Cycles, time and spirals

May 8, 2007 § Leave a comment

42, The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Lif...

Image via Wikipedia

The Oxford Universal Dictionary states a cycle is:

“A circle or orbit in the heavens. A recurrent period in a definite period of years. A period in which a certain round of events or phenomena is completed, recurring in the same order in equal succeeding periods. A long, indefinite period, an age. A round, course or period through which anything runs to its completion, and so on …”

Our lives are filled with cycles. There are very, very short cycles like atomical cycles, short cycles like plant and animal (and human) cycles, longer cycles like seasonal and geological cycles, and very long cycles like star cycles and zodiac cycles. All cycles repeat or return on themselves. In fact, if there were no repetition, we would have no awareness of them. Some examples of convenient sized cycles that we can understand and grasp with our mind include the cycle of our breath, seasons or year, day and night, musical patterns, females and males, and economical cycles, and so on ….


Time is an elementary magnitude, a primary concept that can’t be defined in terms of other, more basic, concepts. As such its definition is difficult and it’s based on the universal human experience that time does exist and has certain properties. In other words, we have a very rudimentary knowledge about the nature of time.

In fact, we don’t have the foggiest idea of what time is except that it accomplishes certain features that people experience intuitively:

  • It’s continuous.
  • It doesn’t have the same properties as space. And we have no idea of what space is either. We wonder about it though.
  • Events are bound to time. The existence of events without time is impossible. We measure time as the interval between two events.
  • Events seem to occur sequentially in time, running in one privileged direction.

Now what about those spirals?

The visual metaphors that represent time provide a framework to show the events that occurred in a certain moment of time. In one way or another time is associated to a (curved or straight) linear metaphor. We can use a time line, or we can use a time band. Or, we can use a spiral: The advantage of using spirals is three-fold: It uses space more efficiently than a line, and when making it interactive, we can “extract” more information by unwinding it from its origin. And it is a line, or, if we fill the space between rounds, a time-band.

My 2 cents

The spiral is and ancient symbol of evolution, one of the oldest pagan symbols in existence. It represents the cycle of the seasons and the cycles of life, growth and change. In other words, the cycles of life, the universe and everything. Although each loop of the spiral brings us back to the same place, it takes us to a higher and more evolved level at each turn. It is cycles in cycles in cycles, wheels in wheels in wheels, and spirals in spirals in spirals …

Scrabble 6 by 9

It was later pointed out by readers of Douglas Adams’ book that 6 × 9 = 42 if the calculations are performed in base 13, not base 10. Douglas Adams later averred that he was not aware of this at the time, and repeatedly dismisses this as an irrelevant concoction, saying that

“nobody writes jokes in base 13 […] I may be a pretty sad person, but I don’t make jokes in base 13.”


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