Sometimes people ask me why time seems to move faster as we age.
Recently the question has morphed into something closer to: Is there any way to harness this effect to make certain periods of time move more quickly? As in, for example, the next four years or so. How embroiled in the news should I be? Should I count days? Should I wear a watch?
I’m not a theoretical physicist, and I rarely claim to be. People tend to imagine I know everything about everything involving the nervous system because I went to medical school. So maybe that makes sense in that the “time” we usually talk about is a matter of perception. We conceptualize time through metaphors that project it along a straight line—before and after, long and short, earlier and later—as a function of how our perceptions relate to other perceptions. In the same way, the accuracy of any given clock is only relative to other clocks.
Because time doesn’t clearly exist outside of our own experience of it, there are ways to manipulate that experience. Take peyote, as an example. As one user put it, “Peyote makes time slow down, and at a certain point your whole perception of time vanishes, just because it is not important anymore.” There’s also sensory deprivation. We lose track of time when we’re removed from day-night signals from the sun. The French geologist Michele Siffre popularized this notion in 1962, when he ventured into a cave to study it for two weeks—and then decided to live for a while to examine what he called “the idea of my life.” Deprived of sunlight and clocks, it was an experiment in isolation.