More than three weeks have passed since the great Waterford disco ball dropped over Times Square, and most of us are taking 2007 in stride. The time is flying by, just as it does when we’re having fun, approaching a deadline or taking a standardized test on which our entire future depends, though not, oddly enough, when we ourselves are flying, especially not when we are seated in the last row, near the bathrooms.
But before we stuff the changing of the annum into the seat pocket in front of us and hope that nobody notices, it’s worth considering some of the main astral and terrestrial events that make delightful concepts like “new year” and “another Gary Larson calendar” possible in the first place. Let’s think about the nature of so-called ordinary time, the seconds, days, seasons and years by which we humans calibrate our clocks and merrily spend down our lives. As Robert L. Jaffe, a theoretical physicist at M.I.T., explained in an interview and recent articles in Natural History magazine, our earthly cycles and pacemakers are freakish in their moderation, very different from the other major chronometers that abound around us, but of which we remain largely unaware.