Posted on Mar 21, 2019, 5 p.m.
Over the years scientists have proffered various explanations as to why our sense of time moves faster as we get older may happen; now a new hypothesis is appearing from Duke University that has to do with the aging brain, as published in the journal European Review.
Our sense of time moving faster with age may be partially explained by the more familiar perceptual information around us is the less attention we pay to it; as we get older the novelty of that reality slowly wears off leaving a sense that time is moving more quickly.
Building on this idea Adrian Bejan has come up with a more solid physical explanation to the phenomena: Children use more brain power to perceive and process new events, environments, and day to day information, giving the sense of time moving slower; this is due to younger brains being able to identify and integrate mental images more rapidly.
“People are amazed at how much they can remember from days of youth that seemed to last forever. It’s not that the experiences were deeper and more meaningful, it’s that they were being processed in rapid fire,” explains Bejan.
According to the mechanical engineer physical features of the brain which degrade with age are underpinning our sense of time speeding up. Saccadic frequency is known to decline with age, for example, and this is the ability to perceive single mental images. Younger eyes of infants move around much faster than adults, which is suggested to be showing the younger mind acquiring and integrating more information at a faster rate than older minds can, and this higher load of perceptual data results in time appearing to move slower in youth than in old age.
Undeniably intriguing and compelling this theory presents a neurological mechanism that may explain the subjective perception of time speeding up with age; but this physical mechanism does not entirely explain the seemingly consistent and exponential increase in the speed of time passing from year to year as we get older.
Mathematical biologists suggest that logarithmic hypothesis may help to fill some of this gap, which suggests that time perception is relative to the proportion of time one has lived; as such a year to a 10 year old feels much longer than it would to a 60 year old. Christian Yates of the University of Bath explains “Perceived experience of time from the ages of 10-20 is proportionally the same as from 40-80.” “ 10 years would only be 10% of a person’s life, and to a 20 year old it’s only 5%. On a logarithmic scale for a 20 year old to experience the same proportional increase in age a 2 year old would experience they would have to wait until they turn 30; with this point of view it is not surprising time appears to accelerate with age.”
This theory may be surprisingly accurate, but it is only one piece of the larger puzzle that is our subjective experience of time, as time is of no doubt complicated and our perception of it is even more so. Personally, and jokingly, I blame my sense of time seeming to move faster on children. I never had this problem before they came along, it’s also their fault I’m now “old” as I wasn’t before either, so obviously they’re to blame and that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. I’m sure parents across the world will agree, time passes with the blink of an eye from diapers to the first day of school, and it doesn’t slow down while it’s dragging me along, regardless of protest.
“...Thought that time was on your side, but now it’s time the avenger... Time, time, hear the bells chime, over the harbor and the city. Time, one more vodka and lime, to help paralyze that tiny little tick, tick, tick, tick.” ~ The Pretenders
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