Proposing Physical, Neurological Explanations for Age-Related Differences in the Perception of the Passage of Time

Why does the perception of the passage of time change with age? Having glanced through the short paper referenced in these publicity materials, it has the look of another of the many airy theories on the operation of the mind that must wait around for however long it takes for neuroscience to advance to the point of being able to say anything sensible about how perceived experience relates to physical structure and cellular biology. Still, one has to start somewhere. Final answers and understanding must be preceded by theories that prompt lines of investigation. That theorizing will start out entirely unsupported, and only incrementally become better and more scientific. We shouldn't be holding our collective breath waiting on those final answers, of course. They are quite the long way away.

A researcher has suggested that the perception that days last longer in childhood can be blamed on the ever-slowing speed at which images are obtained and processed by the human brain as the body ages. This phenomenon is attributed to physical changes in the aging human body. As tangled webs of nerves and neurons mature, they grow in size and complexity, leading to longer paths for signals to traverse. As those paths then begin to age, they also degrade, giving more resistance to the flow of electrical signals. These phenomena cause the rate at which new mental images are acquired and processed to decrease with age. This is evidenced by how often the eyes of infants move compared to adults - because infants process images faster than adults, their eyes move more often, acquiring and integrating more information.

The end result is that, because older people are viewing fewer new images in the same amount of actual time, it seems to them as though time is passing more quickly. "The human mind senses time changing when the perceived images change. The present is different from the past because the mental viewing has changed, not because somebody's clock rings. Days seemed to last longer in your youth because the young mind receives more images during one day than the same mind in old age."



There might be a small effect as the kids are more alert and active. But the fact is that the mundane life is boring and effectively uneventful, so there is nothing special to remember. A few years can pass and be essentially the same. Now, if the brain function and memory are declining then that effect gets aggravated. But no need to bring aging to the main topic. It is simply that the boring experience doesn't live bright memories. Therefore no events are recalled, and it seems that the time flies. On the other hand one trip can live more lasting and bright memories than a year of work...

Posted by: cuberat at March 26th, 2019 10:39 AM

I've had a theory about this for a while. It may be that the perception of time is at least somewhat determined by the density of unique memories one holds between two points in time. Life tends to get more routine in later life compared to youth, and the number of new things under the sun decreases and fall more easily into previously adopted patterns. For me, that is partly why I seek out novelty and innovation.

Posted by: Tom Schaefer at March 26th, 2019 10:49 AM

Beat me by 10 minutes cuberat. I think we are saying the same thing.

Posted by: Tom Schaefer at March 26th, 2019 10:51 AM

I would say you articulated it better. Ask the kids watching cartoons if the time flies...

Posted by: Cuberat at March 26th, 2019 11:55 AM

Kids can't wait to grow up to do their own thing, so they're always bored and time goes slow for them.
Adults do their own thing and want time to slow down but it never does. Kids don't read this forum, just us adults because we'd do just about anything to remain young and healthy. Kids have that in spades and are anxious to dispose of it. I was once a kid myself, so I know. I also have a young daughter and I guarantee I see more images than she does since she sleeps away several hours more per day than I do.

Posted by: jeremyon at March 26th, 2019 1:40 PM

I was always under the impression that it has to do with valuing time less as we experience its passage. 1 hour is a longer amount of time relative to a child's life as compared to that of an adult.

Likewise $100 seemed like a lot to me when I was young but now that I make several times that amount in a week it seems like a relatively small amount. Likewise Jeff Bezos probably thinks that my annual salary's worth is an inconsequential amount of money.

Posted by: blackmage at March 27th, 2019 7:44 PM


He might be right to think the same of the total bet worth of all the visitors of this site too...

Posted by: Cuberat at March 27th, 2019 8:21 PM
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