Tomorrow I turn 40.
It’s something that’s been on my mind for the last few years.
Should I be celebrating? Or should I be peering down the end of my long Peroni glass, wondering where the 40 years went?
It slowly dawned on me as I lay in bed this morning, watching the orange glow of the sun slowly climb up my bedroom wall, that I don’t need to do either.
You see, I’m not sure which type of year I should be acknowledging.
As a unit of time, there is no universally accepted symbol for a ‘year’. The International System of Units does not propose one.
Mankind has figured out a number of different ‘years’ over the years. Firstly, there’s a Julian year (a unit of time unit defined as exactly 365.25 days and the years that we humans are generally used to).
Then there’s the sidereal year. This is worked out in the time it takes for the Earth to complete one revolution of its orbit, as measured against a fixed frame of reference such as the fixed stars. Its average duration is 365.256363004 mean solar days.
Then we have the tropical year, the anomalistic year, the draconian year, the full moon cycle year (upon which the Muslim calendar is based), the vague year (or wandering year – used in Ancient Egypt, Iran, Armenia and in Mesoamerica among the Aztecs and Maya), the Heliacal year, the Sothic year, the Gaussian year and the Besselian year.
Putting my 40th birthday into context, modern science and its increasingly irrefutable evidence places the age of the universe at approximately 13.8 billion years. That means that my life is not even a grain of sand on a beach. It’s smaller than that. Of course, I’d like to think that my family and friends disagree on that point.
But an important feature of the Big Bang theory (upon which the age of the universe is calculated) is the presence of ‘horizons’. Since the universe has a finite age, and light travels at a finite speed, there may be events in the past whose light has not had time to reach us here on Earth. This places a limit, or a past horizon, on the most distant objects that can be observed by us. The light we see from the stars when we look up at them at night left those same stars many years ago. In the same way, because space is ever-expanding, and more distant objects are receding ever more quickly, light emitted by us today may never catch up to very distant objects. This defines a future horizon, which limits the events in the future that we will be able to influence.
So in other words, there are most likely parts of the universe that we know nothing about. Nor will we ever know.
This of course, is all a bit of a mindfuck (rather like turning 40). And in many ways, it makes one question the meaning of life. Many turn to religion to explain away the great mysteries of life, but this is not for me either.
To put it in context, the universe was created some 13,800,000,000,000 years ago.
Modern humans, defined as the species homo sapiens, diverged from other hominins in Africa, after the human clade split from the chimpanzee lineage of the great ape branch of the primates around 200,000 years ago.
They set about colonising the world, arriving in Eurasia 60,000 years ago, Australia around 40,000 years ago, the Americas around 15,000 years ago, and remote islands such as Hawaii, Easter Island, Madagascar, and New Zealand between the years 300 and 1280 AD.
It was about 4,000 years ago that is the traditionally accepted period in which the Judeochristian and Islamic religions were founded.
Scientology was created a mere 62 years ago by some guy called Mr. Hubbard.
All claim to explain the story of how the world, and all its inhabitants were created and how we should all rule our lives on a day-to-day basis. Yet the universe still existed some 13,799,999,996,000 years before the Judeochristian and Islamic religions were ever founded. Is Man, as the new boy on the block, really vain and arrogant enough to think that he’s got all the answers to life?
I certainly don’t. I’m a simply another homo sapien, like one of the billions that have gone before me.
So as I apparently turn 40 tomorrow, I won’t be celebrating it simply because 40 years, like any religion, is all a man-made concept, created to try and explain the world that we live in. Like a dog attempting to understand algebra, it’s all too much of a mindfuck for me to even contemplate – my simple homo sapien brain cannot process the horizons of the universe and what lies beyond. And may I suggest that that is the case for all of Mankind – God didn’t create each little flower that opens; he didn’t create each little bird that sings; he didn’t make their glowing colours, and he certainly didn’t make their tiny wings.
Like me, like the universe, they’ve all evolved from some tiny form. They’ve inherited characteristics of biological populations over successive generations and hopefully improved upon them.
So tomorrow will just be another normal day. I just can’t figure out where it will be a stellar day, a sidereal day or a mean solar day (don’t get me started). Either way, I may just allow myself to a cheeky Peroni to try and get my head around it.