The Twenty Four Hour Day Explained

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Time for a few time-related facts.

Have you ever wondered why there are twenty-four hours in a day?

The truth is that no one is 100% sure why we have 24 hours in a day, though we have some very likely explanations.

The best answer seems to be that ancient Sumerians counted using a base 12 numerical system.

In modern times we of course use a base 10 numerical system, but back in ancient Sumeria the fingers and not the thumbs of the hand were used for counting purposes.

24 Hour Day Comes from Ancient Finger Counting

Our 24 Hour Day Comes from Ancient Finger Counting

If you look at one of your fingers, such as the index finger, and start counting at the base of the finger, you’ll see that each finger has three joints. Three multiplied by four is of course 12 and thus the number twelve played an extremely important role in ancient mathematics.

Everyone begins counting with their fingers…and because counting is something so basic, this has a deep impact on our culture.

Two hands, each having 12 counting segments gives us a grand total of twenty four. Please note that the thumbs themselves weren’t counted back then; instead the thumbs were used for pointing at the various segments of the fingers while counting.

In ancient times, counting with your fingers was a very basic yet highly important function which heavily influenced all areas of mathematics. When it came time to divide up days into segments, it probably just made sense to use the number twelve.

But the number 12 has some other advantages over the number 10, which we of course currently use for our base 10 counting system.

10 Based Numerical System12 Based Numerical System

Consider the various forms of division possible using the number twelve:

  1. 12/6=2
  2. 12/4=3
  3. 12/3=4
  4. 12/2=6

10 Based Numerical System10 Based Numerical System

Compare that with the various forms of division which are possible using the number ten:

  1. 10/5=2
  2. 10/2=5

As you can see, having two sets of twelve hours in a day (AM & PM) makes it easier to divide up our day into segments of  different size .

Combined together, these are the best explanations we currently have for the fact that our modern days are still divided up into twenty four separate hours – two sets of twelve.

But don’t be surprised to find completely different explanations for the twenty-four hour day – many different theories exist.

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