Why Does Time Pass Faster as We Get Older?
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.
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."
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