Do Random Glitches Make Time Seem to Go Faster as We Age?
I have always found the mysterious phenomena of time fascinating. In this discussion, I review the possible existence of glitches in the fabric of time and how it might affect our perception of our daily lives.
I will cover two leading points:
- I’ll begin with a discussion of time glitches, either imagined or real,
- and I’ll conclude with five reasons why we experience time going by faster as we get older.
Our Vision of the Flow of Time
We live in a three-dimensional world, described with length, width, and height. We can move in any direction through that space. We also flow through time, a fourth dimension, which is perpendicular to the three-dimensions we know so well.
The flow of time is a series of “now” that is continuously advancing from the past to the future.
We may be familiar with the space in which we live, but how well do we know what’s happening with time?
We often tend to lose track of it. If we don’t pay attention, we might miss an important meeting or be late for catching a plane.
Other things can go wrong too, we might feel that time overlaps itself, and we get the feeling of déjà vu. The worst thing is how time seems to speed up as we get older, and we can’t do anything about that—or can we?
Time Glitches and Déjà Vu
Our appreciation of time gives us the ability to comprehend a reality that's stable and consistent. However, is it really?
What if time, itself, has glitches? What if it has episodes of repeating or missing segments? Could that actually happen?
Imagine if segments of time repeat due to some instability in the space-time continuum. Is that when we experience déjà vu or is that all in our minds?
Earlier I mentioned that time is a series of “now.” What happens if one of those “now” moments is missing? Is that what happens when we can't recall what we wanted to get from another room once we get there? That happens with most people once in a while.
Let me put all that to rest. I'm just playing with your mind. If that were true, we would never notice any glitches like that anyway, since we are part of the world flowing along the timeline.
- The duplication of "now" moments would merely be another repetition without any knowledge we were there before, because "before" is the present moment again.
- And we would only leap over the missing moments without any awareness and continue with our lives.
In either case, we would never know there was a problem with the fabric of space-time. Then again, maybe something does go terribly wrong.
Time Slows Down the Faster One Moves
We can't ever go faster than the speed of light because mass becomes infinite at that speed, and time becomes meaningless, so it would take no time at all to get wherever we're going.
Einstein mathematically showed that time slows down the faster one moves. In October 1971, scientists proved 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 about 273 nanoseconds.1
Besides, the clock on Earth is traveling 1,000 miles per hour since that's how fast the Earth is rotating, and that difference is relative to the entire situation.
While we are happily going about our lives on Earth, we wouldn't be aware of those speed differences due to motion because it's all relative.
Just a little levity while on the subject: When Einstein was young, his wife had complained that it was over so fast when they were having sex. Einstein said to her, "It's all relative."
Our Frame of Reference Is Relative
Within our frame of reference, any changes to the speed of time would be completely unnoticed due to relativity theory.
This example will make that clear:
Imagine you are on 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 relative to the rest of the world.
Say, for example, you have a drink of coffee in the train’s dining car. To you, that cup of coffee is sitting stationary in front of you. But in reality, it’s moving at the speed of the train.
Five Reasons Why Time Seems to Go by Faster as We Get Older
I covered all the technical reasons that might affect our judgment of time, and I made a case to rule out each one of them as a cause of our feeling time goes faster as we age. So why then, do we have this issue?
The speeding up of time is an illusion. As we age and have more years behind us, our perception of time changes for several reasons.
Here are five causes of this phenomenon that we all experience as we grow older.
1. We Measure Periods of Time in Ratios
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 ten 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.
Here's another way to explain how ratios affect our judgment:
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 has passed!
Every time we double our age, twice as many years have gone by since the last time we doubled it. This is the ratio effect.
We think of the last phase at the same length of time. However, that phase is twice the length of time as the previous phase of our lives.
The ratio keeps shrinking, causing the illusion that time is speeding up.
2. 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.2
Our days become more monotonous with repetitive tasks, and we spend much less time on 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. That causes us to have a feeling that time has passed by more quickly.
3. Fewer New Experiences Causes the Illusion That Time Is Shrinking
Claudia Hammond, the author of “Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception,” explains that as we get older, we have fewer new experiences.3
When we look back on the prior week, or the previous year, we see fewer memorable events to fill that period than we had decades earlier. A memory of fewer new experiences leaves us with the illusion that time is shrinking.
4. Time Pressure Contributes to Our Perception of Time
In a Scientific American article, the author refers to a study published by Steve Janssen, William Friedman, and Makiko Naka (Hokkaido University in Japan).4
They questioned 868 participants, comparing their feeling “time pressure” in their lives ten years ago and currently.
They discovered that the notion of “time pressure” contributed significantly to their perception of time. The results also showed that age made no difference. Those who felt time pressure ten years ago had as much sense that time was flying by as later in life.
The conclusion is that feeling pressure for lack of time to perform tasks has a greater impact on the sense that time goes faster. Merely being older has little to do with it, other than the fact that as we get older, we feel more time pressure.
5. Adult Time Is Filled With Chores
A loyal follower and reader of my articles had offered this explanation:
Children have fewer responsibilities to fill their days, and time feels like it drags on for that reason. As we get older, we certainly never have the time to complete our chores and other tasks we want to do.
As you see, there are many explanations for the experience we all seem to have with time speeding up as we age. So which is correct? Or do they all contribute to the phenomenon?
My conclusion is that all the explanations above cause people to have this feeling, while certain ones might have more impact, depending on the individual.
- Those who tend to do more repetitive tasks will be subject to the second case above.
- Those who feel pressure for lack of time might be subject to the fourth case I discussed.
It’s unique to each individual. Nevertheless, it affects us all in time.
1. J.C. Hafele and R. E. Keating, Science 177, 166 (1972)
2. Richard A. Friedman. (July 20, 2013). Fast Time and the Aging Mind. - The New York Times
3. Claudia Hammond. (May 28, 2013). “Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception” - Harper Perennial; Reprint edition
© 2014 Glenn Stok