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

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

  1. You can’t just look at everything from a humanistic perspective, I’ve yet to hear from anyone that can see things from a spiritual perspective. Witch is the parent force that births everything that is tangible in this physical visible world 🤔

  2. To a ten year old one year is one 10th of their life . But 1 year for a 40 yr old is just 1 out of 40 . Since it’s such a small part it seemingly goes faster

  3. I agree with all this. In addition, I think that children can change one’s timelines. I was a home mum for the first 5 years of my children’s lives and that time went very slowly. When they went to school, there was so much to get involved with as a parent and schooling, the child’s development and milestones, while also dealing with one’s reignited career, housekeeping and so forth. So blink of an eye and they are suddenly finished with school. By that stage, we become aware suddenly that almost 20 years of our lives are gone and it almost doesn’t seem real seeing your own kids at the ages that we held our own memories before we had children, as those memories before children were the last time you were you for yourself in your own individual right. Then, by the time we get over the shock of 20 years gone from our own life, simultaneously grappling with concepts of empty nesting, another few years pass. Suddenly, one is at a point of looking back, but also looking forward, but the looking forward holds fewer years to a time when we thought as young adults that time was infinite. As such, I now find myself more aware of time, and how many potential good healthy years may be left, and I now have a certain level of anxiety that I don’t want to waste that time, but inadvertently I am, as I don’t know how to fill that time to it’s best and fullest. And as Gary said, we can’t fathom until the end just how short even a long life can be.

    1. Infinity, you nailed it. That’s exactly how I feel. About to turn 63 and thinking : where did the last 30 years go? LOL…

  4. I told my grown son about this a few years ago – he is 37 now and finally really experiencing this phenomenon. But I also have younger children, 17 and 19. I told my youngest about this and reminded her to enjoy all while she can.
    The sad thing is, I remember more of my eldest’s childhood than that of my younger two – because I was younger. Raising two more starting in my 40’s … it has just flown by and I feel like I missed so much though I have been there every step of the way.

  5. man- 2020 was already almost 4 year ago..my pet died already 5 years ago and i havent even realized it ..i fell in love 2 years ago but i feel like i just yesterday fell in love :,[ so yh time is ma friend but its hard

  6. I find that when not much change is taking place in life, time seems to go very slowly but when I look back at that time, it seems to have flown by because there is nothing to show for it in my memory. When a lot is happening, time seems to fly by, but when I look back at it, it seems like things happened further back then they actually did because my memory is filled with many experiences. I think there is a difference between how we experience time as it is happening versus how we experience it when reflecting on the past.

    1. I have another theory. Maybe because children have the shock of being in school which is like a forced-labor jail to them. Stick someone in a jail cell and they count the seconds till they’re released. But slow as that is, a kid could pass the time daydreaming through. But give him forced labor in the form of hyper-boring lessons and assignments, each second will feel like five or ten, the day will seem like an eternity. Who has not looked at a classroom clock that read 8:47 a.m., inwardly despairing “will this day never end??” Then, after what seems like 3 eternities, the child looks up at the clock, which now reads 8:49. Each day the interminable minutes tick by, slooooooooooooooowly……day after day, week after week, month after month……. until FINALLY a 3 day vacation (well, over in a snap!! Where did it go?

      So my theory is that most of childhood is spent imprisoned in school, and that shocking experience engraves itself on the child’s mind, having replaced the unstructured free-flowing experiences of pre-school childhood. As one becomes an adult, there is usually less prison. Unless you have a gruesomely unpleasant or tedious job. Then it’s like school and you’re in slow moving prison again. The more of your life you enjoy and control, the faster it goes by. The less you enjoy and control, the slower it goes by.

      1. Yeah I think most people would agree with that, and I also think it’s fairly common knowledge, that experiencing anything enjoyable, seems to go by fast, and never seems to last long enough, and yet if it’s something unpleasant, time drags on, and doesn’t seem to want to come to an end. But there’s another dimension to it, what if you’re retired, and neither bored, not experiencing anything unpleasant or anything particularly exciting, and when I look at the clock, I’m astounded at how much time had passed since I last looked at it.
        When I was in my mid to late 40s, I remember commenting to my Dad, that I had finally discovered, that what he had said many years earlier, that time goes faster when you get older, was absolutely correct, and he just smiled at me. Maybe the reason he smiled, was because he knew that I still hadn’t come to a full realization, for how much faster it was going to get. But I think I realize it much better now, because time is moving incredibly faster at age 75, than it was at 47. But I suspect it hasn’t reached full speed yet, and if I continue to live as long as my Dad did, to 91, or whatever age, I don’t think anyone fully realizes the brevity of time, and how short, even a very long life really is, until they’ve reached the end.

        1. I agree, Gary. I gave my dad a birthday card at age 65 that said “Happy 65th Birthday. Soon you’ll be 75.” He scowled at me. Now I’ll be 65 in two years. Now I know why he scowled at me. Been retired going on 3 years and have no idea how I got everything done when I worked full time for over 40 years!! Before I know it, it’s time to prepare dinner. Rinse and repeat. Great insights, Sir!

      2. I think your on to something.
        So a comparison between public schooled kids & homeschoolers would be interesting.

    2. I totally agree! I came to the same conclusion today whilst taking a quiet stroll. When we were younger, we did so many, non repetitive things that filled our lives. As older adults we do a few repetitive things. It seems like years rush… Let’s get back to filling up each day.

  7. My own theory is this . If we did not have time as a measurement of things would we live longer ? Time as a measurement is “man made” but the conditioning of our life is placed on us since birth .

    1. Well, God made time , although he is beyond it.
      ”And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.“
      ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭1‬:‭14‬-‭15‬ ‭

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *