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Why Does Time Seem to Move Faster as We Grow Older?
Proportional theory, telescopy, time pressure, and the reminiscence bump may each play a role.
Remember as a child when summer vacation lasted for what felt like years and those last minutes of the school day, like hours? Today it feels like the days peel on by, and a vacation which may last days or weeks is gone in mere hours. This is a common human experience. Of course, our own age has no influence on how the Earth revolves around the sun. So why is it that time appears to moves faster as we grow older? There are an awful lot of theories that give us insight. But a direct scientific law so far remains elusive.
In 1877, the “ratio theory” was born, which states that we compare intervals to the total amount of time we’ve been alive. This can also be called “proportional theory,” the idea that as we age, our sense of the present begins to feel short as compared to our total lifespan. So as a child, a year feels like forever simply because it takes up a good portion of your total time alive.
But as the years roll on, having more of them behind you makes one more year less significant. You pay less attention to it and so it fades into a chain of others, making time appear to be moving more quickly. William James in his 1890 book Principles of Psychology, described it this way—that fewer and fewer novel experiences pop up as we grow older, and this is why life seems to pick up speed.
While youth colors everything anew, as we age, we become more or less familiar with every aspect of our surroundings, and so the nuance wears off. As James so cheerfully put it, “the days and weeks [to] smooth themselves out…and the years grow hollow and collapse.” That’s why your first big trip to the beach as a child, say for two weeks, seems to last whole months, as it is chock full of adventures. Yet, if you’ve been going to that same beach for the last 20 years, barely do you settle into your lounge chair that it’s time to go home.
A series of psychologists have studied this phenomenon in James’s wake. Wallach and Green in the 1960s studied young adults between the ages of 18 and 20 and compared their perception of time to participants age 71 and older. Each group encountered a series of metaphors offered by researchers. Young people tended to select steady or unchanging metaphors for time, while older people chose those which had to do with swiftness and speed.
A lack of novelty or surprise is one theory for time’s rapid pace as we get older.
As associated theory states that between the ages 15 and 25 the most formative experiences of our life take place, such as our first kiss, first car, first love, and so on. This creates a “reminiscence bump.” The farther we move away from the bump, the quicker time seems to move.
This connects with a phenomenon known as “telescopy,” which is the impression that important events are closer to our present time than they actually are.” For instance, in April of last year, a friend confronted me with the fact that Kurt Cobain had been gone for over twenty years. I was shocked by the news. A prominent musician of my generation, it felt like only yesterday that I had heard the news of his tragic suicide.
In 2005 two German researchers out of the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich conducted a groundbreaking study on time perception. 499 participants between the ages of 14 and 94 took part. In the first segment, volunteers were asked to answer a series of questions on how fast or slow time passes. Qualifiers went from “very slowly” to “very fast.”
Participants between the ages of 20 and 50 perceived time as fast moving. What was surprising was that this phenomenon continued until about the mid-90s. Researchers believe that the demands of education, career, and family between ages 20 and 50 may result in “time pressure,” the feeling that one has too many responsibilities and not enough time to fulfill them. It is this feeling that causes time to move faster than before, researchers contend. Further studies have shown that “time pressure,” is actually a cross-cultural phenomenon.
Not having enough time to fulfill responsibilities or “time pressure” could make time appear to move faster.
Of course, our biology plays a role as well, particularly our metabolism. Our metabolism slows as we get older. Our breathing and heartrate follow suit. A faster metabolism may mean experiencing more biological markers, which could influence the passage of time, making life appear more vivid and slower moving, whereas less biological markers might degrade vibrancy somewhat.
A neurochemical explanation lies in the dopamine level in our brains. This is the pleasure neurotransmitter that gives us a feeling of wellbeing and reward. But as we get older, dopamine levels steadily drop. This along with the absence of novel stimulation could influence how we view time.
One of the things parents enjoy is seeing the surprise and delight on their child’s face when they encounter something for the first time. These parents can in a way enjoy the same feelings vicariously. But to prolong enjoyable experiences in one’s own life and not see them zip past, we can use our senses to remain entirely in the present. We can also employ memory and ponder past positive experiences in order to feel that shimmer again, or make plans for the future and periodically reflect upon how enjoyable it will be. This building of excitement can in a way, slow down time.
Another technique is to consciously be present by practicing mindfulness. When our brains are stimulated, time appears to slow down. Learning something new and taking part in novel experiences can slow down time. Consider the wise words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
To learn how to control your sense of time, click here:
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.