Why Does Time Pass Faster as We Get Older?

Updated on November 13, 2017
Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok has studied fields of science, physics and philosophy, for over 40 years—since his college days with a Master of Science degree.

The question that's asked most often by senior citizens is why does time seem to go by quicker as we grow older.

Actually, it's not moving any faster. The speeding up of time is an illusion. I'll explain a few reasons why we experience this.

Every time we double my age, twice as many years go by since the last time.
Every time we double my age, twice as many years go by since the last time. | Source

It's All a Matter of Perception

As we grow older, periods of our lives diminish into smaller and smaller segments of our entire life span.

Here is a simple example that should make this clear:

  • When you were 10 years old, the last ten years represented your entire life.
  • When you're 40, the last ten years represent only a quarter of your life.
  • When you're 60, the last ten years represent only one sixth of your life.

That's a small fraction, and the same period will become a smaller and smaller segment of your life as you age.

Repetitive Tasks Make Our Days More Monotonous

When we were very young, every day was filled with new discoveries and learning experiences. We look back on that and visualize time filled with memories.

As we get older, we lack the constant discovery of new experiences we had every day in our childhood.1

Our days become more monotonous with repetitive tasks, and much less time is spent with substantially new experiences. That doesn’t leave a fulfilling memory of any sort to look back on. It almost becomes an empty feeling of the recent past days.

When we allow this kind of a void in our lives, we have nothing much to look back on. This causes us to have a feeling that time has passed by more quickly.

We Measure Periods of Time as a Ratio

My first explanation I gave you was that the change in speed of time is based on our perception. That example I gave above is related to mathematical ratios. I'll elaborate on that a little further.

Our experience of time speeding up is due to a ratio change. Here's another example:

When we grow up from, say, five years old until we are ten, we doubled our age. We feel that a lot of time had gone by. After all, we just doubled our age!

Then when we continue through life from ten to twenty, once again we doubled our age. But wait! What's different now? That prior period was just five years. Now all of a sudden it was ten years!

Now consider aging twenty to forty. We doubled our age again, but this time twenty years shot by!

Every time we double my age, twice as many years have gone by since the last time we doubled our age. This is the ratio effect.

We think of the last phase as the same length of time. However, that phase is twice the length of time as the previous phase of our lives.

This creates a misinterpretation imposed by the way we think.

The rest of this article is for those who are interested in the physical laws of time.

I minored in physics in college, and have continued studying it ever since. I developed an interest in examining the mysterious phenomena of time that I'll share with you.

The Flow of Time

In its simplest form, time can be considered to be a linear flow from the past to the future. It can also be thought of as the fourth dimensional space, through which the first three dimensions of our physical world flows.

Our three-dimensional world is defined as length, width and height. You can move in any direction through this space. Now take that, and think of it as moving along another line perpendicular to space. That line represents time—as the fourth dimension.

Time Glitches and Déjà Vu

We can think of time as a continuous flow of our physical world as it advances in a forward direction.

This interpretation of time gives us the ability to comprehend a form of reality that has a direction and a speed that should be stable and consistent. However, is it really?

What if time, itself, has glitches? What if it has episodes of stalling or even repeating segments from the past.

Could this actually happen? Is this when we experience déjà vu, or is that all in our minds?

If our reality were referenced within the movement of time, then any fluctuations or glitches would never be noticed. Since we exist within our own world of time and space, our reference point is meaningless.

We'd have to be observing our world from outside of our four dimensions in order to observe what really is happening. From that vantage point we would be able to see, and measure, the actual changes taking place.

So for us, as we continue to exist in the timeframe of our own existence, we have no notion of the true phenomena of time.

We simply have our own definition that we made up in order to have some form of sanity while getting along with others in our constantly changing physical world.

What I mean by that is that we need to pinpoint specific sections on the timeline to coincide a planned meeting with a friend for dinner or to attend a business meeting. Without that, we would never be able to coordinate our efforts to work together.

Our Frame of Reference for the Acceleration of Time

So all this seems to work quite well for us, but what about the issue we all have with the feeling that time goes faster as we get older? If it had been changing it’s pace since the beginning of time, then where would this acceleration end?

If this were indeed happening, I'd say that we would never know it. The reason is the same as what I mentioned earlier. We are in our own reference of time. As long as we are within this frame of reference, any changes to the speed of time would be completely unnoticed.

An example will make this clear:

Imagine you are in a moving train. As it changes speed and direction, you continue to enjoy the trip in the confined world of the train's interior without any actual consideration of the changes taking place with the rest of the world. In your confined world within that train, time is still moving forward and your life is advancing at a constant speed.

