An old man I once knew said as he got older “seasons become weeks; the years like seasons” – a good metaphorical bit of wisdom, that last. But as I’ve grown older I’ve seen the truth of his words; time does seem to fly faster the older you get. Why?, I wondered. What made the endless summers of my youth turn into a few blinks of the eye; the time period of a year go from ‘forever’ when I was a child to ‘just around the corner’ now that I’m nearing fifty? So I took a hard look at the subject and came up with a theory – one that, if true, means that the first day of your life was the longest day of all.
“Time is relative” – Einstein’s old theory – seems to hold true not only in physics, but in memory and our perceptions of time. Each day you live means that the previous days represent a smaller and smaller fraction of time in your life as a whole.
For instance: when you were born, the first day of your life was the entire span of your life – and you perceived it at such. When you were seven days old, that first day became one-seventh of your life. A month later – one-thirtyth of your life. A smaller and smaller fraction.
As a one year old, one year represented your entire life – therefore the idea of a year would represent a lifetime. A day? Not so much – 1/365th of your life. When you were ten years old, one year was a tenth of your life – still a long time, relatively speaking, and a day was 1/3650th of your life – a smaller fraction in your perceptions. But when you get to be thirty – a year is only one-thirtyth of your life; at fifty, one-fiftyth of your life. From your own personal perspective a year becomes a shorter and shorter thing – and when viewed against the entirety of your life, they start to fly by quicker and quicker even though in reality the length of time hasn’t changed.
It appears that we each view our lifespans in a relative fashion, based upon the amount of time we’ve already lived – and as time goes on, our perception of time changes. What was once a ‘long time’ in our lives (say those endless summers of youth) – were in fact perceived against the total time we’d been alive. And as we live longer, that time span ‘shrinks’ in our perception because that time span represents a smaller and smaller fraction of our overall experience. Summers become seasons, and seasons, weeks. A relative perception.
And going by that, our first day – it lasted a lifetime. Now, at fifty, a day is represents 1/18250th of a lifetime. A big difference, conceptually speaking.
And for that old man, who had lived eighty seasons – a season became 1/320th of his life, whereas those ‘endless days of summer’ we remember as a ten year old child was only 1/40th of our life. So in a sense while the length of a day doesn’t change – our perception of that day (or month or year) is measured against the ruler of our life – a ruler which grows every day.
That, I think, is the reason time flies faster as you get older. A strange concept – but everyone I’ve talked to, as they get their head wrapped around it, agrees.
Time to fly now, I reckon. Because while time doesn’t change, it appears our perception of time certainly does.