popular science

why time “flies” as we age

I know you feel me.
We’ve just blinked and somehow it’s the middle of May?
There’s no cure for faster time passing as we age, but can I offer you some science of why time passes faster as we age?

As we grow older, it often feels like time flies. Yes, it’s absolutely subjective, but speeding up time with age is well-known and documented by psychologists. Yet, experts are not on the same page on why this happens. One possible explanation is based on the physics of neural signal processing.

Duke University mechanical engineering professor Adrian Bejan explains the physics behind changing senses of time and reveals why the days seem shorter the older we get.

Bejan hypothesizes that, over time, the rate at which we process visual information slows down (you don’t try new things = no new experiences!), and this is what makes time “speed up” as we grow older.

Basically, it’s the new stuff we remember most.

The size and complexity of the networks of neurons in our brains increase as we age – electrical signals travel greater distances, so their processing takes more time.

Let me break this down for you: slower processing times result in us perceiving fewer ‘frames-per-second’. The fewer frames you see per second the faster the image seems to move.

And something else, too – aging causes nerve damage accumulation which provides resistance to the flow of electric signals and further slows processing time.

In contrast, when you were a kid, each second of actual time is packed with so many mental images, because every day brings new experiences. Like a slow-motion camera that captures thousands of images per second, time appears to pass more slowly.

Moreover, in regards to days feeling much longer when you were younger, children’s cognition and neural processing are less developed than in adults, meaning new stimuli take longer to register and become familiar and there is more of a disconnect between an internal clock and the genuine passage of time.

“We gauge time by memorable events and fewer new things occur as we age to remember, making it seem like childhood lasted longer”, neurologist and neuroscientist Santosh Kesari says to NBC.

As she highlights, people are less likely to experience entirely new things and sensations as they get older – we tend to remember something that we’ve done just once and never before more vividly than something we’ve done a hundred times over. In other words, our brains stack time together when the days or weeks are similar.

Research conducted by psychologist Clifford N. Lazarus proves that time really does fly, and judging by current findings, the best way to combat it is by going out and doing new things.

So, with all this being said and done, we still need more research before this time-flying mystery as we age is truly solved.

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