This makes sense; for instance when you are 10 years of age, a year
represents 10% of your life, and seems like a very long time. However,
when you are 50 years old, one year has reduced to only 2% of your
life, and hence seems only one-fifth as long.
The article makes claims that at 30 life is essentially 3/4ths over which to me, while holding no subjective truth as far as I can tell, at least exhibit some self reference in the way that after three lines of statements the article's content seemed 75% over yet the actual text went on for much longer.
Subjectively time seems to go by faster the older we get, but that doesn't mean these bold claims are necessarily anywhere close to the truth. Personally, my relationship with time has certainly changed over the years, including the perception of a speed-up, but I also notice that some activities or states seem to last just as long (if not longer) subjectively as they did when I was 16.
My pet hypothesis is there are multiple factors involved in "the speedup", and that a large factor of it would actually be that our brains don't store repetitive events very well. This would mean as we get more experienced, an increasingly bigger amount of the average day consists of things we already did many times before so we don't store those moments in memory. That would result in increasingly large memory holes over time, which our brains then glance over as they piece together our past - thus resulting in an apparent speed up. This would also explain why days with unusual content seem to last much much longer than others (at least that's my experience).
My theory, which is logically consistent with yours, is that as we get older we spend more of our cognitive cycles thinking in terms of abstractions rather than using our senses to process direct experience. This is partly because as we get older we tend to immediately place things we experience into categories and then move onto processing these abstractions rather than continuously observing reality directly and unfiltered. So the other part of the theory would be that when we think in terms of abstractions, time goes by much faster than when we focus on direct sensory experience. It's likely that novelty also plays a role here as a mediating variable, in that we tend to pay more sustained attention to novel phenomena rather than immediately placing them into conceptual buckets and moving onto the next thing.
I also like this theory because it's consistent with how drugs that alter our sensory perceptions and make us focus more on our perceptions also tend to subjectively slow down time. Anyway I have no idea whether this is correct, but IMHO it's a much better theory than the original, which isn't especially logical and doesn't even really make sense.
This would explain why vacation makes time slow down, yet go fast at the same time. The slow down for the new experiences, environment. The fast - for the lookahead-cache driven feeling of sometimes anxiety/dread of going back to the daily routine.
I also think about the people who want their brains crygenetically frozen after they die. Assuming they die old, with this cognitive scaffolding adapted to life today, I can only imagine the impact of 'waking up' into a world 100-300 years in the future, with such a drastically different world. That sounds psychologically crippling to me.
And finally, are there techniques I can take advantage of now, when I'm [comparatively] young, to keep my brain receptitve to new ideas, mental models, and raw sensory input? Meditation? Arts? Travel? Literature? All of the above, and if so, where do I find time for it all, while advancing my career?
As the cliche goes, if you don't find time for it now, you'll pay for it later.
Walking with bare feet and/or walking on uneven ground +1
"For Healthy Aging, a Late Act in the Footlights"
I can't help but wonder if the hours I spent waiting for the last few minutes of boring class periods to end during my schooling might have actually been great training for "zoning" where the sped up passage of time is actually the goal.
Wow, this makes so much sense, and accounts for why (in general) people get less receptive to new ideas as they get older: no categories to place the abstractions in.
Anecdotally, when I was 8 or so I once sat there for an hour or so memorizing the rate of the clock (so I could later mentally estimate intervals of time without a stopwatch). At the age of 23, I noticed and then calculated that a second in my "internal" clock was about 1.3 seconds. Since then I have used VLC to re-watch movies I saw as a child at ~80% speed. The musical rhythms seemed closer to what I remember.
Obviously this is insufficient support by itself, but I's love to see this phenomenon studied more rigorously.
I seem to recall an article from Joel on Software about the same phenomenon from a procedural point of view, where he compares increasingly complex institutional reaction times to the increasing amount of ritual that is being performed before we leave the house (with old people taking the longest time, because based on past experience of all things that went wrong in the past, their checklists before leaving the house become absurdly long over time).
