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Science

Why Time Flies By As You Get Older 252

Posted by kdawson
from the like-a-banana dept.
Ant notes a piece up on WBUR Boston addressing theories to explain the universal human experience that time seems to pass faster as you get older. Here's the 9-minute audio (MP3). Several explanations are tried out: that brains lay down more information for novel experiences; that the "clock" for nerve impulses in aging brains runs slower; and that each interval of time represents a diminishing fraction of life as we age.
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Why Time Flies By As You Get Older

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    And we just think it does.

    • by biryokumaru (822262) * <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:16PM (#31004986)
      I dunno, I think I'm getting older because I swear that audio sounded more like 6 minutes...
      • by kpainter (901021)

        I dunno, I think I'm getting older because I swear that audio sounded more like 6 minutes...

        It was 6 fucking minutes. Kids these days can't tell time for shit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dov_0 (1438253)
      I always thought of it as filtering. As we grow older, our brains develop in the way they filter incoming stimuli.The fewer things that actually need our brain's attention, the faster time seems to go. One finds though that in a new and stimulating environment,say, in a new country, time feels slower, but in a boring or familiar environment, time often seems to rush by - especially if our minds are focused on one thing to the exclusion of other stimuli.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        And yet, when you're bored, time seems to crawl, but when you're in a stimulating environment, time seems to fly! It's a total paradox!

        (I'm not being sarcastic, I think you're right..)

        • Its simply because the older we get the more we are able to focus. Kids are inherently more distracted. The more we get absorbed in a task, the faster time seems to pass. As we get older, we involve ourselves in a lot of stuff.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by shawb (16347)
          To me the time flies when you are having fun thing is a bit different than time speeding up when you get older. My understanding is that the former is related to your perception of time as events happen, while the latter is more related to your memory of order of events (although not strictly in either case.)

          The time going by quickly when you are having fun phenomenon really only applies while it is happening. I've notice that after an event filled stimulating weekend (whether those events are having f
    • by sznupi (719324)

      We also think about the past, how quickly it...passed, much more often when we are older. If we can't help being fixated on the idea then of course that's just what we're convincing ourselves in.

      There might be even more direct mechanism in this; supposedly we perceive passage of time that's happening right now as faster with much of activity, slower without it. But when it comes to memories, it's reversed - when there was hardly anything going on, that period seems like a blink of an eye; almost nonexistant

    • And old heads just don't retain as much as young ones.
  • Michio Kaku (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MorderVonAllem (931645) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:06PM (#31004852)
    Michio Kaku did a great show about time for the BBC and at the end of one episode he asked young/old people to count 60 seconds. The older people consistently counted for much longer than the actual minute while younger people consistently counted much faster.
    • by Deag (250823)

      They did the same in this story

    • I've noted that the clock on the wall is ticking faster than it did when I was 10. It's deeply ingrained in my mind - oh how I hated that endless ticking.

      I've thought for close to a decade now that our perception of time slows down as we age. It brings up some interesting ideas for Sci-Fi - an AI could easily have a perception of time hundreds to thousands of times faster than our own. Oh how the days would go on. Plenty of time to dream up things!

      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:04PM (#31005480)

        It brings up some interesting ideas for Sci-Fi - an AI could easily have a perception of time hundreds to thousands of times faster than our own. Oh how the days would go on. Plenty of time to dream up things!

        Data: She brought me closer to humanity than I ever thought possible, and for a time...I was tempted by her offer.
        Jean-Luc Picard: How long a time?
        Data: Zero point six eight seconds, sir. For an android, that is nearly an eternity.

        • Re:Michio Kaku (Score:5, Interesting)

          by nmb3000 (741169) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:12AM (#31006420) Homepage Journal

          Zero point six eight seconds, sir. For an android, that is nearly an eternity.

          I've always wondered at this line of dialog. From Measure of a Man we know that Data's processing speed is "60 trillion operations per second". If we assume he dedicated his full attention to her offer for the entire 0.68 seconds, that's almost 41 trillion operations required to consider and eventually reject the offer.

          If Picard ever stopped to think about it, I'd imagine that might begin to worry him...

