Ah the calendar, it has been an integral part of society since we first started to count days and years. While today we all pretty much use a standardized form for how the calendar looks with 12 months and 365 days, what fills the calendar differs a lot. Humans have many days of observance or days where we honor something in specific, voluntary obviously I think it is fairly safe to say that a lot of people on this board do not observe most of the religious events marked in the calendar, some of those which are official holidays we celebrate out of tradition or just with the religious flavor taken out. We have several holidays too which are not religious or had some kind of religious origin but are not celebrated like that anymore like valentine’s day.
I have always found it sad and almost incomprehensible how we in a society built on the most amazing scientific discoveries and demonstrations of human ingenuity only have holidays or days of observance that are based on mythology. It is understandable for all the religious people but many people are not religious, and even if you are religious the fact that we do not honor Newton for example, the father of modern science is absurd.
For a long time I have looked for something along the lines of a calendar of scientific “days of observance”, not as in an atheist agenda although I definitely think that it would not harm that agenda. A scientific calendar does not have anything to do with atheism or not but just with the awe that is science and anyone who is not an opponent of science might be able to find interest in that.
Who would benefit from there existing a calendar of science?
* Such a calendar I think would first of all benefit the cause of spreading science to the general public, our entire civilization is built on some of these scientific events yet no one is consciously aware of them on a daily basis, if they were in a calendar that would help raise that awareness.
* All of the people religious or not who don’t care at all about the battle between religion and non-religion but also find science meaningful and important and would find some purpose in observing these days.
* Secularists and atheists who actively object to religion and still want to have the tradition and ritual of having meaningful days of observance.
* It would most certainly as a side effect further the secularization of the world by not just letting christianity have a monopoly on ritual and community traditions in our society which is always a good thing.
Also let me be clear here, I paint very broad strokes in who could benefit from this but I am not by any means suggesting a calendar meant to officially replace the existing ones, that would be a political project and a futile one as well. This is a grassroots idea and a calendar that could be used by anyone who wants to, with the hope that in the long run it would spread to a great many people.
So what are you suggesting?
To be honest I am not really suggesting anything just yet. I have looked for a science calendar for some time and never found this concept to exist, there are a few unofficial but very very few known days such as pi day which does fit this concept but they are very few. What I am imagining is something far more comprehensive to the point of including so many of these days that it would work as a complete substitute to a calendar of religious holidays if one wanted. I could just make one since there is not one but that would both be meaningless and counterproductive as you can not really just make such a thing and then get it spread very easily, People within the groups who would want a calendar like this would likely disagree on its construction as well. Basically if you really wanted to make such a calendar and have it go viral you need to involve a lot of people from all kinds of areas which is also not something you can just do.
What I am left with is the idea of starting an online calendar project that would run over a longer course of time with the ability for people to post suggestions, partake in polls and generally contribute to the layout of this thing. On top of this the project would actively reach out to active groups or organizations for them to submit suggestions or vote on the outline as well, that part would involve focusing on specific groups such as science journals, universities or groups surrounding science in general, skeptic and rationalist groups and organizations like the humanists, skeptic magazine or whatever. Conveniently since a year back I went back to re-educate myself for a new career and I now study web programming (not the design of web pages but the nit and grit of programming forums, e-shop technology etc) which means I could probably get the technical part off the ground and make it a project that I could take university time from in order to complete.
The above sounds a lot more complicated than it in the end would be, this thing would to a large extent take on the form of a wiki site. With a fixed project group that coordinates and structures it but with the ability for anyone to suggest a certain addition to the calendar and then open polls and discussions to narrow down what gets put in it. In the end you get a community product that would have a much greater chance of actually getting some attention and to be spread to a larger base of people.
Sounds great! What is the first step?
Well as I said this is just an idea so far and I have not committed to actually doing this nor am I making this post to recruit anyone or to drum up support or help. Rather, I am making this post because I looking for some starting insights into what you think a science calendar should contain. Before I do anything else I will compile some kind of a demo calendar with some of the most important events in scientific history. If I decide to make this a full on project that demonstration would work as a starting point. So let’s hear suggestions on what you think would be important scientific days to have in this.
I think there are three categories of “holidays” that one could divide stuff into which makes it easier to keep track of stuff.
