Tech & Science

Physicist Explains Why Time Really Does Seem to Go Faster As We Get Older

Does it feel as if time passes quicker and quicker as you grow older? You’re not alone, according to a scientist who has offered a theory explaining this common sensation. 

As we age, our bodies process the information we take in from our surroundings at a slower rate, Adrian Bejan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, said. In turn, this means we consume fewer images than when we were younger, creating the feeling that time is going by faster.

The professor said this idea also explains why some days feel longer than others and why our minds get distracted by unusual experiences rather than those we encounter regularly. 

Our brain doesn’t perceive time equally to how we measure it, according to Bejan. The result is the sensation of the “mind time” versus “clock time,” Bejan said in his study published in the journal European Review.

The “mind time” is made up of a series of images, or “reflections of nature that are fed by stimuli from sensory organs,” Bejan wrote.

And how often we experience saccades (where the eyes move quickly between two points), the size of our bodies and the pathways in the body all change over time. Our nets of nerves and neurons grow bigger and more complex. Signals must shoot along longer and older pathways, making them harder to pick up. 

Bejan explained: "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."

He continued: "People are often amazed at how much they remember from days that seemed to last forever in their youth. It's not that their experiences were much deeper or more meaningful; it's just that they were being processed in rapid fire."

Bejan is not the first scientist to investigate this phenomenon. American biologist Robert B. Sothern, for instance, has recorded factors such as his heart rate and blood pressure and tried to guess the length of a minute five times a day for over 45 years. According to the BBC, his anecdotal experiment has shown that over time his guesses have become less accurate and time seems faster.

Claudia Hammond, the author of Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception, wrote on the BBC website: “Part of the reason is that as we get older life inevitably brings fewer fresh experiences, and more routines. Because we use the number of new memories we form to gauge how much time has passed, an average week that doesn’t loom large in the memory gives the illusion that time is shrinking.”

Hammond suggested a rather pleasant potential fix: Fill your time with new and exciting experiences.

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