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Why Time Flies By As You Get Older 252

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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  • Michio Kaku (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MorderVonAllem ( 931645 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:06PM (#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.
  • Re:Ugh... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Denis Lemire ( 27713 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:14PM (#31004960) Homepage

    Are you sure you'd want to? The typical work-day is longer than the typical adolescent school day... On the other hand, school doesn't bring a paycheck... Let me ponder this a bit longer before we make a deal.

  • by biryokumaru ( 822262 ) * <> on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:22PM (#31005048)

    The immortal Bill Watterson described [] that effect best.

  • by MystHunter ( 1211360 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:31PM (#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.
  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:35PM (#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 dov_0 ( 1438253 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:40PM (#31005246)
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:57PM (#31005430)

    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..)

  • Possible solution? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by v(*_*)vvvv ( 233078 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:30AM (#31005710)

    On a related note:

    The Secret Advantage Of Being Short []

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


  • by MrCrassic ( 994046 ) <deprecated AT ema DOT il> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:32AM (#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!

  • Re:Perception (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CptNerd ( 455084 ) <> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:38AM (#31005754) Homepage
    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 looking for things on the Internet, and can spend hours randomly surfing Youtube. I don't read as many books as I used to, and except for the odd photography magazine I've bailed out on magazines altogether. About all I read in book form now are manga takubon, and maybe 8 or 9 times a year I'll re-read one of my paperbacks. I study Japanese for about an hour a night after work, and work days drag on and on. I just got back from Christmas vacation with my family about 4 weeks ago, and it seems like 4 months. It may be that I perceive the time when I'm not doing things I want to do as taking longer than things I do, like time off from work. The time between vacations feels like forever.

    I don't know, all I know is time seems to go by at the same rate as it did back when I was in college 30 years ago, so maybe it's a good thing.
  • by Pike ( 52876 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:03AM (#31005966) Homepage Journal

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

  • Re:Michio Kaku (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:19AM (#31006086) Homepage Journal

    57 seconds. And I would have been within a couple of seconds a decade ago, too. Most musicians tend to have a fairly good concept of tempo. There was a stretch in the 30s and 40s where I felt like I was rushing, and apparently I was. Didn't quite compensate enough in the 50s.

    I figure the younger people were just grumbling and thinking, "I gotta get this over with so I can do something more interesting." By contrast, the older folks were probably bored, and got distracted. I wonder how many of the older people counted for longer because they counted a decade twice.

    Or, to be a smart aleck, for some of the oldest folks, "Uh... what was after 14? Oh, yeah. 14. Uh.. what was after 14?" :-D

    I keed! I keed!

  • by gundersd ( 787946 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:48AM (#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.

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

    by nmb3000 ( 741169 ) <> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:12AM (#31006420) 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...

  • Re:Ugh... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by keeboo ( 724305 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:18AM (#31006454)

    For what it's worth, I still disagree with the guy but there's got to be some advantage to your youth, if nothing else, think of all the abysmal 1980s technology you skipped right over!

    Bugger that! Think of all the abysmal 1980s music you skipped over. (...)

    Sometimes it feels I'm the only one who liked the 1980s...
    Those were the times of Cindy Lauper, (young) Madonna, A-Ha and pop-things alike.
    Those were the golden years of 8-bit computing. Machines like Amiga, Mac etc were created in that decade.
    Those were the years of Gorbachev, Thatcher, Khomeini... The video of Genesis' "Land of Confusion" was hilarious.
    The girls were colorful and with crazy hairs...
    It was shamelessly stupid and joyful.

    The 1970s OTOH, were overrated IMO (I'm glad I was too young to experience that).
    Bell pants? Afro-power microphone-like hair? Beatles gone? Progressive rock? Hippies getting older?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:22AM (#31006472)

    My grandmother is 94 years old and I asked her if time slows down when you get older, ie: after retirement age, and she said it does. Hence the speed of time is all relative to how busy someone is.

  • by shawb ( 16347 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @03:20AM (#31006816)
    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 fun or taking cares of responsibilities does not seem to matter) it feels like Friday was a long time ago when I get into work on Monday, but if I sit around and have a lazy weekend then on Sunday night it feels like I just got out of work and I start dreading Monday morning a bit.

    On a slightly different note, I have found a way to dispel the feeling that time is flying by without you; think of some memorable event several months to a year or so ago. For instance think back to Halloween of last year. Or the fourth of July. Or Easter. To me then all of a sudden a sense arises of how many things have happened to me between then and now that somehow doesn't come about when just trying to think of what happened in the last year without putting in those time pacing events. But you do have to be careful of what time period you think about. Thinking about an event less than a month ago just makes me think "is the month almost up already?" while an event more than a year ago is generally relegated to ancient history in my mind and the time passed simply becomes an foggy amorphous expanse. Plus, I usually don't seem to carry much memory of the emotional impact of the event itself, almost as though it happened to someone else.
  • by wall0159 ( 881759 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @04:40AM (#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.

  • Re:Michio Kaku (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @08:43AM (#31008476)

    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 faster -- and I don't think it's because an internal switch been flicked when I was 17 -- more likely I just enjoyed what I was doing more. Even college was faster, maybe the flexible classes or that almost 80% was what you chose, not what was foisted upon you.

    It might also explain why time after school, weekends, and vacations went by so fast for me as a kid.

  • by BranMan ( 29917 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:47PM (#31011452)
    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.

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.