          • by bronney (638318) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @03:24AM (#31007234) Homepage

            Yeah but not all 41 trillion operations were devoted entirely to logics in that 0.68 seconds. The Borg queen practically felt him up and kept licking on the that piece of skin on his face. That stimuli is a lot of operations for an android you insensitive clod.

          • Re:Michio Kaku (Score:5, Informative)

            by Citizen of Earth (569446) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @04:11AM (#31007476)

            If Picard ever stopped to think about it, I'd imagine that might begin to worry him...

            Picard would probably use his 100-billion neurons firing 1,000 times per second = 100-trillion operations/second to ask "Why is Data so slow? Can't he get an upgrade?"

            • You don't use every part of your brain for every thought.

              Plus... electronics are faster. Even a hundred million "neurons" firing at several ghz would give us a run for our money.

              The real question is - if we break past the ghz barrier, how smart will AIs be? When we're finally able to simulate a hundred minds on a single CPU, what happens when you make it just one mind? One mind with perfect math skills, and the creativity to use them...

          • Full attention != Full processing capacity

            He obviously has tons of background daemons running and was in a situation of "some degree of peril" and physical change (the skin graft thing) which clearly would have triggered several others. A more useful, relevant, pertinent (and I predict...) reliable benchmark would be something like "thoughts per second" or "operations per thought" (since different thoughts would have different operations and a different number of operations). "Thought operations" (or "thoug

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rolfwind (528248)

        Maybe it's because many of us hate school growing up, you watch the clock all the time. Because it's boring, anxiety due to bullies, puberty, an oral presentation coming up, you don't have your homework done, etcetera.

        I know school was the worst period in my life. Kids want to have fun, and school is a factory-like drill, and by the time you're an adult, it's ingrained to you, so you don't notice it as much.

        Idk, but as soon as I got out of high school and the rigid drill, time just seems to be going faste

    • at the end of one episode he asked young/old people to count 60 seconds. The older people consistently counted for much longer than the actual minute while younger people consistently counted much faster.

      Where they permitted to use any heuristics?
      I just tried it with the old "One one-thousand, Two one-thousand, Three one-thousand, etc" method with my eyes closed and got it right on the dot.

    • by iris-n (1276146)

      59 seconds. So what?

      People just don't know how to count.

  • by ShiftyOne (1594705) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:07PM (#31004868)
    I calculated it out, and If you factor in how slow time moves after you die this is pretty obvious.
    • by vegiVamp (518171) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @04:07PM (#31014814) Homepage

      If the size of a single "tick" reaches infinity at the time of death, as you suggest, then you'd never actually die - your consciousness will be streched out forever, like the image of an object falling through a black hole's event horizon.

      If you're right, that means that your last-ever experience is gonna last until the end of infinity itself, even if it will only feel as a single subjective "tick".

      I just decided, I wanna die having the greatest orgasm of my life.

  • Perception (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:25PM (#31005086)
    Generally young people have a lot more to look forward too so time seems to go by quickly, older people have really not much to look forward to so time goes slowly. How many times in school did you count down the days till summer? With older people there is less to look forward to because there is generally less things to -do- that is fresh and new. While you might have really enjoyed TV while young, by the time someone is older they begin to see that all of the plots are exactly the same.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CptNerd (455084)
      It's strange, I have this discussion with my older siblings (20 and 18 years older, and I'm 51). For them time is rushing past, and years seem to go by quickly. For me, time has slowed down drastically from what it felt like years ago. I don't know for sure, but about 7 years ago I started unintentionally reducing the time I spend watching TV. Now I go days without watching anything (and missing some programs I would like to watch but forget about). I spend a huge amount of time reading articles and lo
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:26PM (#31005096)

    shit, that's a boredom-laced eternity.

  • How about this: the universe has expanded to it's apex some time ago and is now contracting, and the gradual deflation of the space-time continuum is causing time itself to slow down, befuddling our limited perception? Doesn't the basic theory that underlies all we know about the universe warn that this very scenario is a possibility? Or are we now under quantum theory where time doesn't start slowing down until we realize that it already is?
    ...Oh shit, I sure hope not, if we are then I've just triggere
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by lewiley (1620203)
      I'm sure the Universe is expanding because when I drive to my son's house it seems further away every year. Actually, time goes faster because we accelerate when we go downhill!
      • Well according to the fortune on the bottom of the page,

        How long a minute is depends on which side of the bathroom door you're on.

