The Acceleration of Perceived Time: Some thoughts.

I asked my father, on his 76th birthday,

“It seems to me that each year I live goes by faster than the last.  Does time continue to go faster and faster or does it get to a certain speed and stay at that speed?”

To which he replied,

“Faster and faster.”

It became particularly clear to me when I was twenty years old that time seemed to be speeding up.  And I’ve been contemplating this ever since.  I have some ideas about why this is.  A friend of mine once remarked that it’s merely the fact that each year is a smaller piece of total amount of life experienced than the last, which is kind of obvious: When you’re two years old, the past year of your life is about half of the amount of life you’ve lived.  But while you’re living your third year, that year is only a third of your total life lived.  And so on.  But I’ve never been quite convinced that this is the reason.  I’ve wondered about all sorts of pseudoscientific causes for the perceived acceleration of time as well as the idea that it’s rooted in physiology somehow, like perhaps the human brain develops in a way that, on some chemical or mechanical level, it is less sensitive to the micro of time passing Etc… But in all the reading I’ve done, and despite my inner desire to believe that there’s something magical or special involved in the compression of perceptual time, I think the obvious explanation, that each year is a smaller piece of the pie than the last, is the best explanation, at least for now.

I’m currently thirty-seven years old.  This time speeding up thing is off tha hook!  When I think of the cliche of old folks moving to florida to ‘watch the grass grow,’ it occurs to me that the saying isn’t really an exaggeration or merely a euphemism for living a boring life.  Elderly people really can see the grass growing!  Their consciousness of time is macro-ized to the point where the days whiz past at an amazing speed.

Also, I find it interesting that the acceleration of perceived time tends to lead people toward seeing the world in a more holistic way.  It seems that around thirty years of age, people begin to be more concerned with the macro of their lives.  They begin trying to make decisions about topics that hadn’t occurred to them before.  I believe that my observations about what people tend to go through around their late twenties to early thirties are simply a result of people seeing life go by faster and faster, which seems to really become profound at around thirty years of age.

Lately I’ve been wondering how far along my life is perceptually. Is it 95% over?  (I’m not trying to be a bummer here.  I’m just curious about this.)

So assuming the reason for the perceived acceleration of time is merely the fact that each year is a smaller percentage of the overall time experienced, the math is fairly simple.  For every year lived, divide 1 (one) by the number of years lived. Then, add together all those numbers.  This gives us what I am calling a perceptual time economy. 

The following goes up to age sixty-six.  All the math is rounded to the nearest hundredth.

1/41 through 1/66=.02 (@25 years) [sum=0.5] ( total of 4.77 total time perception economy)
1/29 through 1/40=.03 (@11 years) [sum=0.33]
1/23 through 1/28=.04 (@6 years) [sum=0.24]
1/19 through 1/22=.05 (@4 years) [sum=0.2]
1/16 through 1/18=.06 (@3 years) [sum=0.18]
1/14 through 1/15=.07 (@2 years) [sum=0.14]
1/12 through 1/13=.08 (@2 years) [sum=0.16]

So when is the life of someone who dies on their sixty-seventh birthday half over perceptually?  It’s when the some of years lived reaches 2.39 (half of 4.77, the sum of the perceptual value of all the years lived)

The thing is, this puts life perceptually half over around age six!

I think the problem here is that we don’t reliably remember the first four years of our lives.  So we can redo the math taking that into consideration.

Ignoring the first four years, the total perceptual time economy is 2.69. Half of that is 1.35.

To be truly accurate, I should subtract 4 from each denominator.  So the thirty-fifth year should be 1/(35-4).  But I’m too lazy to do that at the moment.

the sum of the fractions of overall perceptual time for all the years lived is 1.36 at 17 years lived (eighteen years old)

So by this reasoning, your life is half over at age eighteen.  I think that might be about right.

Enjoy.  And Seize the day!


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