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Stygian

The Cruelty of Time

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Ever notice how time seems to go faster as you get older? When I was a kid, summer break felt like it lasted forever. Now, the seasons just fly by. It feels like January seems to keep edging closer to itself as the years roll on. A friend of mine pointed out an interesting observation. The longer we are alive, the smaller a portion of time is represented within the whole. For instance, two months for someone who is 10 years old is 1.67% of their total life (2 months / 120 months). Using the same math, 2 months for someone 30 years old would be 0.56%. Which makes perfect sense as to why time is perceived to be moving faster due to the footprint of time keeps diminishing. The longer we live, the less each moment is felt. That 2 month summer break from school felt longer because it had more impact in relation to how long I was alive.

The stark realization is that the longer you live, the faster time will appear. Since we don't know how long we live, this process accelerates faster than we can perceive it, until eventually we can no longer can observe time.

Time is fairly cut and dry, it's very linear. The interesting bit I find, isn't so much time, but rather experiences. We trade time to gain experiences (good or bad). It's a finite currency, but experiences can saturate, and thusly distort the feeling of time further. Doing a mundane task can feel like an eternity, but learning something new can cause time to fly by. I wonder if it's your subconscious realizing that have spent X% of time doing a task and is sending you signals to do something new. I know for me, it's impossible for me to do nothing. With a lack of external stimuli, my mind wonders and I day dream; which, I suppose, is still an experience since no two thoughts can be alike, just as any two moments in time.

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  1. bdcharles's Avatar
    A friend and I had this same discussion a few years ago - our theories highlight our different personalities. His was, like your friend's, about the percentage of a given interval lessening as we age; at one month old, a month is 100% of time, therefore it feels endless, at two months, it is 50%, therefore seems like half a lifetime etc. Very simplified, but a definite one way curve. My theory is about the way we live. As we move into central adulthood, we tend to do the same things over and over so less experience is going in - after all, why re-remember the same things repeatedly - therefore the amount of time worth remembering is proportionately less. Want to prove it? Go on holiday and observe how it seems to last forever, how that flight over seems yonks ago. As we age also our capacity for recall gets less so time may seem shorter still but again, lifestyle choices like diet and exercise and activity can help with that. So while there will be things outside of our control, there are some we can control, thus slowing the apparent rush of days.
  2. Stygian's Avatar
    That's interesting. I never thought to correlate lifestyle choices and the degradation of proper recall as we get older. Excluding biological issues, I have always thought of recall being a function of experience intensity and the time footprint in proportion to your age. The best example that supports this is our nature to remember bad events over good ones. A negative experience is intensive, as we are wired to learn, adapt, overcome, and avoid a similar experience in the future. Since each experience teaches us a lesson, I'm not sure you can hit saturation with negative experiences. That would lead me to believe why we have better recall of them.

    I believe there is a technological factor to all this as well. I've always subscribed to the notion that, biologically, we are still cavemen with computers. Leaning too much via technology dampens vibrancy of our own experiences by allowing us to live experiences vicariously. Let's say we watch a Go-Pro snowboarder rushing down a mountain narrowly avoiding death every second. I'm not convinced our brains can realize that there is a technological medium between that person's experience and our watching said experience. Kind of like how you say you took a left turn at an intersection, rather than saying you turned the steering wheel to change the heading of the vehicle. Tools seem to be glossed over as an extension of our body. Since tech is relatively new, I wonder if this dangerous in the long term. Anecdotally, I used to be able to remember a dozen phone numbers on my land line, but with the advent of cell phones, I can't remember more than my own.
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