Just an interesting side observation about the VLC speed thing: my personal sense of rhythm has always been so bad that I couldn't tell the difference between 100% speed then and 80% speed now. But an observation I recently made was that I can now comfortably listen to videos at 110% or even 120% their speed without losing content - something I certainly couldn't do at a younger age (in fact, I remember I often had to pause recordings in order to think about stuff that just happened or even just to empty my "language recognition buffer" before I could move on). So while it may well be true that 1 second doesn't last as long for me as it used to, I certainly seem to have become more efficient at processing some types of data.
If you don't want to do those experiments yourself maybe you should eMail some Professors who are interested in this topic.
> a large factor of it would actually be that our brains don't store repetitive events very well
Depends on what you mean by "very well". Aggressive data compression is usually considered a good way of storing things.
> Depends on what you mean by "very well". Aggressive data compression is usually considered a good way of storing things.
We're fundamentally in agreement on this. It is, however, not lossless compression, and that's in part where I would assume the speedup comes from.
It's literally titled "Why time appears to speed up with age (idea)".
I've heard this explained in part because of how our neocortex works. New events tend to require the involvement of more layers of the neocortex than ones that are redundant and routine. This is part of the explanation for the time dilation we experience when surprised by something like a car crash or a thrill seeking adventure. Your mind is fully engaged much the way it was when you were younger and everything was a new experience. As your mind adapts the neocortex handles the events more efficiently; more reflexively. Your mind subconsciously ignores the sensory inputs that don't surprise you.
For this reason, it's often advised that if you want to slow down the apparent passage of time just change your routine. Granted...your neocortex would probably even adapt to this.
A more comprehensive computational unit of the cortex is actually the neocortical column which is a "horizontal" patch of neocortex. This is a functional unit that is probably very close to a microprocessor in analogy in that it contains a set of variables, some processing rules, input and output wires, and the capability of executing functions. A whole patch of cortical columns forms a sort of processing center, and interestingly enough, those tend to be specialized for certain kinds of information processing tasks. That's why in an fMRI scan whole areas of the cortex tend to light up together, and it's often the same areas geographically even if you scan a lot of people.
So if we're talking about a theory of localized neocortical involvement, my first impulse would be to check out those specialized areas for (non-)activity - something that led to pretty good empirical results before in related studies - as opposed to using the layers for that hypothesis.
Once you get a good routine down, you figure out the best grocery stores for everything, find the best routes to and from work/school, punch a clock for half your weekday waking hours, days start blending together.
The time spent doing things like washing dishes, doing laundry, prepping meals, shopping for consumables, your brain is on autopilot for most of that time once you have done those things 100+ times.
Variety being the spice of life and all, doing new things forces you to actually engage your surroundings and have memorable experiences.
The passing of time has always seemed to me to be more of a function of memory.
When I was younger, my memory was _much_ better. And much more vivid. It was in HD. I noticed by the time I was in high school that not only was my memory worse, but that it was of much lower quality. Interestingly enough, though, I noticed that early memories, while less vivid than I remembered them, were often still more vivid than more recent memories. By the time I was in my 30s, things were much worse. My doctor assured me that this was normal, and by the way, expect it to get worse still.
My father, who is now 96, can remember things vividly from 80 years ago and more, but can't remember what town he is living in at the moment. He can remember chemistry and physics he learned long ago, but now he has trouble working the new flat panel TV we bought him. (This is only partly the fault of age, the UI experience on the TV is worse than abominable. Steve Jobs would puke.) This is interesting, because he _built_ the first radio that he ever owned, back in the 1920s.
The most heart breaking thing recently, is that my mother passed away a few months ago. She'd been with him constantly for the last 65 years or so. And he keeps looking around for her, and then after a moment remembers she's gone. He often doesn't remember the event, but it is still fresh as a state of being, even after several months.
So for my father time's passage seems instantaneous and never changing.
Duration is yet another issue.
Current time, you know, right now, passes for me at more or less the same rate. It's much more effected by things like boredom and engagement than anything else. If I'm waiting on something, things can take forever. If I'm doing something, it can go by in a flash.
