Tempus fugit

We are told that we live in a four-dimensional universe, with three spacial dimensions and time as the fourth one. I have pondered the oddity of time before – we can freely move between the other three dimensions, but time just goes in one direction.

An open question is how fast does time move? That might sound silly, as a second is a second, a day is a day – time just advances at the speed that it does. However, it does not feel like that. Our perception of the rate at which time passes is far from constant …

A young person recently asked me whether it was true that time passes faster for an adult than does for a child. I explained that it gets faster and faster as you get older. I could even tell her why this is the case.

To perceive the passage of time, we need a reference point – something to compare it against. The only thing that we really have is our own life span. The speed at which a time interval seems to pass depends upon what percentage of your life it represents. So, for example, to a 5 year old, a year seems like a very long time – it is 20% of the child’s life. However, to a 50 year old, the years skip by – each is only 2% of their life. If only one could learn to compare against something else instead of life span.

There is another phenomenon where the passage of time seems to proceed in an odd way. People have reported that their recollection of the events around a very traumatic experience – like a near-fatal car crash – seem to be in slow motion. A theory is that this is because the brain takes in information at a specific rate – so many “frames per second” – such that it can process the information and commit to memory etc. However, as such a time of crisis, the data acquisition rate is increased so that the maximum amount of data may be collected to give the best chance of being able to figure out an escape plan. Just like a film, which has been shot at a high speed and played back normally, the memory recollection is in slowmo. Again, if only there was a way to harness this capability.


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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/embedded-software/2011/06/23/tempus-fugit/