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Hiking Thoughts 1: Why does time speed up when you get older?

I’m writing this using my feet, sitting on the roof of my house, wearing a Viking hat. It’s a bit windy and my laptop is difficult to balance on the roof apex, but I don’t care, I can get more done up here. And I will prove this using science.

You’ll have noticed that someone has moved the earth closer to the sun and messed up the length of our year. It’ll soon be Christmas… again and a week definitely isn’t a week anymore. If you’re young (jealous rage) you might not have noticed this phenomenon quite as much, but you will.

Why does time speed up the older you get?

I’ve researched a number of theories.

Proportional Theory

On the first day of your life, one day is 100% of your life. I remember that being a long day. On the second day it’s only 50% of your life, third day 33%, for me now sitting on the roof, it’s 0.000062% of my life. The older you get the smaller the day represents as a proportion of your life. So it feels shorter.

Perspective Theory

The perception of time depends on your focus. Children get bored easily and want to move on to different tasks. A lot of their time is spent looking forward, I will rename this theory the ‘Are we there yet?’ theory for all those grown-ups who have driven to Cornwall.

Grown ups, if you are happy in your tasks, you’re not looking forward, you’re in the present, getting on with it, focused.  It’s only when you’re bored that you become child-like and then the day drags because you’re looking forward to five o’clock.

Perceptual Theory

Every day children experience things for the first time. Everything is fresh and new, so there is a lot of information going in there. There is a connection between the amount of information you process to the speed at which time passes; so all that new information stretches time for them.

When you get older, there are less new experiences, you are also too familiar with the world around you because you know it so well. Less new information goes in, so time seems to be faster. When you’re ancient, and all you can be bothered to do is watch reruns of Last of the Summer Wine, hold onto your walking stick because those days are going to whizzzzz.

The Energy Theory

Scientists have measured the energy use of the brain in different situations. In routine jobs like nosing picking, the brain is just ticking over, burning hardly any energy at all. It’s done this boring crap a million times before and it’s cruising. There are very few nose picking memories being stored. Although… no let’s not get into that.

When you’re doing something new like picking your nose with a reindeer’s antler (Christmas is coming), you’re brain is on fire with activity, burning a lot of energy and storing up a load of new memories. The more memories, the longer things seem to have taken. So the perception of time is in relation to the energy your brain is using.

Emotional Theory

If you’re having an argument with your wife it seems to last forever, especially when the football’s on. Emotions affect our perception of time. The more feelings involved in a perception, the more time slows down for us. People who have had a car accident seem to recall it in slow motion.

So, do our brains have increased time resolution in scary moments or does it just seem as though it’s taken longer when we remember it.

A scientist started throwing people off a 150 feet high building to find out. There was a net underneath I think. 23 people were pushed off the building with a ‘perceptual chronometer’ strapped to them.  Wow, a perceptual chronometer, that sounds techie and Doctor Who-ish, but it isn’t – it’s a wristband with a flashing light on it (those scientists know how to make things sound good). The flashing light was flashing too fast for a human to see normally, so it just looked like a steady beam. The idea was, if the person’s perception of time, or time resolution, did increase as they plummeted to earth, they would see the steady light start flashing. Let’s start the experiment – boot…aaaahhhhhh.

Everyone thought the three second fall lasted a lot longer, but there were no flashing lights. People can’t really see in slow motion, it’s just how we remember it. It’s the Amygdala’s fault. Deep inside your brain, in amongst the medial temporal lobes, the amygdala is a sort of emergency control centre, it processes memory in emotional situations. So in an emergency, memories are stored in a different place, so twice as much information is taken in and so time seems to slow down.

Be your own Time Lord

So, can we do anything about this?

The experience of time is in the hands of your perceptions, your emotions and how many memories you’re storing. So, to make it slow down for you, either get a really boring desk job and watch that clock ticking (Perspective Theory), or take off your socks and climb onto your roof wearing a viking helmet.

Because I’ve never seen the world from my roof before, that new experience will stretch time (Perceptual Theory); because I’ve never typed with my feet before wearing a viking helmet, that will increase the energy of my brain (Energy Theory); and as  I’m sliding off the roof towards the busy road, that will store all my final memories in a different location (Emotional Theory).

This afternoon’s going to last forever.

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