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Why time flies

22 March 2019

As older folk like myself are very much aware, time seems to pass more quickly as you age.

When I was a young lad at primary school, the six weeks of Christmas holidays seemed to last forever. It was fantastic -- almost as if school didn't even exist any more.

Of course there were down-sides to this temporal slowness as well and I recall the almost unbearable waiting for the end of the school year and Christmas to roll around once the month of December had finally arrived.

These days however, all I have to do is blink and we're into another year. Summer has no sooner started than it's over -- and I have to start making plans for next Christmas many months in advance because it'll be upon us before I even realise it.

Then there's the huge difference in way we perceive the passage of time dependent on one's mood and expectations. Sitting in a doctor's waiting room when he's running half an our late makes every minute seem an eternity -- but when you only have half an hour's time left to enjoy something the time fairly whizzes by.

In short, our brains can be very poor timekeepers. Have you ever wondered why that is?

Well apparently a lot of research has been done into this matter.

There was a theory offered a while back which said that time seems to travel more quickly as we age simply because each hour represents a smaller percentage of our total life-span as time goes on.

Sounds great... but it's incorrect -- at least if the latest research Is to be believed.

According to this report, it's just a case of our brains getting slower and therefore less capable of processing the information around us.

It's kind of like running a camera at 200 frames per second when we're young but having it slow down to 12 frames per second when we're old. If all those frames are played back at a constant 50FPS, we'd see that we start out seeing the world in slow-motion but eventually, in our old age, it becomes something of a time-lapse view.

This makes a lot of sense.

Because, "during the moment",we're playing back the footage at exactly the same frame-rate we record it at, our temporal awareness of real-time remains unchanged. However, when we "look back" at (for instance) the past year, we use a different frame-rate which does not match the recording rate -- hence our memory of times when we were young seem to show a much slower passage of time than our memories of last week.

This of course does not bode well for the future.

I fully expect to wake up one morning, perhaps the morning of the day on which I die, and wonder "where the hell did my life go?" :-)

Perhaps the best way to respond to this finding is to embrace that old saying:

"Live for the moment"

since that aspect of our temporal awareness remains unchanged.

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