Finnegan, Begin Again – New Year’s and Science

Happy New Year! 2011 already has math going for it.  It’s prime, and it is the sum of 11 consecutive prime numbers (2011=157+163+167+173+179+181+191+193+197+199+211)

I knew I wanted to talk about the New Year with you. I spent time trying to figure out what was scientific about the new year. We could talk about what makes December 31st the last day of the year or January 1st the first day. Who made the call and on what basis? The short answer is that Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian Calendar by a decree signed February 24, 1582 as a replacement for the Julian Calendar. (If you follow the link, you will find some interesting information about what this change meant for leap years and lost time.) While the Gregorian Calendar has been largely adopted by the international community as a civil calendar, some countries still follow the Julian Calendar. Many countries, cultures,  and religious groups also utilize an additonal calendar.  (That link takes you to a list of calendars both in use and archaic. It also has a small list of calendars in fiction . Ah ha! My connection is made. Thanks and good night. )

Accepting that this is indeed our year end/beginning, I move forward to discuss my two favorite things abour New Year’s Eve.  I get excited about birthdays; they are personal New Years. I admit that I analyze what transpired during the year.  I look at how I might make the best of my new year. It is deep personal introspection. New Years, be they natal or calendar,  motivate me to push harder towards whatever achievement I  desire. I think this remotely connects to a sense of mortality. Even though I am mindful that we are not guaranteed our next breath, the clicking of years going by does drive it home. 

New Year’s Day is a global birthday. The prospect of a clean slate brings resolutionists out in droves. Neuroscientists have studied New Year’s Resolutions and the people that make them. One study shows that pacing yourself might be the key to success.  My husband reminded me just today that while I want to add exercise to our already tight morning routine, I might want to wait until we have adjusted to breakfast at home instead of on the run via drive-thru.

For those wanting to apply lessons learned in previous years, there is a momentum building in the efforts and resolve of others also hoping that the flip of the calendar year is the perfect catalyst for change. In a way, this is like the writers that join NANOWRIMO for the sense of community. The target is 50,000 words in one month. Take a stroll through the social networking site feed of your choice and you will see resolutionists caught up in the momentum of the new year. Most bundle their goals together and expect to start immediately on achieving all of them.  Others take different approaches to the New Year frenzy. Some remain indifferent while some take time to analyze the failures endured, losses suffered, and successes achieved.

International celebrations of the New Year are just as varied (Click here for a Life Magazine Slide Show).  As this is possibly the largest shared holiday, it offers itself as a subject for social anthropology and sociology studies. On the New Year’s Eve wikipedia page there is a long discussion on how different countries, cultures, and religious groups celebrate the event.  There is a similar list on the New Year’s Day page.

From the prodominant civil calendar acceptance, the leap year calculations, the individual/group resolutions setting and introspection, to the worldwide celebration of one holiday in so many ways representative of individual cultures, New Year’s offers multiple opportunities to put a little science in their fiction.

The Anthropological Science Fiction Wikipedia page has some interesting quotes pertaining to anthropology. It goes on to discuss authors and their works. It isn’t in depth but it offers a starting point. The relevance I find is the opportunity to look at the different ways this holiday is celebrated or dismissed around the world and on your own social networks by the individuals you “know.” Consider the meaning of a global do-over that occurs because an arbitrary page on a calendar is flipped. The people making resolutions haven’t changed in that moment. Perhaps though, the preceeding year has refined them in some way for better or worse and that introspection prompted by the event is the first time they have the perspective to see it for what it is. Consider the value each culture assigns this clean slate as they gather to celebrate it.  Perhaps any of these considerations might serve your fiction in some way.

In the meantime, how did you ring in 2011?

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