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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Setting The Clock

The task of changing clocks tonight set me to thinking about how, as  I grow older, each day seems to just race by. I remember Granny Liddle telling me, somewhere around my eighth or ninth year when I was hopping about, wishing aloud for Christmas to come, “Don’t wish your life away.” In childhood, that’s exactly what everyone does. We impatiently wait for summer to arrive to get out of school, we wait for Christmas, for Halloween, for the State Fair, for our birthday, for that new movie.  


I’ve done a little looking up via what my Uncle Richard used to call “Mr. Google” regarding this business of our perception of time, and the latest ideas indicate that we’re, all of us, a collection of internal clocks. Interestingly, different parts of the brain govern different pieces of perception—a distributed system of cerebral cortex, cerebellum and basal ganglia--and all these must coordinate results with one another.  Even way down at the cellular level our bodies are running little programs, as Cell A gives instructions to Cell B next door about what—chemically--ought to happen next.  


“Time” for you and me is essentially a series of experiences which the brain organizes in a way that makes sense.  According to neuroscientist David Eagleman:

When our brains receive new information, it doesn’t necessarily come in the proper order. This information needs to be reorganized and presented to us in a form we understand. When familiar information is processed, this doesn’t take much time at all. New information, however, is a bit slower and makes time feel elongated.

In short, an oldie like myself pretty much knows what to expect from their daily routine and doesn’t pay much attention as we go through it. We’re on automatic pilot. To a child, however, all sorts of experiences register as “new,” and consequently, a lot of activity goes on as the brain sorts and structures all this fresh information.  

If you do something new every day, it will slow the passage of time a bit. One of the pieces I read suggested sky-diving as a cure for that feeling of life zooming past, but I think I’ll pass. With my luck, the shute wouldn’t open.

Another idea about this curious feeling that time is now speeding past is suggested by Paul Janet, a 19th Century philosopher. He proposed that with the passage of time, a single year becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of a life. The first week you’re alive is, therefore, the “longest.” It's all acceleration (a.k.a. downhill) from there.

To put it another way, each year only represents a smaller and smaller portion of your life.  At 71, a year only represents 1.41% of the total. Hit the link below and check out the fascinating interactive graphic which illustrates this idea:


~~Juliet Waldron

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