Persons in every age group wonder why time seems to move so much faster than it did in their pasts. It seems as if there is never enough time to get everything done and that the situation only gets worse. To tackle the problem, I did an Internet search to see what others were saying on the subject. Nearly all the returns had to do with parenting. “Oh, they grow up so fast. The days are long, but the years are short.” This is perhaps a partial explanation; however, since the phenomenon occurs just as well to people who have no children, it cannot be the whole answer.
A new study from researchers in the UK shows that we’re not great at estimating time, and that without the aid of clocks or watches, we tend to guess when events occur, somewhere between our expectations and actual reality.
Think your train is only slightly late? It might be further behind schedule than you think. The scientists involved say that our brains are constantly tweaking the expectation of future events based on prior experience.
In these experiments, carried out by a pair of researchers from the universities of Birmingham and Sussex, participants were shown regular flashes of light or heard regular beeps. Sometimes, the final flash or beep arrived earlier or later than it should – and the participants gave feedback on the timing.
What happened was the viewers thought the early flashes or beeps were only slightly early, and the late ones were only slightly late. It turns out that their guesses were about halfway between what they were expecting – based on the steady pattern leading up to the final beep or flash – and when the event actually occurred.
While you won’t often come across regimented flashes of light or beeps of sound in your day-to-day life, the researchers say the findings gives us clues about how our minds estimate time.
“Our brain relies on past events to predict what will happen next,” explained researcher Max Di Luca from the University of Birmingham. “These predictions are essential to survival because they allow us to react faster to the environment around us and plan what actions to perform.”
Until tomorrow: To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.