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Old 01-31-2019, 05:01 AM   #1
Dalillama
 
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Default Timekeeping without referents

How might people keep time in a place where there are neither days nor seasons nor precession of stars? There are periods of light and darkness, periods of hot and cold, but they don't happen at predictable intervals. But if you're going to have a nation, with taxes and armies etc., you need some way to determine when taxes are due, when someone's enlistment is up, etc.
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Old 01-31-2019, 05:11 AM   #2
Anaraxes
 
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Default Re: Timekeeping without referents

Is this a place where their society naturally evolved? If so, would they even have a concept of regular time being important? You can collect taxes whenever you need them. For that matter, you could count "days" and collect taxes every 100 days, whether that's the same amount of time or not. (What's the distribution of the variable lengths of time? It will have an average, and over a long enough period of time, might well be predictable enough.) Are the people human enough to want to eat or sleep regularly (or at least fairly so)? Your enlistment might be for life, mustering out when you're disabled either through injury or simply old age, whether that's infirmity or whenever the hair on your temples or sideburns turn grey. Or life events, like the birth of your first grandchild.

Or are they transplants from some other society that did have regular time already, and are trying to preserve that part of their society?

How technological are they? Water clocks, hourglasses, pendulum clocks, spring clocks, quartz crystals, atomic clocks, pulsars... (But the first question is more important. You don't invent clocks until after you've decided you need to keep more accurate track of time.)

Lots of background questions come up with this kind of worldbuilding.

Last edited by Anaraxes; 01-31-2019 at 05:21 AM.
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Old 01-31-2019, 06:41 AM   #3
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Default Re: Timekeeping without referents

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Is this a place where their society naturally evolved?
In most cases, yes. Some of the societies in t 8he place orginally came from a normal sort of world

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If so, would they even have a concept of regular time being important?
Valid question; if nothing else I'd expect them to have some way of describing how long it will take to do something, e.g., "Sure, I can make that decorated harnes for you, come back in [time unit(s)] to pick it up."

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Are the people human enough to want to eat or sleep regularly (or at least fairly so)
They're bird people mostly, (Aarakocra from d&d) and elves, so yes.


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Or are they transplants from some other society that did have regular time already, and are trying to preserve that part of their society?
The elves are, the birds aren't.

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How technological are they?
Elves are GURPS TL 0 at this point, Aarakocra range from 0-3 except things that need metal, of which there is none to be had.
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Old 01-31-2019, 12:04 PM   #4
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Default Re: Timekeeping without referents

In the absence of a usable calendar/clock system from the world they originated from a society would count the length of days by their average cycle, break them down into the Mid-day and Mid-night and then further down as technology allows. Some clever inhabitant would develop a water clock or hour glass to help order the day. If their planet has extra wobble they may later develop a "daylight Savings Time".
Whoever is growing food would have to find some pattern in the chaos of the seasonal cycle to plan planting and harvest. If there are multiple bodies influencing seasonal weather they would establish a method for discerning which type of growing season they were going to have and build an almanac to help farmers. So if the 70 day growing cycle was the "Siepus" Summer, the 40 day growing cycle is the "Horcus"Summer, then the 91 day growing cycle is the "Great Siepus" .They cant grow anything in the 19 or 21day cycle so they just call them "Nomus". Then they follow the different cycles until they can identify a pattern they can use to predict the next cycle rather than relying on unreliable predictive signs. The more eccentric these cycles become the more the society would be obsessed with calendars to understand them.
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Old 02-01-2019, 09:39 AM   #5
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Default Re: Timekeeping without referents

Plants are another good suggestion -- if one that raises the question of what the plant life cycles are on a world without days, but just constant illumination. Still, it's possible that the plants grow and reproduce on some cycle.

Human internal sleep-wake cycles are fairly stable; that may be true of elves as well. "Come back in seven sleeps" is roughly going to be a week, even if it's not 168 hours. (And the imported elves might even keep their old word for "day"; the inquisitive might wonder about references to day and night in the old stories.) If the elves have traditionally long lifespans, then those human biological progressions I mentioned might be less relevant. Others might still apply. (How long do elf females bear children? "Return when Galadriel's child is born" is also a way to measure time -- and if you have a whole community, it may well be that someone's nearly always pregnant, with overlapping cycles.)

