Do you remember when you were small? How uncles and aunties would pinch your cheek and say how much you’d grown and how time went by so fast? I always found it really stupid. In my experience time really didn’t go that fast. And what with the cheek pinching thing? Now that I am an auntie myself I do refrain from the pinching thing, but I do recognize the feeling of time moving very fast. And very slow at times. So were my aunties and uncles right after all?
Time is an individual experience
The thing is that time seems very absolute. You watch the clock and you can see the seconds ticking away. I can hear it as I am typing this. But to us, mere humans, time isn’t that absolute in our mind. Literally. Because our mind needs to put different pieces of visual, auditory and other sensory information that we experience through different channels. Our eyes, ears and so on. We can do this very fast, but our mind, and thus our experienced world, always lag behind half a second or so. So what is happening right now, or seems to be happening here, in this moment, in actual fact, happened a little less than a second ago. Weird thought, huh?
New experiences make time slow down in our minds
So time isn’t that absolute after all, that is to say our personal experience of time is far from absolute. With each new experience our mind needs to work a little harder to put the pieces together. So this happens when you do something new. As children we experience new stuff all the time. So as kids we -unlike those aunties and uncles- don’t experience time as something that is going very fast at all. As we get older and have a lot of life experience, most of us gain less and less experiences and thus the familiarity of life, leads us to experience it as time speeding up.
Time standing still?
Another example of the relativity of time is when something shocking or dangerous happens. Time seems to stand still, or go in slow motion. We almost experience whatever is going on as it moves by one slow frame at a time. A clear example for me is when I was at a rock concert in a mosh-pit in my early twenties.
It felt like minutes, but it must have been seconds…
The place was littered with broken beer glasses and around me (mostly) big guys were stomping up and down on big army boots. A dangerous place to be on the floor. Clearly. I remember not wanting to put my hands on the floor because of the glass/boot situation and how I looked up and saw bodies jumping, slamming and so on. I put my arms up and it felt like minutes were passing. It must have been only seconds in reality, that one of those guys grabbed my hands and pulled me up. But 25 years or so later, I still remember vividly how time slowed down significantly in my mind.
However long or short it feels, in the end life is short
So is time absolute? In our western societies, we act as if it is. We have a very lineair perception of time moving by. It would be easy to have a complete philosophical discussion here. I won’t bother you with that. Not today. What I will say is. The only real time is here and now. Not the past. Not the future. No matter how relevant that is or seems. You can never regain time once you’ve lost it. Life is as a small island in a huge ocean of nothingness. The time that you don’t exist at all is much longer than your existence will ever be. So live here. Live now.
Spend your precious life on stuff that really matters…
Don’t waste your energy on stuff that doesn’t matter. Like your ego, status of keeping up with the Joneses, the Kardashians or whomever or whatever you deem important. Spend your precious little lifetime on people and things you really care about, that fulfill you and make you happy. You won’t be given a second shot at this thing called life. Memento mori.
This blog was inspired by yours truly and by this YouTube video by the bbc, have a look at it as it explains time slowing down and speeding up very clearly. Live and learn. And do stuff that matters!