It’s April Fools’ Day.
And it’s close to Easter. What better time to go hopping down a rabbit trail?
The birthday list that popped up from Facebook today was longer than usual and included my great-nephew. I’ve never asked him, but I suspect that he and most people born on this day have been the brunt of sophomoric jokes about being born on a day dedicated to celebrating fools and foolishness. But he is nobody’s fool. And, while there are many fools out there, none is such solely because they were born on April 1.
Gregorian Time Travel
One explanation involves the switch from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar, when suddenly the new year no longer began on Easter but on January 1. Well, I say “suddenly.” The process of countries officially changing their civil calendars from the Julian to the Gregorian took several centuries.
In 1582 Pope Gregory decided that the old Julian system of calculating the year as comprising 365.25 days just wasn’t accurate enough and decreed that calendars should reflect that a year is 365.2422 days. Since the Pope was the honcho in the Catholic Church, his decree was all it took for eleven days to disappear from church calendars.
Good Catholics and everyone living in good Catholic countries, irrespective of their religious affiliation, went to bed on October 4, 1582, and woke up on October 15, 1582. The switch and concomitant time travel happened elsewhere in fits and starts (for instance, the UK and the American Colonies in 1752) until as recently as 2016 when Saudia Arabia adopted the Gregorian as its civil calendar.
Again, we’re talking about the switch for civil calendars. Religious calendars are a completely different story that I’m not going to get into right now. Many of those throughout the world bear no resemblance or allegiance to the Gregorian calendar or the Julian.
Literacy Literally Rewiring Your Brain
But that got me thinking in several different directions all at once, like:
- What is time, anyway? (I think I’ll set that one aside for another—no pun intended—time.)
- The historical interrelationship between religious and civil authority, and whether—and when—ordinary people had the free time (yeah, I know) to ponder its effect on their lives.
- Do different calculations of time’s passage affect cognitive development? The old, “we experience time linearly, but what if we didn’t?”
And then, for some reason, I happened upon an article about Martin Luther and how he rewired human brains. Well, not Martin Luther, individually and personally (although I suppose we could debate that), but the Reformation push to expand literacy.
Apparently, when humans develop the ability to read, their brains reorganize themselves to facilitate that activity. While the changes are all fascinating, the one that really whacked me upside the head was the decrease in the brain’s preference for holistic visual processing—a particular way the human brain handles data, illustrated most often by our ability to recognize and differentiate faces.
If you are literate, the alacrity with which you recognize faces or, say, tell the difference between identical twins is diminished a bit. Not significantly, but presumably measurably.
For my part, it’s a good trade, and I’m vastly richer for it. I’d much rather be able to read a good book—or even a bad one—than tell at a glance whether the Doublemint twins are real or the product of trick photography.
So, Where Is This Trail Leading, Anyway?
The point, though, is that the things we do—the ways that we spend our time, the things we think about, the attitudes we adopt—change us. Fundamentally, physically, and demonstrably. Where you put your attention, there follows your reality.
You can make yourself miserable simply by concentrating on the depressing. This comes as no surprise to most of us.
Astoundingly, the converse is also true. Identifying and contemplating reasons to be grateful will inevitably make you happier and not only because of a release of endorphins. It works on multiple levels and produces physical changes in the brain.
It’s astounding because despite the effect being verified, proven over and over and over again (each “over” is a separate link; I could have provided many more), as a behavior, it’s relatively scarce. While I’m not going to dwell on it, that’s sad, don’t you think?
In this season of renewal and growth, I wish you peace, and I wish you joy. And I’m grateful that you’ve taken the time to hippity-hop down this rabbit trail with me.