History of the Watches

Shakespeare said that we are made of the same stuff as dreams. Last week, the neurologist Marcelo Berthier, specialist aphasia (loss of language), said that we are made of words. However, they and many others will agree that, above all, we are made of time.

David Ewing Duncan as stated in History Calendar (Emecé, 1999), after consciousness, our obsession with measuring time should be the trait that characterizes us as a species and must have arisen from the realization that going to die. It is already known: everything that begins must end.

That unpleasant certainty (combined undoubtedly less idealistic needs and practices, such as how many days were missing for the next harvest, calculate when you had to pay taxes or to determine the exact time of making a sacrifice to appease an angry god, Duncan writes), they drove an ancient effort to measure its passing.

Probably the first watch is known for “cage it” was made 13,000 years ago, when in the hills of the Dordogne valley, in the center of France, there were herds of reindeer, bison, saber-toothed tigers and woolly rhinos. There eagle bone the size of a knife in a man or Cro-Magnon woman enrolled groups of seven notches that could have served to record the phases of the moon was found. Although archaeologists do not agree, later similar devices were found in other parts of Europe and Africa.

Robert Levine, author of A Geography of Time (Siglo XXI, 2006) and many scholars of technology have humans may begin to pigeonhole the hours with a simple stick stuck in the ground that cast a shadow: the gnomon or sundials , employing Egyptians and Babylonians. Other primitive watches were the sand (it is said that Charlemagne received gift one so big it could operate for 12 hours without it they turned) and the sun, which is adapted to be used in all latitudes, even portable models!

Then came the hourglasses, measuring cycles by the flow of water to the inside or outside of a vessel. (It was what was used in the Roman Senate to regulate the duration of discussions until some as loquacious as rogues, they began to mix clay with water to make it thicker and take longer to get through the hole.)

Galileo managed to measure the speed of falling bodies rolling on an inclined weighing the amount of water that poured from a container level. But in 1656, thanks to his discovery that the oscillations of pédulo have uniform periods, Dutchman Christiaan Huygens built a clock daily reduced the margin of error from hours to minutes.

It is presumed that the first mechanical watch was public and was mounted in Milan in 1335. In 1920 the quartz watch (whose heart vibrates around 30,000 times per second) with which both reduced the error in the measurement that could be considered was invented non-existent. And in 1948, the atomic clock, whose more advanced versions reach unimaginable precision. Current would take 52 million years for one second out of phase; which you are designing the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST-F2, will not win or lose one second in about 300 million years.

As it happens, this poetic impulse to capture the ungraspable had unforeseen effects. In 1905, the disquisitions on simultaneity in coordinating watches inspired the foundations of special relativity (tells Peter Galison in Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s maps , Hodder and Stoughton, 2004). GPS, satellite communications and planetary exploration were all amazing products of new theories of physics and devices that made them possible.

But despite these astonishing achievements, time puts into question all objective view. Beyond watches, still it creeps in infancy, when we have whole life ahead, and runs fast like a gazelle when we see that we approach the end of the grid of small squares on the LED watches. That we use to measure our days and which, dreamers, we want to “catch it”.