When does history start in other cultures?

In our culture, we split our method of counting years in two: before Christ, the years go backwards - thereby negating the need to establish a starting point in the past.

I presume that most other cultures don’t go backwards, as we do, but go forwards from a particular starting point. What starting point is chosen, and why that particular moment, and what do they believe happened before then? (Does it produce a similar sort of conundrum that we face in thinking about what happened before the Big Bang?)

Just popping in to say I like the topic. I know there are websites that list the years of various systems such as these that I’ve looked up in the 2001 World Almanac (and which may not repeat that 2001 date for changeover to the next year):

Byzantine 7510 Sep/14/2001
Jewish 5762 Sep/17/2001
Roman (Ab Urbe Condita) 2754 Jan/14/2001
Nabonassar (Babylonian) 2750 Apr/23/2001
Japanese 2661 Jan/1/2001
Grecian (Seleucidae) 2313 Sep/14/2001 or Oct/14/2001
Diocletian 1718 (Sep/11/2001) — !!!
Indian (Saka) 1923 Mar/22/2001
Islamic/Muslim (Hijra) 1422 Mar/25/2001

The Hebrew Calendar places year 1 in 3761 BCE, which is traditionally the date of an event associated with the biblical creation narrative.

However other traditional calendars, e.g. the Buddhist calendar, the Islamic calendar place year 1 at an event which is known to have occurred in history, i.e. it is not regarded as the start of history - the death of the Buddha, the Hegira, etc.

Calendars generally start out by marking and naming days, months, etc. They are concerned with identifying and dividing a repeating cycle, and it is in the nature of a cycle that it has no beginning and no end. Hence they don’t have a “start date”. That comes later, and the date selected as year 1 is almost always an event already in the past by the time it is selected. It’s typically an important event for the people who use the calendar, but not normally the “start of history”.

That makes sense that history should begin with a significant event.

Are those cultures curious as to what happened before then? I was thinking more of a ‘creation’ point.

Actually to amend my OP, we, of course, do have an (estimated) year one that we count forward from: the Big Bang.

It appears that the old favorite/bookmark I’ve been keeping for years that pointed to “ecben” and which had the title “Today’s Date and Time” is now a dead link.

The best I’ve been able to locate is http://www.harrold.org/rfhextra/y2kclock.html for the sort of calendar references I mentioned before.

I’ll keep looking for better ones.

The copout I keep hearing about “before the Big Bang” is that whatever “before” means, it doesn’t apply to the Big Bang, since that’s when “time” begins.

As I say, for me it’s a copout and cheapo explanation. Same thing applies to “outside the Universe.”

Even the idea that history has to have a “start” from which everything is taken to"progress" is a modern one. In pre-modern times, events were mostly viewed as taking place in cycles, with smaller cycles being repeated in larger ones. Thus the repeating cycle of day-and-night occurred numerous times within the lunar cycle, which occurred numerous times within the cycle of the seasons, which occurred numerous times within the overlapping generational cycles of birth-childhood-adolesence-adulthood-(reproduction)-senescence-death, which in turn occurred numerous times within the cyclical rise and fall of a city, or a state, or an empire . . . You couldn’t look forward very far; you could look back further, but you would eventually lose sight of events in the past, and couldn’t name or count them. That didn’t mean that they hadn’t happened, though.

The people who picked, say, the foundation of the City of Rome as the date from which they would commence to count years didn’t think of it as the “start of history”; it was the start of the history of Rome, which was a history that mattered to them, but they were perfectly aware that there were other histories that mattered to other people, and that the history of Rome and all these other histories were unfolding within the cycles of a larger history. They didn’t think that history began on AUC 1 any more than we think that the cycle of seasons begins on 1 January. The foundation of Rome was simply an event that had occurred in history that was sigfnificant enought to make it useful as a reference point from which to count years; nothing more.

Even the Jewish Calendar actually starts (or is conceived to start) from a point about a year before the creation as described in Genesis. Its originators may have conceived of the Creation as the start of their history, or of the history that interested them or that they could know of, but not as the start of history, as such. They clearly envisaged that time did unfold before the Creation; they just saw no point in counting it.

In case anyone is curious where the dates of the calenders mentioned by Zeldar start:

Creation of the world.

Creation of the world

Founding of Rome

Founding the Neo-Babylonian empire/Reign of Nabonassar

Founding of Japan

Founding of the Selucid Empire

Reign of Diocletian

Victory over the Saka

Flight by Muhammed to Medina

Well, if time and space are the metric used to describe the array and interaction of matter and energy, then the terms are meaningless when attempted to be applied to a point “before the Big Bang.” Even saying "there was absolutely nothing before the Big Bang implies a frame of reference for observing the nothing, which voids the absoluteness of the nothingness. It is a superficially meaningful statement that when examined proves to have no referent, like “100 degrees below absolute zero” or “95 degrees north latitude” – the phrases can be formulated but have no real-world referent. Even the question of whether Tolkien’s fictional balrogs have wings has more real-world meaning, because balrogs at least exist as a fictional concept within a real-world book.

