The elasticity of time

While commuting home one gray, winter evening, I had a peculiar experience that twisted my perception of time for a few seconds.

Speeding along, musing about how unburdened my life used to be (before family came along), I had a mental picture of passing my 20-something self, who was driving a car going the opposite direction.

I could almost hear the opening bar of "The Twilight Zone" theme.

A trick of memory, combined with the sensation of being in motion, allowed me to straddle two spaces in time simultaneously.

Scientists, as well as anthropologists and philosophers, keep returning to the conundrum of time (see story). Medical researchers look for specific regions of the brain where they say the perception of time resides. Neurologist Antonio Damasio, writing in Scientific American, emphasizes the importance of one's emotional state to the sense of time passing.

Professor Damasio says the brain generates images at a faster rate when a person is happy (e.g., "time flies when you're having fun") and slows down these images when the person is worried or upset.

For me, this research says more about time being a wholly mental construct, independent of "gray matter," than it does about brain studies.

When we're worry-free, the time passes unnoticed, but when we feel pressured or unhappy, time slows measurably.

Attitude plays a large role in how a person views the prospect of aging. One has to chuckle, as I did, at an article in The Times (London) that quoted an elderly woman as saying, "I was 57 and it seemed as if I just went into the kitchen to fix myself a cup of coffee, and when I came out I was 83."

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