        Is it just me or do these fortunes tend occur with an odd touch of synchronicity? Or do the story submitters choose what it will say?

  • by MystHunter (1211360) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:31PM (#31005156)
    If you are 1 year old, then 1 day represents about 1/365th of your life. If you are 10 years old, then 1 day represents about 1/3,650th of your life. Thus the older you are the faster time may appear to pass by. When you are 1 year old, 1 day may seem to last much longer than 1 day when you are 10 years old.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually you are very close but you stole an idea I had almost 50 years ago but even then I thank Einstein for his relativity theory. :)

      Time in fact is relative so that when you are 2 years old 1 year is half your life so it represents a very long sense of time. When you are 50 it is 1/50th of your life so the passage of 1 year is very little time.

      The sense of time is at least in part a function of your life experience and you can check this by simply talking with young children about the time frame of chri

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Culture20 (968837)

        So my conclusion is to go with Einstein in that time is relative.

        Except that Einstein's special theory of relativity is talking about time _really_ being relative, not perception of absolute-time being relative.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Yvan256 (722131)

          What if you could ride a train that goes at the speed of light, away from that boring movie. Would said movie become even more boring?

          • by MrKaos (858439)

            What if you could ride a train that goes at the speed of light, away from that boring movie. Would said movie become even more boring?

            Yes. Unless it was Twilight or New moon then the doppler effect would make the audio hilarious for all eternity.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by BranMan (29917)
        There is a corollary to this that I have come up with - you can only image being twice as old as you are now. Think about it a while - seems to explain a great number of effects. Like thinking someone 30 is ancient when you are a teenager. Or being able to relate to a 8 year old when you are 5, but not really with a teen. Or having your first thoughts of mortality at 40-50 (the mid-life crisis). That's the real 'relativity' of time, IMHO.
    • by Pike (52876) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:03AM (#31005966) Homepage Journal

      I visualized this idea in a graph [jdueck.net] a few years ago.

    • by gundersd (787946) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:48AM (#31006270)

      Also, when you're 5 years old, the maximum amount of time that you need to spend doing something in order to feel like you've achieved something worthwhile is probably in the order of 5-10 minutes or so (drawing a picture, writing your name, building a sandcastle at the beach, making something with Lego).

      When you get to middle-age, things take much longer (achieving success in your chosen field, raising children, paying off a mortgage etc).

      My theory is that it's the lengthening of the distance in time between major milestones that makes time appear to move faster as you get older. It simply takes a lot longer to achieve anything of significance.

    • by Brad1138 (590148)

      If you are 1 year old, then 1 day represents about 1/365th of your life. If you are 10 years old, then 1 day represents about 1/3,650th of your life. Thus the older you are the faster time may appear to pass by. When you are 1 year old, 1 day may seem to last much longer than 1 day when you are 10 years old.

      I have been saying that exact same thing for 20 years, basically what percentage of your life a day or year is. It makes even more sense if time doesn't exist. You are born, live and die all in a fixed amount of "time", maybe all at the same time.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:35PM (#31005206)
    When you're one year old, your entire life memory is a year. Thus, a year's passage is a lifetime. When you're 100, a year's passage is 1/100th of the same time.
    • by Roblimo (357) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:57PM (#31005428) Homepage Journal

      Exactly. At age 57, time doesn't "pass faster" for me than it did when I was 23 or 24, but each day adds a lower percentage of new experiences and memories than it did back then. This should be obvious to most people over age 10 who have decent memories.

      • Yeah...it's not like a day actually seems longer. It's just that your memory of the last year seems shorter. I remember half way through my first year of college that semester seemed so long. It was that it was actually longer, it's just that with the new relationships, new intellectual experiences, net friends, new...er...substances, there was just so much that happened in those few months.

