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 is well documented by psychologists, but there is no consensus on the cause. In a paper published this month, Professor Adrian Bejan presents an argument based on the physics of neural signal processing. He hypothesizes that, over time, the rate at which we process visual information slows down, and this is what makes time ‘speed up’ as we grow older.

As we age, he argues, the size and complexity of the networks of neurons in our brains increases – electrical signals must traverse greater distances and thus signal processing takes more time. Moreover, ageing causes our nerves to accumulate damage that provides resistance to the flow of electric signals, further slowing processing time. Focusing on visual perception, Bejan posits that slower processing times result in us perceiving fewer ‘frames-per-second’ – more actual time passes between the perception of each new mental image. This is what leads to time passing more rapidly.When we are young, each second of actual time is packed with many more mental images. Like a slow-motion camera that captures thousands of images per second, time appears to pass more slowly.

As he puts it: “People are often amazed at how much they remember from days that seemed to last forever in their youth. It’s not that their experiences were much deeper or more meaningful, it’s just that they were being processed in rapid fire.”

Bejan’s argument is intuitive and based on simple principles of physics and biology. As such, it is a compelling explanation for this common phenomenon. However, it is not the only explanation out there, and so a more rigorous experimental approach may be required before this mystery is solved for good.

Managing Correspondent: Rory Maizels

Original article: Why the Days Seem Shorter as We Get Older – European Review

Media coverage: It’s spring already? Physics explains why time flies as we age – Science Daily; Physics explains why time passes faster as you age – Quartz

Image Credit: Aron Visuals

8 thoughts on “No, It’s Not Just You: Why time “speeds up” as we get older

  1. I am 64 years old and have noticed how time seems to be flying by. As a result, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. I believe a good part of this has to do with perception. If my life span was 250 years long, I do not think that time would appear to be flying by.

    1. That’s one of the reasons I never accept the theory that we are the some total of our experience, the Doctor is convinced humans are biologic computers and being human is much more than that! For instance all life down to the smallest virus contain information stored in the DNA, Doctor!

  2. All i want to say that my elementary school lasted forever, as well as days in a high school. Times began to fly when in a college.

  3. Death and a Black Hole have common traits. Time moves faster as we get nearer our time of death. Just as an object gets nearer a Black Hole the faster it travels. Death is the non-existence of time as is the object that travels into a Black Hole approaching non-existence.

  4. I am 20 and my birthday is in 3 months time, more and more it feels like days turn into weeks and months just fly by. My 20th b day seems like it was about 5 months ago. Depressing me big time

  5. Part of the experience is possibly the lack of novelty and the deterioration of comprehension. The inability to fully absorb oneself into events so that they subjectively integrate more slowly so that Comprehenion and reality are out of phase.

  6. The speed of time is dependent on the processing of data from the environment…as we age less changes so we process the environment with less data… less data less time to process it… less time spent in 3D reality where time is experienced

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