Water clocks and weight-driven clocks (not regulated with a pendulum, just slowly falliing weight) are TL 3. The most primitive water clocks are TL 1. (The Egyptians had one that was a basin draining through a hole with hour marks on the sides of the basin.) Graduated candles are TL 3. (But if you have candles at all, any of them will serve as an imprecise marker -- "you have until this candle burns out to make your peace with God"; the TL3 ones are just reasonably well calibrated with consistent materials and hour markings.) Sandglasses are TL 3. (Per Low-Tech; this may have more to do with the glassmaking and portable form than the concept, since it's pretty much the same idea as a water clock. You might allow larger and more crude clocks that use fluids other than water. Keep the basin full of elven blood, or the gods will become angry. Squawk!)

I don't know if there were any chemical oscillations that were known at low tech levels that might be used. One-shot reactions might be. (Mix this container of vinegar and that one of soda, and wait until the foaming stops. Put the dough on the fire, and wait until it looks golden brown and delicious.)

What scale are you concerned about measuring? Lifetimes, years, months, days, minutes, seconds, all of the above?

What's the distribution of duration of those light and dark, hot and cold cycles? A light-dark cycle that's anywhere from, say, 15 to 37 hours is still something of a clock, even if it can be off by a factor of 2. Any observable phenomenon that repeats can be used to time something.

Last edited by Anaraxes; 02-01-2019 at 09:45 AM.
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Old 02-01-2019, 07:07 PM   #6
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Default Re: Timekeeping without referents

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What's the distribution of duration of those light and dark, hot and cold cycles? A light-dark cycle that's anywhere from, say, 15 to 37 hours is still something of a clock, even if it can be off by a factor of 2. Any observable phenomenon that repeats can be used to time something.
There are miniature suns drifting in the endless winds. When they drift near your floating island, or vice versa, you get light and heat in proportion. It's possible that more organized civilisations can steer in some fashion to maintain adequate (for them) levels.
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Old 02-01-2019, 08:11 PM   #7
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Default Re: Timekeeping without referents

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Originally Posted by Dalillama View Post
How might people keep time in a place where there are neither days nor seasons nor precession of stars? There are periods of light and darkness, periods of hot and cold, but they don't happen at predictable intervals. But if you're going to have a nation, with taxes and armies etc., you need some way to determine when taxes are due, when someone's enlistment is up, etc.
Water Clocks work quit well. (They don't of need use water - oil works just as well, but at different flow rates.)

Candles, oil candles, and oil lamps burn fairly consistent times for a given amount of fuel.

Mechanical clocks, once equipped with a regulator, become very accurate right quickly.

What the units are? going to depend upon whomever set up the clocks, but will probably synch to around 24 hours if the primary people are humans.
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Old 02-02-2019, 05:33 AM   #8
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Default Re: Timekeeping without referents

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Originally Posted by Dalillama View Post
There are miniature suns drifting in the endless winds. When they drift near your floating island, or vice versa, you get light and heat in proportion. It's possible that more organized civilisations can steer in some fashion to maintain adequate (for them) levels.
Then the realistic answer is probably you don't need to worry about it, because everybody starved or froze when there weren't any nearby for a while, or baked when there were too many and they sterilized everything.

If conditions are stable enough not to worry about that, then counting harvests or breeding seasons or whatever of whatever it is you are eating works fine for the collect taxes and release terms of enlistment stuff.
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Old 02-03-2019, 05:58 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by ak_aramis View Post
Water Clocks work quit well. (They don't of need use water - oil works just as well, but at different flow rates.)
A while back (2000, apparently; time flies when you're a human), a long-running science experiment made the news when a drop of pitch in the apparatus actually fell, an event which occurs about once a decade. It was the eighth drop since the experiment was started in 1930. Even elvish timescales can be incorporated if your "water" clock uses a material with a high enough viscosity.

You can also just ladder your shorter-timescale clocks. Perhaps the elves have a order of monks dedicated to keeping the time from their origin world (because elvish reasons, maybe cultural or magical imperatives). They're poor, because their assets go to buying the best time-keeping technology from the Aarakocra, also working against that tech level difference. They work in redundant shifts so no one oversleeps and forgets to refill the clocks, and keep time at multiple sites, holding a conclave every so often to reconcile differences. Ancient humans built stone circles; primitive elves could have their own priestly cast concerned with calendars.
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Old 02-03-2019, 10:46 AM   #10
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Default Re: Timekeeping without referents

Historically, measurements based upon the monarch were common in Europe. How about days being measured by the king's sleep cycle?
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