        Now I look back over the last few months and the bulk of it is been there done that stuff I've been doing for decad

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Z34107 (925136)

        At age 57, time doesn't "pass faster" for me than it did when I was 23 or 24, but each day adds a lower percentage of new experiences and memories than it did back then.

        Well, duh. Near the level cap, it takes more XP to advance.

      • by wall0159 (881759) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @03:40AM (#31007304)

        There was a show on the BBC recently that was a biography of John Mortimer, who died last year at 85. He was interviewed a lot in the show and one of the methods that he advocates to stay young is to keep changing and doing new things - career changes, move city, just keep doing something new. He said that think if people can do that, they can cram more new experiences into their later years, and get more out of life.

        Seems kind of obvious, in a way, but it's amazing how many people become trapped in their own routine. Routine is what makes time pass quickly.

  • "Life is like a roll of toilet paper: the older you get, the faster it goes."
  • I knew it (Score:3, Funny)

    by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:05PM (#31005492) Homepage

    each interval of time represents a diminishing fraction of life as we age.

    I figured that out all on my own in my mid twenties. Seems like it was just yesterday.

  • my theory (Score:3, Insightful)

    by physburn (1095481) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:08PM (#31005504) Homepage Journal
    I've oft thought that you measure duration, by how many interesting events have happened in the time span, you've been measuring. Although boring times, drag by, when you in them. Looking backward you rembember so little of them, that the time has almost disappeared from you mind. Of course as you get older, there's less and less that you haven't already seen before, and so looking back time seems to be moving so much quicker.

    ---

    Psychology [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

  • Possible solution? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by v(*_*)vvvv (233078) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:30PM (#31005710)

    On a related note:

    The Secret Advantage Of Being Short [npr.org]

    So if we grow taller with age, time will remain constant.

    Brilliant!!

  • by MrCrassic (994046) <deprecated&ema,il> on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:32PM (#31005722) Journal

    Time flies when having fun, and as one gets older, one is allowed to do more fun things. People also get more responsibility as they age, so more responibilities = less time. That's my thesis; I think it's pretty good!

    • by hedwards (940851)
      That's most likely it. More time doing things you don't want to do, means more time not being bored for nothing to do. If time seems to fly for me now, it's mostly because I haven't the amount of free time I used to have.
    • I>Time flies when having fun, and as one gets older, one is allowed to do more fun things.

      By this logic, everything should be reversed; most people have a lot more fun when they're kids, and as you point out, more responsibility (thus, drudgery) as adults. Time should be practically crawling uphill by the time we're in our 30's.

      Of course, I know you're joking, but actually. . .

      -FL

  • Heard once (no reference available) that the subjective experience of a normal modern lifetime is half over by the time you reach 20. So the last 60(?) years seem as long as the first 20. Wonder if it's a linear decay or something more exotic... with only one (admittedly unsubstantiated) data point, it's impossible to know.

    • by JimboFBX (1097277)
      That's scary to think about, although realistically I think people just perceive time to be faster in retrospect and in reality they are just more patient and less fidgety as they get older. I'm sure our internal clocks do get slower as we age though.

      Could also be that the speed of our internal clock is inversely proportional to the size of our brain and directly proportional to the effectiveness of its synapses.
  • every 15 minutes it's breakfast time.
  • Porcupine Tree (Score:2, Informative)

    by npoczynek (1259228)
    Porcupine Tree's most recent album has an excellent 15 minute epic on this subject, titled "Time Flies". Check it out if you're bored one day and in the mood for some excellent modern rock.
  • It's quite obvious really. Time actually is speeding up, and has been since the big bang, at which point time was actually stopped. Thus each person gets to experience time speeding up within their own lifetime.

    The discrepancy between old people and young people at any given time is due to old people having memories of when time really was going slower, so in comparison the current rate of time feels extra fast to them.

  • 9 minutes? This seemed like hours...
  • Novelity stretches perceived time. As you grow older and most everything of your day become routine, novelity runs low and therefore time flies. This has been my theory for a few years now.
  • Mmmmyep (Score:3, Funny)

    by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @03:29AM (#31007252)

    Now I just feel old and depressed. Yay! Thanks, Slashdot!

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