New Year’s Eve brings memories of childhood: black and white television pictures of men in kilts, lumps of coal, and tenor voices declaring the virtues of laddies and lassies. Perhaps it wasn’t as bad as it seems in the memory, perhaps there were songs other than Loch Lomond and Donald, where’s your trousers? Whatever the reality, the abiding perception of New Year’s Eve is of fuzzy television pictures from some studio, where they all thought that turning a page of the calendar was something to be marked by the singing of Auld Lang Syne, which must surely be the worst dirge in human history.
The Swiss postal clerk Albert Einstein offers an escape from the dreadful television and bad singing. Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, led him to the conclusion, “For us physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion.” Time and space are not distinct, they are one and the same: space-time is a single continuum. The passing of time is illusory; the perception of the passing of time is a mystery.
If Einstein’s theory of relativity is fundamental to our understanding of reality and Einstein rules out any distinction between past, present and future, then Hogmanay itself is an illusion; at best an arbitrary division of dates on a calendar, at worst a delusion that the customs mark as though it were something that was real.
If the whole of one’s life is laid out with a precise space-time location, then past, present and future all occur within the same moment and marking the existence a particular moment in space-time is of no more significance than marking a particular location in space-time. In Einstein’s theory, the celebration of Hogmanay, a moment in space-time, seems no more logical than a celebration of John O’Groat’s, a place in space-time. If we were being logical, we could choose to rid ourselves of it forever.
Of course, having dispensed with memories of Andy Stewart & Co on 31st December each year, the logic of Einstein does seem to suggest that if past, present and future are all the one moment, then we are predestined to certain things from the moment we are born, our lives are simply a series of fixed points in space-time. Having its roots in the Bible, the idea of predestination is the particular realm of Calvinist Protestant thinking, it is the preaching of dark-gowned Presbyterian ministers.
Hogmanay or space-time – it seems there is no escaping from Scotsmen.