Time Slows Down the Faster One Moves

My final thought is a little more technical, but it's an interesting law of physics.

We can't ever go faster than the speed of light because mass becomes infinite at the speed of light. Time becomes meaningless when traveling at the speed of light, so it actually would not take much time to get wherever we're going.

Mathematically, Einstein found that time slows down the faster one moves. In October 1971 scientists have proven his theory by carrying an atomic clock in an airplane going eastward and another going westward. These were compared to a reference atomic clock on Earth at the U.S. Naval Observatory. The eastward flying clock lost approximately 59 nanoseconds and the westward clock gained approximately 273 nanosecond.2

The difference is relative because the clock on Earth was traveling at 1000 miles per hour since that's how fast the Earth is rotating.

When Einstein was young his wife had complained, when they were having sex, that it was over so fast. Einstein said to her, "It's all relative."

Young Albert Einstein with wife and possible collaborator Mileva Maric Einstein.
Young Albert Einstein with wife and possible collaborator Mileva Maric Einstein. | Source

Reference

1. Richard A. Friedman. (July 20, 2013). Fast Time and the Aging Mind. The New York Times

2. J.C. Hafele and R. E. Keating, Science 177, 166 (1972)

© 2014 Glenn Stok

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    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 2 months ago from Long Island, NY

      Rochelle Frank - I'm just a few years behind you and I have the same feeling.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 2 months ago from California Gold Country

      I think your ideas on our experience of time as a percentage of our life are right on and have also seen the train analogy as making sense to my "unscientific" mind.

      I can remember having a lucid "now" moment when I was seven years old, thinking that people lived about 70 years and I had about 10 times that much time left.

      Now that I am past 70, it seems like quite a short time ago.

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 2 months ago from Long Island, NY

      Absolutely Marisa! I can't believe I left that out. When we allow a void in our lives, we have nothing to look back on—causing the feeling that time has passed by more quickly. I have days like that, when I'm relaxing and doing nothing. Those days shoot by like nothing!

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 2 months ago from Sydney

      Interesting to read another theory. The theory I like is this:

      Our brains retain the memory of new events and experiences, and quickly discard the memory of routine or repetitive ones. When we're young, we're having lots of new experiences, so when we look back on (say) the last week, we have lots of memories. When we're older, we have far fewer new experiences, so when we look back on last week, we have no memories of what we did. Therefore our impression is that it must have "whizzed past" even though, at the time, it actually didn't.

      It's a good reason to make an effort to constantly seek out new things to do in our old age.

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      bradmasterOCcal - Now that's a very good analysis of a reason why we experience time to pass quicker as we age.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      As for your topic here. The answer is simple, people only remember certain events and not the totality of their history. So they flip the pages in their mind which is filtered by their brain, and filtered events are few compared to the total.

      It is an illusion generated by the brain, and it is different for everyone.

      As people get older, they do more reviewing than creating new events. while the young are busy creating new events, and rarely review them. At some point, each individual hits the point where new, and review become equal, and then may reverse to review and new.

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      suraj punjabi - There are many reasons for the feeling that time passes quicker as we age. My explanation was mostly based on the mathematics of ratios. Your explanation is a good one too. It's really a combination of it all.

    • suraj punjabi profile image

      suraj punjabi 2 years ago from jakarta

      wow, your hubs are really thought provoking, I have never looked at it that way. I have read an article somewhere that says that the reason why we find time to pass by faster as we get older is because as we grow older we tend to be more and more on auto pilot and go about our days pretty much the same as the days before, and because of that we really do not take notice of time, and when do, we find that time has passed by so fast.

      What do you think about this? Perhaps it is all in the mind? Great hub.

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      vox vocis - Yes indeed, Jasmine. Many things we consider "reality" are simply due to our perception, which is limited by our own mind's capabilities. Thanks for stopping by.

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 2 years ago

      I must agree with Einstein - time really is relative! I don't think even think time is real, or it may be real in our reality or perception of reality. I absolutely believe in other time dimensions and in eternity. Interesting topic!

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Nathanville - Being that you have a knowledge of quantum physics, it means a lot to me that you found this well-written. Thank you for the feedback.