Personally, I haven't noticed the same effect as you. I'm in my early 30s. I remember watching Perseids last Tuesday with a date much more vividly than watching them last Saturday with my friends. I remember my spring semester junior year of college (spent abroad in New Zealand) much more vividly than fall semester (spent in the same dorm that I lived for sophomore year). I remember 2009 (moved out to California, started working for Google) much more vividly than 2006 (lived at home and worked for the same company as in 2005). I remember Oct-Nov 2009 (spent on leave at home as my dad was dying in the hospital) much more vividly than Jul-Sept 2009 (settling in, nothing in particular happened).
Emotion is definitely highly linked to memory. E.g. you may be familiar with state-dependent memory:
This is where certain memories are best recalled (or can only be recalled) when one is in the same emotional state as when the memories were created. And I don't think there's any question that events that occur when emotions are stored the most strongly; that's basically half of what emotions are for.
It's difficult to say exactly how the density of memory is linked with perception of time. I would posit though that experiencing a variety of strong emotions on a regular basis is important for maintaining both good mental health and a well-functioning brain.
However, with regards to the discussion, it is clear that the perception of stronger memory formation is definitely linked to emotion or emotional arousal. And really an individual's perception is an adequate flag for me. I might reframe the passing of time being tied to a root cause of emotion/emotional arousal.
It may also simply be that your brain learned to simply retain what seems important at one stage and disregard everything that looks alike. Example: in your eighties you can easily remember the time you had your first kiss if you only kissed 3 guys/gals in your lifetime, but if you kissed every last person at the party every Saturday night, then you probably will forget.
Time seems to go slower when we have tons of things to remember, when we are adding many memories in short periods.
Actually, I think this article is wrong in one important way. It doesn't take into account the effect of laying down new memories. The more, new experiences you have, the slower time appears to have passed [past tense, how it's remembered], while, paradoxically, making it pass [present tense, while experiencing] go faster.
So, spend all your time on the couch, watch time pass slow but evaporate. Go do something new and different, watch it fly by while having had more there.
Memories play weirdly with verb tenses...
During intense periods of memory-forming activity, you feel like time passes quickly, because more things are packed into less time and you move on from one thing to the next (think camps in your childhood when everything was exciting, there was a competition to prepare for, etc.). Once it's actually over, you felt like it just zoomed by so quick, but was packed full of stuff.
It's the same with the grade/primary-school years: each year feels so full of experiences, but before you know it you're in primary/grade 6 and at the start of a new phase, wondering how you got there so quickly. I used to be almost scared by how quickly I moved through the school years, thinking I'd be an adult in no time.
I think young people just tend to have much more packed into their time, which makes it feel longer. You literally live more when you have more different experiences in the same time. That's why I regret it when I think back and realise I haven't been doing anything much different over the past week. I'm going to have to schedule better and make some time for salsa/whatever classes.
So yes, I strongly agree with your conclusion:
> Go do something new and different, watch it fly by while having had more there.
Wring life out of every day.
This guy has definitely done a very quantitative analysis of my qualitative hunch. Subjecting myself to new experiences, new places and new environments everyday has definitely made time slow down.
My last birthday actually feels like it was a LOOONG while ago. That's because I threw in a bunch of interesting and new experiences over the last year.
I think the real way to feel like your 'real age' is to subject yourselves to new experiences as much as possible. Take a new route home, go to restaurants or parts of your city that you've never been to, learn a foreign language or salsa, learn a new sport, or if possible, travel! :)
That's interesting, because most people would say that time seems to go faster when subjected to intense learning/experiences.
For example, from another article on HN's front page right now:
> The next day, I arrived at the meeting location. I faced four YC partners and a barrage of questions about how my business worked and why it would succeed. We talked for almost an hour, but it felt like just a few minutes. I answered questions non-stop.
Perhaps when looking back, time seems to have stretched out during those learning-intensive experiences? But at the moment of the experience, time sped by?
If you're subjecting all your senses to new experiences (say.. eating a new dish in a strange place - sensory overload for smell, taste, sight and sound), maybe your perception of time is slower.
It's hard to put a number on how we perceive real time I guess, but boring tasks do tend to stretch out into infinity.
