So, who stole the last four weeks? They have slipped by without me noticing. I know that time appears to pass more quickly the older you get, but this is getting silly. So, why do we oldies often say ‘The past few weeks have simply flown!’ ?
A quick web search pulls up an abundance of theories, but my favourite one has always been that each passing year is a smaller percentage of my life. When I was ten, school summer holidays seemed to last forever. Off on the bike with a pal to go fishing at the canal, rod tied to the crossbar, sandwiches for lunch and a bottle of pop in the saddle bag, each day lasted an eternity. One year was a tenth of my lifetime. Now that each year represents less than a sixtieth of my life, school holidays flash by. When I was 16, the five years I spent training under an apprenticeship lasted a quarter of my lifetime. But the five years since the last General Election in 2010 have whizzed past. Those five years now represent only about one twelfth of my life. So, the older I get the smaller the time intervals appear relative to my age and, probably, to my life expectation. I’m not sure when I started factoring how long I’ve got left into the equation, but it happened at some point. The difficulty here is the target. We have no idea whether we might reach it or beat it. My Mum made 59, my kid sister 47. Granddads and grandmas made it into their 80s. If I were to be told tomorrow that I only had four weeks to live, would they be the fastest four weeks of my life? Probably. Perhaps if I reckon on receiving that elusive birthday card from our Queen, each year will become a larger proportion and time might slow down for a while.
Then there’s the theory that the perceived passage of time is measured against major events. We start school, we fall out of tree, we get a new sibling or few, we go to secondary school, we suffer a broken heart, take our first trip abroad, start our first job. All those (and many more) memorable occasions are like milestones at the side of the road. But as we age, the milestones get more difficult to distinguish, and events become less important as they are often repeats of what has gone before. The milestones that do exist are spaced further apart. Did those early years seem to last longer because of all the truly memorable events crammed into them?
Another interesting idea is that as we age, we become slower at completing tasks. So what we used to achieve in a day, now takes two. Or simply gets left unfinished. Is it really us being slower, or is each hour of each day actually passing by more quickly? They are not, of course, but maybe this is one reason we think they are.
Did I mention processor speed? My knowledge of how brains work is fairly limited, but could they have a sampling rate that changes as we age? I wonder, because of the time I walked into a glass door. Bouncing off, I fell backwards, grabbing at a curtain on my way to the floor. My immediate recollection at the time was that I was falling in slow motion, as though those few seconds had been filmed with a high speed camera and I was playing them back at a normal rate. If the brain can play a trick like that, maybe there is a similar effect that makes time seem to pass more quickly as we get older. As the processor speed slows down, playing back earlier memories makes them appear to last longer than they actually did, so time now relative to then goes that little bit faster.
Best start thinking about what to get people for Christmas…