Thursday, August 06, 2009

Age and the perception of time

Over the last few years, as the perceived pace of life has quickened around me, I have developed the notion that the illusion of years passing more quickly as we get older is all about proportion.

When I was 4, it seemed like forever before I got to be 5. But then, the year from 4 to 5 added another 25% onto my entire lifespan. When I considered all my experience - which was even less than the starting 4 year point because my earliest conscious memories are from when I was about 3 - that year from 4 to 5 was a very substantial part of it. In contrast, I will soon be 39, and the time to get from 38 to 39 seems to have flown past at a rate of knots. But then, the year from 38 to 39 represents only 2.6% of my entire life experience.

I think because we hold memories of what has gone before, our experience is always diluted depending on how much is in that store. With only a little in the store, between 4 and 5, another year is a significant contribution. With a lot already in the store, one more year makes little difference.

Another way of looking at it is to compare one's life experience to a pie that gets cut up into slices, one for each year. When you're 4, those are big slices. By the time you're 38 or 39, the slices are getting pretty thin. Each year, individual slices become less significant, just as each year, the year itself becomes less significant in the scheme of things, and seems to go by very quickly because, hey, it's just another year.

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