2006/02/04

Is It Yesterday, Today, or Tomorrow?

The Moody Minstrel made an interesting comment to the previous post regarding the international dateline. He said, "Why do they say one side is "today" and the other "tomorrow"? Why don't they say the "tomorrow" side is "today" and the "today" side "yesterday"? That's discrimination!"

Quite right! I think that Laurel and Hardy, or perhaps Abbott and Costello could have made a good comedy routine out of that.

Interestingly, that great American novelist and adventurer, Jack London (Call of the Wild, Sea Wolf, etc.), wrote a very amusing article titled "The Amateur Navigator" about this very subject. Leaving San Fransisco in April of 1907, he and his wife, Charmian, cruised the Pacific for over two years, sailing to Hawaii and then throughout the South Pacific Ocean aboard their custom built ketch-rig sailboat "Snark" .

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On board the Snark
Roscoe Eames (Captain),
Herbert Stolz (Engineer),
Martin Johnson (Cook),
Jack and Charmian London (owners)


While in Fijian waters, he was taking a sunsight (for navigation purposes) and needed to know which day it was so he could look up the sun's position in the Nautical Almanac. Ah, now the issue becomes critical. Without knowing what day it is, he could not know where he was. A wrong position could run them aground, or worse. He wrote an article about it which appeared in the May 1910 issue of (ahem) "The Pacific Islander" magazine.

Here is an excerpt:

...was that 8:25 of the chronometer A. M. or P. M.? I looked at the Snark's clock. It marked 8 :9, and it was certainly A. M., for I had just finished breakfast. Therefore, if it was eight in the morning on board the Snark, the eight o'clock of the chronometer (which was the time of the day at Greenwich), must be a different eight o'clock from the Snark's eight o'clock. But what eight o'clock was it? It cant be the eight o'clock of this morning, I reasoned; therefore it must be either eight o'clock this evening or eight o'clock last night.
It was at this juncture that I fell into the bottomless pit of intellectual chaos. We are in east longitude, I reasoned, therefore we are ahead of Greenwich. If we are behind Greenwich, then today is yesterday; if we are ahead of Greenwich then yesterday is today - but if yesterday is today, what under the sun is today! - tomorrow? Absurd! Yet it must be correct. When I took the sun this morning at 8:25, the sun's custodians at Greenwich were just arising from dinner last night.
"Then correct the Equation of Time for yesterday," says my logical mind.
"But today is today," my literal mind insists. "I must correct the sun for today and not for yesterday."
"Yet today is yesterday," urges my logical mind.
"That 's all very well," my literal mind continues. "If I were in Greenwich I might be in yesterday. Strange things happen in Greenwich. But I know as sure as I am living that I am here, now, in today, June 7, and that I took the sun here, now, today, June 7. Therefore I must correct the sun here, now, today, June 7."
"Bosh!" snaps my logical mind. "Lecky says - "
"Never mind what Lecky says," interrupts my literal mind. "Let me tell you what the Nautical Almanac says. The Nautical Almanac says that today, June 7, the sun was 1 minute and 26 seconds behind time and catching up at the rate of 14.67 seconds per hour. It says that yesterday, June 6, the sun was 1 minute and 36 seconds behind time and catching up at the rate of 15.66 seconds per hour. You see, it is preposterous to think of correcting today's sun by yesterday's time-table."
"Fool!"
"Idiot!"
Back and forth they wrangle until my head is whiling around and I am ready to believe that I am in the day after the last week before next.

To read the entire article, "The Amateur Navigator", (and see some great old photos of Fiji as well) click here: "The Pacific Islander"

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The Snark


To read Jack London's account of the entire cruise of the Snark, click here: "Snark"

So you see, this question has been a puzzling issue for some time. Jack London's experience was nearly 100 years ago, and I'd bet he was not the first. Of course, it doesn't matter if you call crossing the line going from yesterday to today, or from today to tomorrow, as long as you know what day it is!

4 comments:

DN said...

After 50+ visits to Japan which is either 13 or 14 hours ahead of home. Invariably, I call home at 4 am or 3 am or 5 am, annoying the nightlights out of the late rising grumblebum that I tend to be calling when I make those mistakes. Also, after all the years I still consider their time to be 10 hours behind (and a day up) rather than recognizing that home is behind. We are a species that looks to the future, more than we live back in the past. Or maybe it's just me and a few that do, and that is why my associates tend to be the kind of weird ducks that dream of the south seas and read blogs of those seducers that have been and brought back pictures.

I say the best solution is to put one's money where one's dreams are.
Slowly and carefully, Then go when you can afford to both eat and get back safely. Maybe all you'll do is learn to have a different dream. But there is no penalty for that.

Today, tomorrow, it isn't real. Time just goes back and forth anyway,like the escapment in a watch, except the escapement always passes time at the same rate. Human time passes much faster when you are in your dream.

Pandabonium said...

DN - sage advice from someone who has done it once and is in the process of doing it yet again.

Better to live it and learn than to do nothing and alway wonder what if?

The Moody Minstrel said...

Hmm...if you stand straddling the International Date Line, does the part of you caught exactly in the juncture between today and tomorrow enter hyperspace?

Maybe Fiji is the Grand Unification Theory!

(I'm sure most quantum physicists would happily spend time there pondering the issue...)

Pandabonium said...

Whoa, Moody. As much as Fiji is a nice place to spend time contemplating such conundrums, I don't want to think about having my middle parts going into hyperspace! Ouch.