Birthdays and the nature of historical time

A few days ago I talked about reading through notable birthdays on Wikipedia. Since then I’ve been thinking about it a bit more.

The collective editorial voice of Wikipedia is continually making a choice about whose birthday gets mentioned. On any given date of birth, only a few people are considered notable enough for inclusion.

This is not surprising. If the list were allowed to grow unchecked, it would be essentially useless.

When you look at the resulting list, an interesting yet unsurprising pattern emerges: The older you are, the more important you need to be to make the list.

Go back a few centuries, and the bar becomes very high. Leonardo Da Vinci (April 15) and Johann Sebastian Bach (March 21) make the list, but many august and famous personages from their time do not.

But the recent list is far more inclusive. Essentially, the later you were born, the less important you need to be to make the cut.

I wonder whether this is something that goes beyond mere issues of cultural bias. It might have something to do with our fundamentally logarithmic way of perceiving things, just as our perception of intervals of musical pitch is on a logarithmic scale, not a linear scale.

We believe that we think of time linearly, but when it comes right down to it, our experience of history is not based on equal intervals of time, but rather on equal ratios of time. Our collective consciousness creates intervals of perception that grow progressively larger as we peer further into the past.

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