Does Time Really Fly?

Does time actually speed up as we get older? For my young children, the wait between consecutive Christmases and birthdays always seemed for them like an inconceivable stretch of time. In contrast, as I get older, time appears to pass at an alarming rate, with days blending into weeks and then into months, all disappearing into the bottomless past. How many times have you been saying on a Friday: ”Where has this week gone?” And, this leads us all to exclaim that: “Time flies!”  Many have observed that the feeling that time speeds up as you get older is one of the significant mysteries of the experience of time. But, why? Well, it’s complicated, it appears…

How a clock measures time and how you perceive it are quite different. As we grow older, it can often feel like time goes by faster and faster. This speeding up of subjective time with age seem to be well documented by psychologists, but there is no consensus on the cause. (1)

One cause may be that when it comes to how we perceive time, humans can estimate the length of an event from two very different perspectives: a prospective vantage, while an event is still occurring, or a retrospective one, after it has ended. In addition, our experience of time varies with whatever we are doing and how we feel about it. In fact, time does fly when we are having fun and fully concentrating on a task. Engaging in a novel exploit makes time appear to pass more quickly in the moment.

Professor Adrian Bejan of Harvard University presents an argument based on the physics of neural signal processing. He hypothesizes that, over time and as we age, the rate at which we process visual information slows down, and this is what makes time ‘speed up’ as we grow older. (3)

So, although the time on the clock remains the same, time does appear to fly as we get older!

  1. Blog, Harvard University, March 27th, 2019.
  2. Broadway, James. Why Does Time Seem to Speed Up with Age? Scientific American, July, 2016.
  3. Ibid.

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