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When I was a child, I was about eight years old, and I went to climb on a house that was under construction in our neighborhood.
So I stepped up to the edge and I fell, and the fall seemed to take a very long time.
So then I was looking down at the ground, watching the red brick floor come towards me.
And once I hit the ground, then I went unconscious, but it got me interested in the question of how we perceive time.
When I grew up and I became a neuroscientist.
What I realized was we all come into the world with this idea that time is just a river that's flowing forward in one direction at a fixed speed.
But what we know is that it can be different in your head and in my head.
Because it's somehow a psychological construct, time.
In other words, your brain is locked in silence and darkness inside the vault of your skull, and its job is to figure out what's happening outside but it has to do a lot of editing tricks.
Your vision and your hearing process signals at different speeds.
And yet, when you see something like a balloon pop or somebody clapping their hands, it appears as though the sight and sound are synchronised.
And what that means is the brain has to be collecting all the information before it puts together a final story and serves that up to your conscious perception.
It's like there's a buffer where it looks for other signals coming up the pipeline, and as a result, it means that we're all living a little bit in the past.
What we think is happening right now has actually already transpired some time ago, probably in the ballpark of about half a second ago.
In the lab, if I show you a photograph for half a second on the screen and then I show you that same photograph again for half a second and then again and again and again.
And now I show you a different photograph for the same amount of time.
It will seem as though the new photograph, the oddball, stays on the screen for a much longer time.
Essentially, when the brain sees something that's novel, it has to burn more energy to represent it because it wasn't expecting that.
This feeling that things are going in slow motion is a trick of memory.
In other words, when you're in an emergency situation, a part of the brain called the amygdala comes online.
This is your emergency control center.
It lays down memories on what amounts to a secondary memory track.
These are very dense memories.
And you're noticing everything around you and writing it all down.
So when the brain reads that back out, there's such a density of memory there, that the brain's only conclusion is that must have taken a long time.
And I think this offers an explanation for why people think that time seems to speed up as they grow older.
And it's because when you're a child, everything's new to you.
You're figuring out the rules of the world.
You're writing down a lot of memory.
And so when you look back at the end of a year, you have a lot of memory of what you've learned.
But when you're much older, and you look back at the end of the year, you're probably doing approximately the same stuff you've been doing for the X number of previous years.
And so it seems like the year just went by in a flash.
Really the way to feel as though you've lived longer is to seek novelty.
So you can start with something simple, like putting your wristwatch on your other hand or brushing your teeth with your other hand.
Something this simple just forces the brain into a new mode where it can't predict exactly what's going to happen but instead has to be engaged.
And what that means is when you go to bed at night time, you have a lot of footage to draw upon and it feels like your life is lasting longer.
Thanks for watching.
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Why time seems to fly as you get older | BBC Ideas

965 Folder Collection
Annie Chien published on March 30, 2020    Annie Chien translated    adam reviewed
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