Has anybody read anything to suggest that the attacks of 9/11/2001 had anything to do with the New Year of the Diocletian 1718 (Sep/11/2001) — !!! calendar?

I bought that particular World Almanac in December 2000, the latest one I bought after having been collecting them since 1966, and it’s just now (today) that I saw that odd fact. It messes with my head!

Nine: History begins with writing, not with some historical event. And even then, “writing” is more of a process than a point in time. In the West, we don’t consider history to have started in 1 CE. That’s just a calendar convention.

Zeldar: This being GQ, I’m going to take issue with your position on time and the big bang. Of course, if you’ve got a better explanation, there’s a Nobel Prize in physics waiting for you. Our current understanding of the universe is that space-time came into existence with the big bang. You can’t have time without space.

I won’t even try to argue the point, since I understand that aspect of the issue. What troubles me is that if we allow ourselves to relate to time and the notion of “before” and to space and the notions of “inside and outside” then we have somehow to shift our “understanding” of those concepts when we get to The Big Bang. For me, that adjustment indicates a poor understanding of one or the other of those concepts. I freely admit it’s a simplistic view of things, but it’s a view that’s hard to shake. Many things in Modern Science are that way for me.

…wouldn’t that depend on what you mean by temperature? I mean systems with negative thermodynamic temperatures aren’t actually cold as such… but their temperatures are on the -K side of the scale. Is there a reason why -100K specifically would be non-referential?

Modern science is largely unintuitive. Which should not be surprising since our brains didn’t evolve in an environment where understanding things on the scale of atoms or the universe. And, while it’s likely our current understanding will be overturned by some other theory in the future, it’s unlikely that will reconcile with the intuitive notion of “before” and “inside/outside”. These are constructs our mind creates-- not something intrinsically tied to existence.

You were posting this as I was responding to Polycarp and I didn’t preview. I think my comments still apply here. I’d love a Nobel, but my position is much more simplistic and admittedly behind the times. It just defies what I choose to refer to as Common Sense.

I’d be thrilled if someone could help me see how the everyday notions of time and space (and Matter and Energy for that matter) have to be abandoned when we start looking into Quantum Theory and the other branches of Modern Science.

Everything I have read on these topics just gets me more confused. I sense I may not be alone.

ETA: Again I didn’t preview and it appears you have addressed the issues already. I’ll be quiet for a while and listen.

This part is interesting because it directly corresponds to the thought of the OP.

What is a common sense view of the world and time? Well, common sense dictates that the world had a start point. A creator entity said “poof” and there the world was, almost exactly as it is seen today. It therefore makes the same sort of common sense to mark that event as the zero point of time. (Remember that the zero point is a different entity than the mathematical zero. All cultures have an understanding of the zero point. Even those that dated events by years of the king’s reign implicitly knew that the year one of that reign or the first anniversary of the king’s ascension had a zero point that could be counted from. It makes the lag to a mathematical zero more surprising, true, but the zero point concept was always there.)

In western cultures common sense got mixed in with religious absolutism, but by the 19th century scientists started developing a different definition of common sense. Look at the geology of the world, they said. Look at these fossil remains. They couldn’t have happened in only 6000 years. Common sense tells us that it had to have been millions, possibly billions of years. Even other scientists thought this was ridiculous because their common sense told them that no process could possibly keep the sun burning for that long.

When that problem was solved the next objection was that the age of the earth was more than what was obviously the age of the universe. Common sense said that the earth had to be younger. Well, yes it was. They had misread the distances involved and suddenly the universe was far older.

And now they could take a look at the radiation background left over from what appears to be a big bang. And common sense tells us that we can’t go any farther. There can’t be a time before that zero point. There can’t be a space beyond that extent.

But if there is anything at all that history teaches us, it should teach us that applying common sense rules to events that are so far away from any common happenstance in the collective lives of everybody on earth is futile and even silly. Common sense doesn’t work in situations like those. Scientific deduction and mathematical exploration are designed to reach into places that are beyond common sense. Infinities, multiple dimensions, curved spaces, fractal topologies. We don’t and can’t deal with any of those with our senses. They are not common: they are extraordinary.

The other thing that is extraordinary is that we imagine that the beginning of time and space should in any way be common. They aren’t. Nothing at the extremes behaves in the same way as the stuff in the middle. We know that, intuitively, through common sense. Somehow that bit of common sense leaves us when time and space crop up in conversation. Extraordinary.

I said I’d be quiet and listen, but I must thank you, Exapno Mapcase, for doing an excellent job of responding to my request to

Nicely done, and understandable. That “zero point” argument was the key, I think, with “before” implying negative time and how “negative time” has a limit to how far back it can go. I like that!

Well, you’re certainly not alone in your understanding. I would say most people are in the same boat you are. As for trying to understand concepts like Relativity and QM, I would start right here on this board. Do a little search on GQ for those topics and you’ll find some excellent explanations.

But just to get you started with Relativity, you first have to accept the empirical fact that the speed of light is the same no matter what reference frame you are in. No matter how fast you are traveling, light will always seem to be traveling at the same speed. Now, before we even get into any of the implications of that, can you see that that fact defies our “common sense” idea of what time is?