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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/204

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

You are right. The arrangement was practically dictated by Nature. The division of the circle was the outcome of the Chaldean division of the heavens to fit their calendar: a degree being, within l-60th, equivalent to a day's apparent motion of the Sun on the ecliptic. And that reminds me that I do not find in your scheme any proposal for redivision of the year. Why do you not make 10 months instead of 12?

A partial decimalization of the calendar was attempted at the time of the French Revolution; a week of ten days was appointed, but the plan failed. Of course, the 365 days of the year do not admit of division into tenths; or, if ten months were made, there could he no tenths of these. Moreover, even were it otherwise, certain deeply-rooted customs stand in the way. Many trading transactions, especially the letting of houses and the hiring of assistants, have brought the quarter-year into such constant use that it would be very difficult to introduce a redivision of the year into tenths.

Just so; and it occurs to me that there is a deeper reason. Ignoring the slight ellipticity of the earth's orbit, a quarter of a year is the period in which the Earth describes a fourth of its annual journey round the Sun, and the seasons are thus determined—the interval between the shortest day and the vernal equinox, between that and the longest day, and so on with the other divisions.

The order of Nature is doubtless against us here.

It is against you here in a double way. Not only the behavior of the Earth, but also the behavior of the Moon conflicts with your scheme. By an astronomical accident it happens that there are 12 full moons or approximately 12 synodic lunations in the year; and this, first recognized by the Chaldeans, originated the 12-month calendar, which civilized peoples in general have adopted after compromising the disagreements in one or other way. But there is another division of time in which you are not so obviously thus restrained. You have not, so far as I see, proposed to substitute 10 hours for 12, or to make the day and night 20 hours instead of 24. Why not?

Centuries ago it might have been practicable to do this; but now that timekeepers "have become universal we could not make such a redivision. We might get all the church clocks altered, but people would refuse to replace their old watches by new ones.

I fancy conservatism will be too strong for you in another case—that of the compass. The divisions of this are, like many other sets of divisions, made by halving and re-halving and again halving until 32 points are obtained. Is it that the habits of sailors are so fixed as to make hopeless the adoption of decimal divisions?

Another reason has prevented—the natural relation of the cardinal points. The intervals included between them are necessarily four right angles, and this precludes a division into tenths.

Just so. Here, as before, Nature is against you. The quadrant results from space-relations which are unchangeable and necessarily impose, in this as in other cases, division into quarters. Nature's lead has been followed by mankind in various ways. Beyond the quarter of a year we have the moon's four quarters. The quarter of an hour is a familiar division, and also the quarter of a mile. Though the yard is divided into feet and inches, yet in every draper's shop yards are measured out in halves, quarters, eighths, and sixteenths or nails. Then we have a wine merchant's quarter--