaping the sun’s tyranny would we ever learn to measure out our time in universally uniform spoonfuls…

…for most of history, water provided the measure of time when the sun was not shining.  And until the perfection of the pendulum clock about 1700 the most accurate timepiece was probably the water clock…

While man allowed his time to be parsed by the changing cycles of daylight he remained a slave of the sun.  To become the master of his time, to assimilate night into the day…he had to find a way to mark off precise small portions–not only equal hours, but even minutes and seconds…He would have to make a machine…

These first mechanical clocks came into an age when sunlight circumscribed the times of life and movement, when artificial lights had not yet begun to confuse night with day…imperative of the machine itself, was to incorporate both hours of darkness and hours of sunlight into a single equal-houred twenty-four day…

…for most of history, mankind did not think of a day as a unit of twenty-four hours. Only with the invention and diffusion of the mechanical clock did the notion become common…”

(The Discoverers, by Daniel J. Boorstin, Random House – New York, copyright 1983, Pages 26, 27, 28, 29, 36, 37, 38, 41)

 

 

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