Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mecca Mean Time

Some Muslim scientists have suggested that we should replace Greenwich as the prime meridian with Mecca, because Mecca is the true center of the Earth (unless Mecca is about 6400 kilometers underground, I very much doubt that).

This is a pointless endeavour that just makes these people look small minded and petty. Yes, the reason Greenwich was picked as the prime meridian was due to British supremacy and imperialism in the 19th century. However, after a little over thirty years after England formally adopted the Greenwich as the prime meridian, an international conference approved it as the universal prime meridian by a vote of 22-1 with two abstains (France in a spat of cross channel rivalry continued to use Paris as the prime meridian for a few decades).

This is besides the point though. Nowadays there is no difference between any two locations as a choice of a prime meridian except in one case. The exception is the Greenwich meridian, because all the maps we use today, all our atlases, all our books, all our GPS systems are set up to use the Greenwich meridian as the prime meridian. Changing the prime meridian will serve no useful purpose, and will make millions, perhaps even billions of books outdated and force unnecessary upgrades to all the electronic devices that deal with locations.

There are a number of aspects of how we talk about the world which originated due to the cultural, military or other supremacy of one group out of many. The use of the Greenwich meridian. The birth of Christ as the basis for numbering years. The imperial system of measures. twenty-four hour days. New years day on January first.

These things should not be replaced just because someone feels that they are being discriminated because they're not part of the group that is the origin of those terms. For this reason I don't like the use of CE and BCE instead of AD and BC. In some cases, such as which year is zero, there is no obvious choice of which alternative to pick, so again we should just stick with the one we use now.

The only time we should make the change is when the new is objectively better than the old. Thus we now use the metric system instead of the imperial system. The metric system is much simpler than the imperial system and so is easier to learn and use. It is much better than the imperial system and so we made the change.

Anyway, back to the original topic, with all due respect to the Muslims suggesting this, this is posturing. This is chest beating. It is roaring so that you're heard above the crowd. It's not going to change things. Your arguments are flimsy. For example, the suggestion that Mecca is a better meridian because true north and magnetic north align is not unique to Mecca. The Alaska-Canada border can make the same claim. And the magnetic north pole is not a fixed point. It's motion can be detected and measured. Over the history of the Earth it has moved all over the place, even so far as being at what is now the south pole.

Sure, good on you for being proud of your religion, but don't go suggesting changes that don't actually make things better and just are a lot of trouble to implement. Your preferred sites are no more special than ours, and everyone, not just us, is used to using ours.

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1 comment:

Chris_the_Blogger said...

You would have to do handstands while praying five times a day if Mecca were truly the center of the Earth.