Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Phantom Time Hypothesis

I nearly bought a Fortean Times today (surprisingly our newsagent keeps a number of copies in his shelf) but resisted the temptation.  What caught my eye was the surprising assertion that the early Middle Ages did not exist.  There is a paper about it online here, but the essence of it is this. The theory begins with Heribert Illig (b. 1947), who was puzzled about why the correction between the Gregorian calendar and the old Julian calendar of Julius Caesar was as much as 10 days.
Now please calculate: how many Julian years does it take to produce an error of 10 days? The answer is 1257 years. The question – at which date was the Julian calendar correct – can be calculated with the following amazing result (Illig 1991): 1582 – 1257 = 325
Thus there are about 300 'phantom years' that history says exist, but didn't.  Thus the whole period 600-900 A.D. never existed.

That's a very interesting theory for us medieval philosophers, who focus almost exclusively in the post Carolingian period, by reason of the paucity of literature in the intervening period.  If that period simply did not exist, then the lack of literature can easily be explained, because no one existed to write it.  If the dark ages did not exist, then Boethius, writing in about 520 (or 820 on the PTH theory) was nearly contemporary with John Scotus Eruigena (c. 815 – c. 877).  There would be no 'gaps' to explain.

Other things are less conveniently explained (such as the venerable Bede, who appeared to have been writing bang in the middle of the phantom period).  Presumably people counted the years as they went by.  Assuming there were no written records whatsoever, and no archeology to speak of, and assuming that different people counted the years as they went by, with only the record of the current year.  What is the probability of miscomputing the year?  Indeed, what is the probability of different groups consistently miscomputing the date, so that they all all arrived at the same, but consistently wrong answer?  How could they consistently lose more than 300 years?


William M. Connolley said...

Tree rings and ice cores allow you to date some events as far as 1-5 kyr ago to individual years (volcanoes, mostly). So events like Pompeii can, I think, be absolutely referenced to our calendar. Not sure if that helps or not.

Edward Ockham said...

>>So events like Pompeii can, I think

Well Pompeii occurred, according to the orthodox chronology, in 79 AD. That's about 1,930 years ago on the orthodox account.

On the PT hypothesis, Pompeii really occurred 1,930 - 325 years ago. I.e. 1,605 years ago (correct my arithmetic if I am wrong, but you get the gist).

Do tree rings and ice cores definitely confirm that Pompeii occurred 1,930 years ago?

Other confirmations of the orthodox chronology are the Chinese records of eclipses and comets, which are regularly occurring events.

I'm a historian and a philosopher, so I don't use physical methods. I'm interested in the manuscript evidence. But it's an interesting question - when did all the historical dates eventually get settled, and what are the primary sources that were used?

Edward Ockham said...

Actually this theory is even more radical. There's a bit about tree rings there.

What's strange is that Fomenko is clearly intelligent and seems to have a grasp of mathematics. What went wrong?

William M. Connolley said...

Tree rings and ice core layers allow you to date some things absolutely. So yes, we can be sure exactly how many years ago Pompeii occurred (well, in the sense that we can identify chemical spikes in the ice core record. By piecing the deltas between different spkies together, you can I think unambiguously identify them). You could, I suppose, try arguing that the spike that just happens to coincide with the known age of Pompeii just happens to be an older unknown volcano. But no-one would believe you.

Edward Ockham said...

>>You could, I suppose, try arguing that the spike that just happens to coincide with the known age of Pompeii just happens to be an older unknown volcano.

This is exactly what Fomenko (more about him later) would argue.

>>But no-one would believe you.

Except for Phantom Time theorists, of course.