    • Nathanville profile image

      Arthur Russ 3 years ago from England

      A most engaging article; with quantum physics being one of my interests I spent the ‘time’ to read this well written article a pleasurable read.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 3 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Wow, Glenn... As much as I've pondered parallel universes over the years, the possibility that they could ever be out of sync never occurred to me. Yes, that could explain a lot of puzzling events that have no logical explanation, "logical" being the parameters with which one is already familiar. Thank you for sending me "outside the box"! ;D

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      JamaGenee - A Parallel Universe can be a clue to a lot of occurrences that can't be explained, such as two people dreaming the same dream. As in your case, the other universe might have been out of sync with the one you're in, a few decades ahead in time. That's why I like this stuff. It opens a door to extreme thoughts.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 3 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Glenn, I'm delighted to hear you and your girlfriend had the same dream. This a first! The few times I've related my story to others, they looked at me like I had two heads. Alas, my SO and I didn't marry, but we did stay in contact until a couple of years before he died, and had also lost contact with any mutual friends. I didn't learn of his passing until a year later, and needless to say, it was quite a shock to learn how closely the circumstances matched what "our" dream foretold.

      Although off-topic, I also strongly believe in parallel universes, that we're all living simultaneously in two dimensions but only ever aware of one, a possibility not totally poo-pooed by quantum physics, but the technocalities are way over my head!

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Iris Draak - Thanks, I thought this was a pretty valid explanation why time goes faster as we age, but other reasons as just as plausible.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 3 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Glenn, that is interesting. I particularly liked your idea of time going faster being a ratio thing. You certainly gave me a new way of thinking about things. Interesting.

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Mike Marks - Yes, I heard of that explanation too. And I agree that it also has an effect on how quickly time passes. A newborn is constantly filling each moment with learning something new. As we get older, we fill our time with less and less newness. So our latter years seem more of a void in time than our earlier years.

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      JamaGenee - I had similar experiences with an old girlfriend and I having the same dream. It could also come from having similar daytime experiences or discussions. But I don't rule out other ideas for dreams about future events, such as the existence of the future already being recorded in a timeline. It's like a movie film. All the images of the future are on that roll of film. I'm sorry to hear about the lose of your husband. At least you had several decades with him.

    • Mike Marks profile image

      Mike Marks 3 years ago

      the more "events" that occur during a certain period of time the more memories we have from that period of time, therefore that period of time seems longer or bigger... as children, every day is event as we encounter so many things for the first time... in older age we may have less events, or less impressive events, more just getting up to a routin that we could sleepwalk through, a little dinner, a little tv, back to sleep, so when you recall your 54th year it may seem shorter because there's less events to recall,,, so you might compare that to some illusion you hold of time speeding up or slowing down, being longer/shorter, bigger/smaller, etc. ... you might see this more clearly if you think of it in terms of a long or short summer, the summer you spent with the family crossing the country sightseeing, or the summer you sat on the back porch smoking cigarettes looking at the grass grow (though that boring summer watching the grass grow might have seemed longer while you were in the moments of experiencing it, its recall would seem shorter, though you might interprete its memory of drudgery and the clock ticking seconds between cigarettes as endless...)

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 3 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Glenn, I should've been a bit more clear about the "past, present and future" analogy. That is, that at any given point on the road, where you just came from is in the past, where you are now is only technically the "present" because more than likely you're thinking about your destination, which is "the future".

      As for time being "fixed", one event convinced me isn't. When we were in our 20s, my Significant Other and I simultaneously had nearly identical dreams one night that foretold the circumstances of his death, which happened exactly as the dreams predicted...but not until several decades later. If time is fixed, we couldn't have "dreamed" an event that clearly was already recorded in the universe's "memory banks".

      Just sayin...

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      MsDora - Laughter is good. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      You managed to make me laugh even while I'm straining my mind to take it all in. The section of the acceleration of time really gets my attention! Wonderful thoughts. Excellent read!

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      mgt28 - Approaching the speed of light is also very interesting as mass becomes infinite. I appreciate your comments.

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      mgt28 3 years ago

      Space-Time continuum, the theory says that time and space are not fixed dimensions but both can be stretched as you would a rubber pad. Although Newtonian mechanics is true, it is just a good approximation. When the speed of particles approaches the speed of light, things begin to misbehave. Just 10% of the speed of light! Your thinking is beautiful.

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      JamaGenee - Thanks for your very interesting comment. The term "time slips" fits well with the phenomena, and it could also explain Déjà vu. I think I know what you mean about whizzing along the highway. You see cars going the other way, and they might resemble the past. You see cars ahead of you and they resemble the future. Very good analogy. Thanks for your feedback.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 3 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Yes, a pity Albert E. is no longer around for you and him to have a chinwag about time! As for what you call time "glitches", I and many others here on HP prefer time "slips", where the "memory" of an area hiccups and replays a snippet of the past.

      My favorite head scratcher relating to time is the concept that on a road trip whizzing along the interstate, we're simultaneously in the past, present and future.

      Much food for thought in this hub! Upped and shared! ;D

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