Time flies when you’re having fun, so the saying goes. And it goes by quicker as you get older, and apparently when you have kids as well. I wrote the first draft of this blog because I’d been kicked out of my own living room, literally – L wanted to be by herself apparently. Charming.
I get her need for space this afternoon though. She was with her dad overnight and there’s a new baby there plus visiting grandparents; she’s had school the rest of the time along with a few hours with her busy childminder. She needs space from people, it’s not personal, she’s a mini-me after all and she can’t cope with non-stop human interaction. There has to be space to just be. But for me it feels like only moments since she was so very tiny and wanted to be around me all the time. The then-constant ‘mummy, mummy, mummy’ is tapering off, unless she wants something or gets too tired. This is only going to get more pronounced as she gets older. She’s growing up so fast, it feels like a few moments and a distant memory, both at once, of when she was a tiny baby with that delicious new baby smell.
Sometimes you just want things to slow down so you can enjoy them more, you want to tell time to stop rushing, slow down, let me breathe this in, let me breathe in your smell, let me just listen to you, because I don’t know when I’ll get to experience it again. Sometimes I just want to hit pause.
But time doesn’t work like that. There is no pause button, if there were it would be chaos.
So many things this past year that have felt like they’ve just zipped by. The new role I’ve had this year is closing in on a full cycle for this academic year, and still it feels like only a few days since I started. The only way I know it’s not been a few days are my confidence levels, which are considerably better than at the start of the academic year. I saw someone I’ve not seen in months, and until then it had felt like an eternity since we’d seen each other or spoken to each other; but now that I’ve seen him again it feels like 5 minutes since we last spoke. Which is all good as far as that connection goes, clearly, but time flies, and sometimes it feels like there’s never enough of it. The next time can’t come soon enough. But in contrast to that, it feels like I’ve lived up north forever, not just a mere seven years. My old life feels like a distant memory sometimes, almost like another lifetime. It feels so distant and I can barely even remember who I was back then – so much has changed, including me.
Physicists and philosophers aren’t the only ones who study time, psychologists do too. A colleague of mine knows far more than me, but here’s a quick mention of the bits I know about. Time is something we perceive and the things we do during time are processed by our brains. All elements relating to the perception of time are neurological at their core. As we learn things we have to form new neural connections in our brain; this takes time. Once we have learned this information, task or behaviour those connections become more secure and develop into ‘strong’ connections. Then we use these connections to learn more things relating to the original information, task or behaviour. Once we have learned a lot about a task we then learn the easiest way to do this, creating short-cuts between the different strong connections. As a result we use these shortcuts and the ‘long route’ isn’t used anymore and becomes weaker. The original connections disappear and the new, quicker, connection remains.
So as we get older we develop a brain that relies on shortcuts (heuristics), and the time spent thinking about doing tasks literally gets shorter. This means that the reason it feels like some things take less time than they used to do, is because they do. At a neurological level there is less processing happening and our greater use of heuristics means we spend less time thinking about what we are doing, so we perceive it as taking less time in reality. Our perception of time lies in the brain.
Time is a construct, it’s the 4th dimension. Some argue time is an illusion, some that it is constant. Time does appear to move faster at altitude. Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity led to the theory of gravity, and it seems that gravity and acceleration are part of the same continuum, and gravity slows down time and particles. This concept is known as time dilation and is the part of Einstein’s theory that means we might one day be able to see into the future. Not that anyone can right now, the sort of device built in the film ‘Paycheck’ isn’t going to be real any time soon.
So gravity has the effect of appearing to slow down the measurement of time at least, and time can be altered by our own brains, but also technically is still a constant since the universe doesn’t really care how we measure time, things just keep ticking on regardless of the number we assign it.
The perception that time is constant is something we all think exists, but reality is a construct in itself, a construct we create of all the things we perceive and perceive ourselves to have experienced. This reality construct we create is something we don’t realise plays tricks on us, perception can be a funny thing. Even understanding how perceptual illusions work, and why we’re being fooled, doesn’t make them any less powerful. I can explain how the Penrose Triangle and Kanisza Square illusions work, but I still can’t do anything but see them the same way you do. Time is just the same, our perceptions of time are both that it’s a constant and speeding up. Our brains are quite happy with this contradiction, even though it makes no logical sense for the two concepts to co-exist.
Time feeling like it speeding forwards is sometimes a good thing, because spaces between seeing people we care about become shorter. But being busy helps time pass so if the time feels like it’s dragging then the trick is to keep busy and you’ll perceive time to fly! Then we get to see them again in what can feel like the blink of an eye. But what we actually want is for slow time down at that point, when we’re in a happy place, with people we care about or doing things we enjoy. And of course it can’t.
If we want time to speed up and take us to the next thing we’re looking forward to, we risk being so busy we miss out on the things that life is all about between the two time points. If we can speed up time, we can slow it down too. By doing new things, by getting to know people we don’t know very well, by learning new things, we can make it seem like time is slowing down. Routine and knowledge is what speeds our perception of time up, novelty slows it down.
And I’m all for learning more, doing new things and slowing down to appreciate the little things that make life good. L might have told me she needs space, but that just means I’m doing a good job of raising her to be an independent woman who doesn’t need to rely on anyone, and isn’t afraid to be by herself, just like her mum. She’s one secure kid. That’s a good thing for both of us. It might feel like ages until I see the person I mentioned earlier again, but it’s not really, and that time will come soon enough. And I love my life up here, it’s where I feel at home and happy, so I don’t mind that my old life is a distant memory, particularly as it means the bad memories feel further away.
Time does feel like it flies sometimes, and nothing we can do can really stop it. We can slow down sometimes and appreciate the moments for what they are though. Life isn’t short but it can feel like it is, so hug quickly, and slow down and smell the roses.