I think the article is however discussing the way you remember time. It all has to do with our brain processing and storing memories. That ability can only be jogged by having new ones I suppose.
These topics could make for an interesting study, not much is yet understood about our perception of time.
Assuming Moore's law continues (computing power/$ doubles every 18 months), and you have a big computation to do, should you start now or should you wait?
If you have $1000 to spend on a computer and a problem that's going to take 3 years for it to compute, you can actually wait 1.5 years before you start. The computer you buy then will be twice as fast, and you'll finish at the same time.
On any problem that takes more than 1.5 years, the fastest thing to do is just wait until you can afford a computer that can complete it in 1.5 years.
This comment thread makes me wonder.
According to the chart in the article, I have precious little time left. Please try not to suck all the joy out of my remaining few minutes.
 Or maybe I'm the last one on Earth who still reads the footnotes?
 This is the famous recursive footnote.  Please enjoy your trip through the stack.
 This tail-recursive footnote should really be optimized into a loop. 
I call this "Brain Idling". When we're young our brains have a lot of grey matter and we're addicted to information accumulation, talking, chatting, and being mentally stimulated. As we age we stop learning (no school, no collage, nothing new going on in life), have less grey matter and start going on auto-pilot. When we drive to the store, when we shop for groceries, at work, at home. We've memorized our lives so well we no longer think about what we do, we just naturally do it on auto-pilot and our minds start to "idle" a lot more that usual. The film in our camera-like brains is snapping images at a much slower pace. A lot of time is passing between mental snap-shots. So when we look back (playback) the events of the day (all the things we remembered) it feels like time has flown by at light speed.
I freaked out over how fast time has flown by after I hit 21 and tried out an experiment. I installed "talking clock" for windows on my pc and made it announce the time every 5 minutes. Yes. For the whole day. Every day. After the 2nd day of using this technique time slowed down by massive amounts. A day felt like a week. A week felt like a month. It was insane. I felt like I was young again and the world was moving at a glacial pace. There are downsides of course, it's unsustainable. You have to take breaks every other day or so otherwise you get used to hearing the time and ignore it. It can also get exhausting when your brain can't take a break and daydream or idle and think about nothing. But it does work. I wanted to write a nice big article on it but I'm so swamped by work on projects and new clients needing UI/UX consulting that I just keep putting it off. On the plus side I've discovered a way to slow down time (at least for me).
I like this because it reinforces my belief that time moves subjectively slower in the immediate period following significant environmental changes. The first few days of a vacation, for example, pass very slowly in my mind but the longer you remain on vacation the faster the days go by. Same goes for the first few days of college classes, or the days following a relocation to a new area.
I disagree with the original article because the rate of the passage of time seems to correspond more with the amount of new stimuli we experience, which (in most cases) just so happens to become less with age.
Consequently, when someone has a bunch of adrenaline dumped into their body, they often say that time 'slowed down.' I believe this is further evidence that our brain boosts the bit rate on our memories at critical moments.
system "say", "It is now " . POSIX::strftime("%I:%M %p", localtime);
*/5 * * * * $HOME/bin/saytime
Remember my grandma sometimes got confused what day or week it was and as a kid I could never understand that. How can you miss such a long period of time like a week and not notice, but now I start to sort of understand.
The article by T.L. Freeman exists. It is in:
To be clear, I admit it's possible, maybe even likely. But nobody has shown any evidence that it's true, just a claim and a link to a page that does nothing to support it.
I happen to have that bundle somewhere in my basement but won't bother to dig it up. I remember that joke-publication quite well.
Even if it's not to be found on the web, it's at least referenced by others. That's an easy find.
Note that that one was published in '91, so before the article by Professor Pi.
Well, at least I gave you a reference to the article. Finding that reference should have taken you no more than two minutes.
Also, this is Everything2, the article is from 2001, when there still was 3 people who knew what Everything2 is.
More specifically, this seems to ignore a small thing called 'nostalgia'. How long were the blissful summers of our youth without this rose tint?