Specific dates: A lot of stuff have very specific dates. The kind of examples that would fit into this category would be when we have an exact date of discovery for something, perhaps the day the origins of species was published, the day of the launch of the hubble telescope or the date of birth of Newton. Anything with a specific date attached to it and as you can see in my examples it does not have to be a scientific discovery. I particularly like the hubble launch example because hubble while it will not be up there forever nor is it the last one, it will definitely be replaced by better telescopes to do the same job. In many ways hubble symbolizes the bringing of the universe into the home. It was first to really inspire people with it’s amazing images and thus a hubble launch day would also symbolize that connection.
Unspecific days of observance: Let’s be honest, even if some of the religious holidays are based on things that actually happened. Even if there was a guy named Jesus who was crucified which has no bearing on him being a god or not, most if not all of the dates in the christian calendar are not specific. These things did not happen on those dates, and more importantly there are many holidays which are just dedicated to honoring something in specific without it having a historical connection to that particular date.
Into this category you can fit a lot of the scientific discoveries because frankly most of them can’t be narrowed down to a date. Half the time there is no date that we know of and the other half a discovery is the result of many people contributing to something in increments. The discovery of the dna molecule for example took place in multiple steps, when it was originally discovered it was not known what it was for example. There are a lot of scientific discoveries or theories that fit into this in that they are profound enough to us that they merit having their own day, but can’t be put historically on a specific day, as with the discovery of DNA, it could also be a day dedicated to an important scientist or technological feat such as the voyager probes journey to be the first man made objects to leave the solar system.
A chain of days: There are many official holidays that are made up of a chain of days that are related but each day may have a unique meaning. Easter and Christmas are obvious examples of this. I don’t have any particular example of this but I add this category as well because I imagine people will probably figure out ideas that fit this as well. I guess it could be 3 days in a row with a specific theme or an actual chain of events like the Apollo 13 disaster and subsequent rescue through some real scientific heroism.
So what events etc do you think should be in this calendar? Which scientific events are the most important ones? Which do you feel are so important that it is a tragedy that we celebrate the execution of a desert prophet 2000 years ago but not this?
As of right now I am just looking for brainstorming and bright ideas, but from there, there is a good chance that I will try and make this a very real project as a contribution and a tool to the secular movement as well for the popularization of science.
I plan on compiling suggestions in this post and I add my own ideas as I go as well. The list and the suggestions you should post is 100% brainstorming, we are throwing everything in that has any relevance to the subject. If you have a suggestion, also don’t feel the need to find the date of it even if you think there is a specific date, I’ll dig up the numbers if they are not there. Just throw the ideas out there.
April 12 - First Human in Outer Space
Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human being to ever go into outer space as Vostok 1 orbited the earth on this date in 1961.
April 24 - The launch of the Hubble Telescope
While humanity have put a lot of scientific technology into space, and we have a lot of telescopes on the ground. While Hubble will be decommissioned and better replacements put up. This telescope is probably one of the best known among the general public and in many ways it is symbolic of the visuals of the universe. The Hubble telescopes does not only honor a great astronomer, it is a symbol for our connection to the universe, it showed the artistic beauty of the cosmos and brought some of the most amazing images of the universe into our homes.
July 5 - Newton Publishes the Principia
Possible alternative to December 25 as another way of focusing on Newton and his contributions to modern science. This is the date at which he first published the PhilosophiÃ¦ Naturalis Principia Mathematica which is the foundation of classical mechanics and the very idea that we can describe the invisible laws of physics through equations.
July 20 - First Human to Set Foot on the Moon
Really does not need much explanation. The fact that this was done in an age where the on board computer were little more sophisticated than a handheld calculator is just amazing. Also a great day for moon-landing conspirationists to get together and demonstrate and an even better day for us to make fun of them! In fact, I already know how to celebrate this day, just like the Christians gave rise to April fools day by making fun of the pagans who considered it the new year, July 20 seems like a perfect day to make fun of conspiracy theorists.
September 26 - Special Relativity
On this day Albert Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis were first published which changed the landscape of physics and how we see time.
December 25 - Birth of Isaac Newton
Arguably one of the most important scientists of all time and often referred to as the father of modern science as his PhilosophiÃ¦ Naturalis Principia Mathematica laid the foundations for classical mechanics. So could partly be seen as a date honoring his contribution but also in a sense as a honoring the birth of modern science itself. I can’t hide a certain amount of glee over the particular date it falls on. There is a problem to be solved here though as this far back in time dates are recorded in double due to the switching from julian to gregorian calendar so this date could also be January 4. I don’t know what the official practice is in these cases today if you favor one date or the other, wikipedia has the december 25 date written first but I guess this is something that has to be solved later on.
Try looking here, it’s a good place to start thinking of what we might consider most important as scientific milestones.