Or at least that’s the perception. You can ask just about anybody in any culture, east or west, and you will find that everyone agrees: time seems to go by much faster as we age. I recently heard a radio interview with David Eagleman of Baylor University College of Medicine, and he has a theory about this. He thinks that when we are young most of our experiences are new, and our brains are writing down every detail, forming neural networks to record all the details of the experience for future reference. And, when the future comes, our brains reference the previous experience. “Oh I know about this,” and the second, third and fourth similar experiences don’t get recorded in such detail. That lack of time spent recording the experiences makes it seem like the experiences didn’t last as long when we look back on them.
For instance, Eagleman said, “think about your first kiss.” So I did think back to my high school days, and I do remember the details. Where it happened, what it felt like, what he was wearing, how totally underwhelmed I was. And it did seem like the kiss took a very long time.
And, the first day you drive to work at a new company, the commute always lasts longer than it does at the end of your first year on that job.
Summers used to last forever too. And so did the school year.
So did my first semester at college, but the last semester of my senior year in college is a blur in my mind. I remember wondering if I would be able to make it from class in one building to class across campus in time. I remember trying to get a routine down for dorm life, cafeteria eating, studying and playing. I remember packing for Thanksgiving break my first year. I don’t remember such details from my senior year. By my senior year, all of this was old hat. The classes may have been different, but the professors, buildings and campus were the same.
My first semester teaching was a long one. My final semester as a full time professor, again, flew by. Each time I take on a new kind of project at work, it seems to take a long time to complete, but a second assignment of the same type, flies by, relatively speaking. Part of that is expertise gained from experience, but that expertise comes from the fact that my brain records every detail, every problem, every workaround in that first assignment.
So, if Eagleman’s theory is even somewhat right, we should be able to slow down time, and the way to do it is to constantly engage in new experiences that require our minds to record the events in excruciating detail. We should learn new things, read books written by authors we have never read before, because each page will be a new experience for us. We should take up new hobbies, and if we have a hobby we love, like knitting, we should be sure to work on projects that require us to learn new skills or techniques.
We should travel to new lands, meet new people, take a different route to work occasionally on our daily commute. Even if experiencing new things that force our neurons to fire and form new connections doesn’t slow down time itself, it will certainly make us more interesting people to be around.
© 2010 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.