This phenomenon has been studied several times. In 1890, William James wrote the following in his 'Principle of Psychology':
"In youth, we may have an absolutely new experience, subjective or objective, every hour of the day. Apprehension is vivid, retentiveness strong, and our recollections of that time, like those of a time spent in rapid and interesting travel, are of something intricate, multitudinous and long-drawn out…But each passage year converts some of this experience into automatic routine which we hardly note at all, the days and the weeks smooth themselves out in recollection to contentless units, and the years grow hollow and collapse."
Time is clearly a solid and measurable component of our physical world but our perception of it is warped by our own personal experience.
My wife can sit next to me for 8 hours and futz around the house etc while I sit with my headphones on and code 'in the zone'. I come out of the zone feeling as if I had just experienced only maybe an hour of zone time and she will laugh and point out the window at the dark night. :-)
I have six children, a daughter-in-law, a grandson and two cats. My life is clearly not moving any faster then my children but I do keep reminding them that as they get older they keep making me older!
I would argue that actually life goes slower the older you get. You have more context against the rest of your life and the OP might be using that as the reason we perceive life going quicker. But to me it's more like the "weight" of my life to date allows me a lot more perspective, I often measure an event against the birth of a child, a marriage, a house I used to live in etc. Less about the MM/DD/YYYY and more about the "Around this event this happened".
When time seems to have moved quickly is when you're talking to your mom and dad about your grandson and the day your baby girl was born and how they're going through all the same things you did when you were having children. It's the reference points that stun you. That somehow 25 years just vanished in a flash of light. But the reality is this is the same as this group talking about TRS-80 Model I's with 4k of memory. A lot has happened since then even though it was sort of like yesterday for those of us who lived through 300 baud modems and 16k memory upgrades.
For example, I've seen 60 year old in australian outback on horses doing heavy work, as if they're 40. And I've seen 60 year olds in australian capitals barely doing anything of their day.
Which do you think will go extinct first?
I'm going to argue that simply "we are what we repeatedly do". Some people act old at 50, some people act young at 70.
For example, my uncle in Europe has acres of property, works in it every day, goes dancing with the local "brotherhood" and would drink you under the table any day of the week. And he's close to 75.
Trying to explain people with mathematics is similar to trying to explain women with science. It may work, barely. (no pun intended, just a cheeky joke)
When you're kid, everything is new from what happens on the sandbox to school to friends to foods to afternoons alone to crossing over your old boundaries in general, in both physical and emotional sense. So much happens in a month that it equals five years for an adult.
When you're an adult, much of everything is something you know. The fraction of new things in your life depends on your own activity. Even if you wanted to be on the bleeding edge of life, you generally still have a job and a lot of routines in life—routines that might not be set by you but will still affect you. And routines and repetition doesn't count.
The key to adult time is to realize that the mundane things aren't the same, ever, even though they seem like it. You never know what will happen: there is newness every day, in everything you do, if only you can unlearn to dismiss it.
The other path—the path that isn't sustainable—is to start reaching for experiences intentionally: after you've climbed all the mountains and dived to the deepest caverns of the waters, done the craziest roller coasters and raced the fastest races, you're still not much more ahead of where you started. Those things can be done for fun but what I'm referring to is the trend of experience-hunting which is a reaction to the pace of finding new things in life that has slowed down since childhood.
A change in behavior can also have a huge impact on how fast current time is flowing. A simple hypothesis that the subjective rate of time passing is related to the intervals between encounters with the unfamiliar easily leads to a more fruitful set of thought experiments than Freeman's weak exercise. And potentially one that could be rephrased in biological terms.
I've noticed that when I take trips to elsewhere in the world, the more different the place, the more time dilates, both while I'm there and in memory afterwards. Doing only the familiar is the recipe to time slipping by, unmarked and unnoticed, like driving to work and realizing upon arrival that one has no memory of the trip.
So the question is: What should you do to extend your subjective time?
More likely explanation is the compression of memories: if you experience things that are similar to things you have experienced before, they won't use up as much memory. Think about your daily commute to work: can you remember every single day you commuted? Or did all the commutes blur into one?
The pop science is here:
Not as lazy as the article's speculation. There is an experiment!
