Why are there 60 seconds in a minute?

Shutterstock.com/ David Orcea

You may have heard that time is a concept. This idea really comes from the fact that time, in essence, is a man-made construct to help us understand the relativities of the world. Why then, if man created time did we have to make it so complicated? Why have 24 hours in a day, why have 60 minutes in an hour? Why have 60 seconds in a minute?

There is actually some debate as to whether the time is a concept at all. There are two schools of thought, one that suggests time is a tool by which we understand our universe. The other which suggests that time itself is a dimension (the 4th dimension) and the tools are the minutes, seconds, and hours that we have placed on it to help us understand. Whatever the answer it is certainly clear that at least, time is relative. If you have ever gone skydiving or jumped off a cliff you will know exactly how slow a few seconds can go. 

The Egyptians were the first ones to split the day up into smaller parts. They divided a day into 24 blocks 12 for the day and 12 for the night. They used the sun to mark out the hours in the day and the stars at night. It still took until the 14th century until a standard agreed-upon time was introduced. The Samarians were the first to introduce the base of 60 in time supposedly because it was easily divisible without resulting in fractions as you can have 4X15, 2X30,6X10.

While the base of 60 has been widely used since its inception and is still used today the French did try to change the game during their revolution. In 1792 the French began splitting the day into 10 hours, each hour had 100 minutes, each minute had 100 seconds. Decimal time is beautiful to look at because it is so easy to interpret. If you say you will meet your friend in 1.25 hours, they likely assume you mean 1 hour and a quarter. In the current standard time, that means 60 minutes + 15 minutes, so 75 minutes. Your friend could be confused and meet you in 1 hour and 25 minutes time. With decimals, if you say 1.25 hours that is the same as 125 minutes. The system was largely associated with the French revolution and was abolished in 1805. Yet it appears to be a much better system.

However, for the same reason that your keyboard will now always be a QWERTY one even though there are more efficient places to locate the keys, time will now always be a 24-hour system, even though there may be a more efficient system to use. People are animals who love things how they are, change is always tough to enforce and for now, we will have to make our 24-hour system work.