Memories Are Made Of This

I was wandering about how quickly the year is passing; it will be June already in a week or so. That got me thinking about how time seems to speed up as we age, that the days seem more fleeting than they did when I was a kid, or even a young man. And that little reverie kick-started a theory of why the passage of time should seem different at different ages.

Let us first suppose that the neural mechanism for working out how long ago an event of a known date seems to have taken place involves flipping through a catalogue of our memories and making a calculation based somehow on the amount — or “bulkiness” — of the memory pile.

Let us next suppose that one suffers from the occasional short term memory loss — a standard condition of getting older it seems — such that a wide range of time is simply not memorialized.

Thus, when the mind flips through the memory for a particular period, the file seems less “bulky” (because of the missing memories) and the time between then and now will appear to have gone past quicker.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!

3 Responses to Memories Are Made Of This

  1. Alexg says:

    I think there’s a much simpler explanation for why time seems to pass more quickly as we get older.
    When you’re 10 years old a year seems like a relatively long time – as it should because it’s a substantial portion of your life to date: 10%! But when you’re 20 years old, one year is now only half as long relative your total life: just 5%. At 40 it’s only 2.5%. At 80 it’s 1.25%.
    As you get older any given duration of time will become shorter and shorter relative to the life you have lived, so it seems only natural that we should perceive it as shorter relative to the totality of our experience, and thus the rate of time’s passage would appear to accelerate. In fact we can even quantify the rate of perceptual acceleration. Given the above proportions, at age 80 time should appear to pass 8 times faster than it does at age 10.

    • Alexg says:

      So 1 year at age 80 would be perceptually equivalent to just 6.5 weeks at age 10.
      In light of that depressing stat the appeal of life-extending technologies becomes pretty clear.

  2. jakking says:

    That seems like a reasonable explanation, too/

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