Sandra Dunham

“The truth is, time marches on and you have two choices: You move forward, come what may, and you experience all the sour and sweet things that fly at you from around corners, or you sit still. Don’t sit still.”
Suzanne Palmieri, The Witch of Little Italy

Do you recall, as a child, the endlessness of summer? The eternity that took place between the last day of school in June and the first day of school in August or September? I recall those endless summer days. But this year, summer seemed to last about three days. This phenomenon caused me to do a bit of research into time. Admittedly, a bit of a rabbit hole.

My experience is borne out by research. Psychologists Marc Wittmann and Sandra Lenhoff conducted research in 2005 exploring participants’ perception of time. They confirm that for longer periods of time, such as a decade, participants who are older than 40 perceive time to have passed slowly during their childhood and at an accelerated pace later in life.

James Broadway, a researcher in psychological and brain sciences, identifies that we experience time differently prospectively (as the event takes place) and retrospectively (after the event has taken place). Additionally, he claims that the adage “time flies when you are having fun” is true. We experience time passing much more quickly when we are engaging in new or fun activities. However, retroactively, those exciting activities seem to last longer than more mundane ones, a phenomenon that is known as the holiday paradox.

The holiday paradox is that the brain records memories of novel experiences. Retrospectively, we judge the passage of time by the number of memories recorded. Therefore, although time seems to whiz by while we are on a holiday, we create more memories and therefore remember our novel experiences as taking more time than the more mundane. This also explains why we remember our childhood, a time when most experiences were new, as passing more slowly.

Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering, has a slightly different hypothesis. He believes it is changes in the brain which lead to the sense that time is speeding up. He claims that the slower visual processing time of older adults leads to us “perceiving fewer frames per second.” He likens the processing time for younger adults to a slow-motion camera, capturing many more frames per second.

While the preceding contents discuss the perception of time, there are physicists who are researching actual changes to the passage of time. Time dilation, caused by the effects of motion and gravity, was originally hypothesized by Albert Einstein. Einstein’s theory of special relativity speculates that time slows down at extremely fast speeds; and his theory of general relativity  posits that gravity affects time.

Both these concepts are still being investigated today. A group of physicists verified the effect of speed on time in 2014. Scientists compared two clocks; one stationary and one travelling at a high speed, using an experimental storage ring that stores high speed particles. They were able to record highly precise data measuring the time-dilation effect.

Current research will further investigate the impact of gravity on time. The European Space Agency is scheduled to launch its Atomic Clock Ensemble in Space (ACES) project in 2020. (Follow the ESA launch schedule here.) The project is intended to “create an Internet of clocks,” by connecting the most accurate timepieces in the world. It will then compare their time with the time on a space station at an altitude of 400 km. The clocks on the ground will also be compared for the purpose of improving understanding of the impact of gravity and elevation on time.

While scientists claim that time dilation will actually cause you to age more slowly, the practicality of travelling at the speed of light or living on the ocean floor are untenable alternatives to aging. If you do want to slow the passage of time, take up something new. It is true that you will age at the same speed as your neighbour, but when you look back you will have amazing memories to slow the race of time.