Time speeds up

The Pilot and I spent New Years Eve with my grandparents, two great-aunts and a great-uncle. It was a lovely party. Lots of sparkling wine and merriment.

As always happens on New Years, we got onto the topic of how fast the years seem to go these days. This is a perfectly reasonable conversation to have on New Years Eve. The sense of vertigo experienced by the racing years is, I assume, more severe among those who have more decades than I do.

This is the topic of my post for today. I would like to clear this issue up once and for all. The years go faster every one that passes because of mathematical relativity.

When you’re a kid, Sunday afternoons go for ages and the summer holidays stretch out forever. When you’re older, the years start to zip by. The reason for this is very simple.

We think of years being of all the same length because from an objective perspective, they are. A year is made up of twelve months, 365.25 days, each of these days has 24 hours in it. Years seem like discrete units of time, made up of smaller discrete units of time.

But from a relative perspective, the years are shorter the more you have of them. Think about it: does a fly that has a lifecycle of 28 days think, “Wow my life only goes for less than 1/12th of a year! I better make every minute count!”

I doubt it. That’s their whole life period. They’re not thinking of it in terms of a year, because all they have are days. (That is, if flies think about time).

For a four-year-old, a year is a quarter of her life. So she will experience it differently from a 74-year-old, for whom a year is 1/74th of her life.

We think about life as if it is lived on the calendar, which has the same dimensions every day. The days are the same size and the calendars are the same size. But we don’t actually experience it like that. We only have the years that we have experienced. So it feels more like this…

My experience of time when I was four:

1988 1989 1990 1991


My experience of time when I was ten:

1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997

And when I tried to do the same thing with my 27 years, the table automatically went into two rows, so the smallness of the years couldn’t be depicted. But from these simple diagrams, you can understand this concept. So the next time someone says to you, “The years seem like they just keep getting faster” you can reply, “That’s because they are.”


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