The Leap Second Debate: Rational Arguments vs. Unspoken Unease

  • Article (book chapter)
  • 9 pages
  • Level: high school and above

A brief, somewhat “tongue-in-cheek” essay by Fr. Paul Gabor, S. J., an astronomer with the Vatican Observatory. Gabor provides a brief historical overview on the subject of time, standards, power, and societies. This essay was published in The Science of Time 2016: Time in Astronomy & Society, Past, Present and Future, of which Fr. Gabor is a co-author. Gabor writes:

The ancient and sacred task of timekeeping, linking the eternal with the
everyday, is one of the oldest missions of astronomy, originating long before the
dawn of written history. The succession of timekeeping schemes throughout
millennia has been a search for a balance between the practical and the symbolic.
In the current Leap Second Debate, there are rational arguments, focused on
practical considerations, and there is a certain unspoken unease, emerging from
the symbolic substrata of the issues involved…. [T]his
paper will examine the presuppositions and perceptions overshadowing the debate:
astronomical conformity, continuity, timelessness, (ir)rationality, the Enlightenment,
etc. We shall study the historical evidence represented by the various
calendric traditions and situate the Leap Second Debate in a broader context of
cultural history and history of thought. Our underlying purpose is to facilitate the
debate by shedding some light on its caliginous but potent undercurrents.

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