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CosmosUp | August 15, 2022

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5 Mysteries of Time Perception

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Defining time seems like a simple task: It’s hours and minutes, and the passage of one day to the next. But the ultimate nature of time is still a mystery, as revealed by all the quirks and ambiguities it presents us throughout a seemingly normal day.


Age And Time

In Willie Nelson’s haunting classic “Funny How Time Slips Away,” the singer laments, “It’s been so long now but it seems like it was only yesterday.” Looking back on our past, we realize that events may have occurred long ago, but the vividness of their memories sometimes makes them seem much closer in time.

This “telescoping” effect creates the convincing illusion that years rush by faster as we get older. In other words, “telescoping time” comes from the discrepancy between measured time and our own subjective timeline.

Another reason the years seem to go by quicker with age is simple proportion. When you are 10 years old, one year represents 10 percent of your life. When you are 60, that year represents 1.67 percent of your life. Even though it is still the same amount of time, it’s not proportionally the same.

Another reason that later years seem to “rush by” is pure familiarity. As our lives become more routine and redundant, this perceived acceleration gets stronger. Our brains tend to “skip over” things we do over and over because there’s no need to store data that we already have tucked away. Actual elapsed time is not processed during redundant events, which is why it appears to take forever to drive to a new place, but driving back home feels like it takes half as long, even though you’re going the same exact route both ways.The solution to “lengthening” your later years is simple novelty. Be spontaneous, do something new, break down the old gray walls, and time will slow down again.

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