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The Ides Of March & The March Of Time- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

The Ides Of March & The March Of Time- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD


Today the time changes where we are, “Spring forward, Fall back.” We “lose” an hour. 

We change from “Standard Time” to “Daylight Savings Time.”

Supposedly there is a good reason for this, but I have trouble remembering what it is.

It’s like lengthening pants by cutting material off the top and sewing it to the bottom.



Big Ben clock tower, London



A complete fiction, of course, time proceeds apace no matter how we label it.  (We will leave off discussions of Einstein’s theories of relativity for this context)

Back in the 1700s, there were two calendars in simultaneous usage, and they disagreed.

It brings to mind the adage, “A person with one watch knows what time it is, a person with two is never sure.”


The Ides Of March


But the seeds of this problem go much further back, to the time of Julius Caesar. 

What brought Caesar to mind?

In three days, it will be the Ides of March.

Three years ago, COVID-19 burst upon the scene. It inspired one of our most popular (and our personal favorite) blog posts of all time.

It’s about the synchronicity that occurred between many fields of human intellectual endeavor at the beginning of the 20th century, a phenomenon that remains endlessly fascinating and mysterious. 

Also our realization that writing was something we could do sequestered away from other people in a virus-laden world.

The Ides of March weren’t so great for Caesar, but they bring multiple milestones for us, in addition to a realization that writing could be a sustained passion.



“The Death of Julius Caesar” by Vincenzo Camucci


A Trip Down Memory Lane


Below is the video from our infamous post (Creativity & The Unconscious In The Time Of COVID-19) from three years ago.

In 44 B.C. on the Ides of March the assassination of Julius Caesar precipitated a turning point in Roman history.

Two thousand years later, we are at another turning point in history.

Times of crisis are creative times.

Think on how much literature and art comes from times of struggle, of revolution, of illness.

We explore the parallel between the transmission of illnesses and the emergence of ideas.

And what does Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907….Duchamp’s Nude Descending A Staircase in 1912….Bartok and Schoenberg’s Atonal or 12 Tone Music in 1908…Proust’s In Search Of Lost Time in 1909….. and Einstein’s new theory of Special Relativity in 1905 have to do with one another?

Watch the video below and find out.


Click on the arrow in the left hand corner to play the video. 


This coming March 15, Bruce will have lived in Santa Cruz for 20 years.

If he hadn’t moved here, Bruce and Nancy would not be together, and the network of follow-on consequences would have most likely diverged wildly from how life has actually played out. 


A Special Sort Of Error


Back in Roman times, Julius Caesar sought to regularize the calendar, which was structured in many different ways across the Roman Empire.

The “Julian” calendar incorporated the idea of the leap year because the Earth did not return to the same place in its orbit in exactly 365 days.

The leap year made the average year 365-1/4 days long, which was a good approximation to the true value of 365 days 6 hours 9 minutes 10 seconds. Since 6 hours is a quarter of a day, there is a small error of 9 minutes and 10 seconds. 

But it’s a special sort of error.

It doesn’t “cancel out” or “come out in the wash,” it compounds.

Not by much, in fact so slowly that it is not very noticeable in a human generation.


Accumulating Error


It took over a thousand years, but by medieval times it became apparent that there was an accumulating error.

In fact, it adds up to one day every 128 years.

By the 1500s, seasonal equinoxes were happening 10 days too early and Easter was sometimes in the wrong season.


The Gregorian Calendar


Pope Gregory XIII authorized a new calendar to account for this, stipulating that leap years at turns of centuries would be cancelled unless the year was divisible evenly by 400.

The “Gregorian” calendar was introduced in 1582, but a curious thing happened.

Protestant countries, not accepting the authority of the Pope, stuck with Julius Caesar’s calendar. This strange and perverse attempt to legislate the laws of physics away persisted for almost 200 years.

Such attempts always prove futile.

Finally, the English parliament came around to the more accurate Gregorian calendar in 1752. The kicker was when, on September 2, 1752, the next day was September 14, 1752. (drop of 11 days to conform to the Gregorian calendar).

Many people felt that eleven days had been “stolen” from them and wanted compensation for the purloined time. Near-riots ensued.


In time as well as space, the map is not the territory.



Old map



It’s like the person who picks up a pizza and the counter person says, “Would you like that cut into six or eight pieces?” 

The answer: “Better cut it into six, I don’t think I could eat eight.” 






Descartes said of such matters, “A difference that makes no difference is no difference.”




Rene Descartes, portrait by Frans Hals




Piaget would have a field day with this as well (The Laws of Conservation).


Time Marches On


Many countries did not adopt the new calendar immediately, some as late as Greece in 1923 and Saudi Arabia in 2016. But time marches on.

The Gregorian calendar isn’t perfect, either. It is off by one day every 3236 years.

Other calendars that did not have as strong a media empire and army as Pope Gregory XIII are even better, including the Persian calendar that is off by 1 day every 110,000 years and was introduced in the 2nd millennium BCE.

What is the lesson of all of this chronological shenanigans?  


Be careful of the labels of things. They can blind you to the underlying reality. They can prevent you from exploring new things. They can steal time from you. And their power can accumulate insidiously over time.


Magritte said it better than all of the words in this post:



Rene Magritte – Translation: “This is not a pipe.”



Put that in your pipe and smoke it.


With gratitude from our studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce


P.S. We danced in the rain in Santa Cruz when we found out our newest book, The Adjacent Possible Guidebook, won the Book Excellence Award in Art!

The sun burst forth and we swam in the pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean that day!.

Thank you dear Readers, our Reader Team, and the fabulous 25 artists featured in the book.

This puppy joins the suite of award winning books in The Art of the Possible series.

If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, go get it and see what all the excitement is about. 

Get your copy HERE. 



P.P.S. Get the suite of award winning books in The Art of the Possible Series. 






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