Time. It’s the one thing we can’t control, change, or do over again. It’s a kind of untradeable currency that, once spent, is gone forever and can’t be earned back. Every moment is either a gift or a torment, depending on the circumstances and those who experience them. Each of us feels its passage differently and it never affects two people the same way.
According to Albert Einstein, time is relative to the observer. It’s precisely because of that statement that I offer this one. Time doesn’t actually exist at all. You read that right. We often think of time as a thing, a constant, a hard and fast rule. But in reality, time is but a human construct developed more than 5,000 years ago to allow for planning communal events and to regulate agricultural schedules.
Put more simply, when two people needed to arrive at the same point, at the same time, it created the need for a standard measurement of available daylight. At least, that’s how it started. Today, we “measure” time using a clock, a device that evolved from sundials, water clocks, and hourglasses. But, just maybe, it’s all in our minds and time is as much perception as precision.
Case in point, the phrase, “Time flies when you’re having fun,” or, “A watched pot never boils.” I’m partial to the old Groucho Marx line, “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” Whatever the saying, we all experience this thing we call time a little differently, even if we are not consciously aware of it.
As we age, time often feels like it’s passing more quickly than in our youth. Most people don’t notice it until they hit their 30s or maybe not until their 40s. In theory, like the one Albert suggested, we all experience the passage of time subjectively and mentally categorize it by a variety of milestones.
You might think of various point in your life based the job you had. Someone else could remember dates and locations because of the relationship they were in at the time, or how old their kids were.
All of this depends on our own perception of the years whizzing past us, like watching telephone poles click by outside the window of a moving car. But it still begs the question, why does time seem to pass more quickly as we age? Well, it turns out there are many theories, and maybe even scientific research to support a medical explanation.
According to WebMD, a 2019 research paper suggests our ability to process visual information slows with age. The theory is that we perceive fewer mental images as we grow older, so, again from a relative perspective, time feels like it’s speeding up.
There are still others who believe the phenomenon is more closely related to how long we have lived. For example, a 5-year-old might think a year is a very long time because it makes up such a large percentage of their lifetime.
That’s an interesting concept, but I’m not convinced a young child has any real perception of time in the first place. Think about it, how often do parents on car trips hear, “Are we there yet,” groaned from the backseat, regardless of the distance? Remember, the “clock” must be integrated into our day-to-day lives before we really have a sense of time. But, what do
I know? It feels like it takes weeks to write one of these articles, when it’s really only a couple of hours. Which brings us to my own theory.
As Einstein said, everything about time is relative to the observer. If you put a stopwatch on the kettle, given the same burner and volume of water, it will take exactly the same amount of time to reach its boiling point however many times you fire it up – whether you’re paying attention or not.
My point is that it’s the clock keeping track of time, not us. Mathematicians and theoretical physicists may sharply disagree, but I insist that time simply doesn’t exist outside our own minds. We have enslaved ourselves to a mechanical device that has nothing to do whatsoever with any physically manifested natural element.
Gery Deer is a Greene County resident and columnist. He can be reached at www.gldcommunications.com.