The experiment is people of various ages are asked to estimate a minute with their mind. Older people overestimate, children underestimate.
Your brain has a clock, a set of neurons that fire at a relatively consistent interval and help synchronize the rest of the brain. As you age this brain clock's interval gets longer.
Forming fewer new memories because of lifestyle changes is speculation. Without widespread changes in the brain making new memories more difficult to form, you'd still form a lot of new memories, even with your boring adult lifestyle.
It's kind of like a proto-wikipedia, without the requirement for maintaining a neutral point of view, supplemented by freeform creative content. Maybe more like the collective journal of a certain type of young geek from the first half of the last decade. Lots of essays and painfully earnest poetry. It was initially associated with Slashdot.
As for the content being spammed all over the internet, I would guess that E2 is a reliable and extensive source of high-quality, human-generated text, with a dense network of contextually valid links included. Why not just scrape wikipedia? I'm not sure.
Also I remember a link on HN that explained how time virtually stopped for Near Death Experiences.
The key memories that are remembered will typically have longer lapses for the older than for the younger. Cognitive expectations might then correct this gap by fudging a perception or sense of elapsed time, creating a quickened time lapse like effect for experiences, which strengthens as you get older.
It would be interesting to ask people with autobiographical memories how they perceive time - according to my analogy it wouldn't change since they maintain most 'frames'.
Difficult time passes more difficultly, i.e feels longer. Example on a day if you are fasting, time always seems earlier than what you expect. For example on days I may think 'Gosh its still 12 PM, still 7 hours to go before the fast breaking time!'
Only yesterday, the fast breaking time was 6:54 PM. And my wife called at me from down stairs to come down for it at 6:53 or so (I work from my SOHO on the upper level), I thought gosh 1 more minute, how can I wait!
So it could mean that the perceived time (that has passed) is also a function of how frequently we sample it. Or if differently said, how much we 'live in the moment'.
Edit: minor rephrase for clarity.
For a brief overview of the approach they take to the problem, the Wikipedia entry for conceptual metaphor is a good start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conceptual_metaphor
With someone I meet at 15, when I'm 20 i'll have known them for 5 effective years. If I meet someone new at 30, on the other hand, I won't have known them for 5 effective years until I'm 40.
why is equation rendering still broken on the web?
http://everything2.com uses pre tags, wikipedia uses rendered png images.
is this just another ie work around or have we really not implemented a standard yet.
googled it myself http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MathML
edit: thanks mbell! mathjax looks great
project to get mathjax working on wikipedia ~> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Nageh/mathJax
breakdown of mathml support ~> http://caniuse.com/mathml (only firefox and safari)
Used on the most math heavy site I frequent: http://electronics.stackexchange.com/
LaTeX and the web are in essence incommensurable.
Seriously, its the thinking too much about the past and the future that lead to this perception.
You probably just thought about it a lot less when you were young.
in my childhood, a day seems to go pretty slow, probably because of just "messing around" tends to get boring. However I never felt the years as passing at a different rate than they do now (in my mid 30's).
I'm the type of person who "looks to the future" however so maybe if I was past-oriented I'd feel different.
More likely, as peoples' lives get more complex, and as they get older and more able to separate life into compartments, the individual compartments get less time and therefore time seems to go faster. Children have one "life thread". Adults have a ton of them for various relationships, interests, and aspirations. For one example, since most people only get to spend about 2 weeks per year in the "travel thread", time from that perspective seems to go 26 times faster. If you have a summer house and show up in June and it feels like the last time you were there (September last year) was yesterday, that's what's at play. In that thread, it was yesterday.
Minute to minute, time seems to be going at the same rate. It's when you step back and take a macro perspective that there's a difference, because our lives accumulate complexity that we couldn't have imagined when we were children. Because our lives are a lot more complex, there are contexts in which 5 years isn't an eternity in the way it would be for a child, so from a macro perspective, long time durations aren't nearly as long.
1. Kids are bored too often so time seems to take forever.
2. Career life and building a family is so busy that time flies by.
3. Retirement and empty nesting seems to go by fast because you think more about your pending demise and also have nothing to show for your life day after day (career goals ETC.)