Translator: Andrea McDonough
Reviewer: Jessica Ruby Hello, humans. My name is Matt and for the next several moments, you are going to listen to me. Mwah, ha, ha, ha, ha. Sorry. I’m just joking. This is my normal voice. Have you ever taken direction from a mysterious voice on the computer before? No? Perfect! I want to try an experiment with you, but I can’t tell you what that experiment entails because if I do, it won’t work. You’ll just have to trust me. This will all make sense soon, hopefully. If you’re sitting down, stand up from your chair and take a step back. In a moment, I’m going to have you twirl around, so give yourself a bit of space. Need to move some furniture around? Take your time. I’ll wait. On the count of three, you’re going to start hopping on one foot. Are you ready? One, two, three! Hop, hop, hop, hop, hop. Nice work! OK, while you’re still hopping, I now want you to begin barking like a dog. Ruff, ruff; ruff, ruff; ruff, ruff. Wow, that’s quite a bark! And a few more. Ruff, ruff, ruff. And three, two, one, stop! Feel free to relax and sit back down. Now, I want you think about how much time passed between the moment I said, “Go!” and you began hopping on one foot to the moment I said, “Stop!” Take a guess. I’m looking for an exact number of seconds or minutes. Now, with a pen and paper, write that number down. All done? The exact time was actually 26 seconds. Did you overestimate? Chances are that you did. So, what was the culprit? The culprit was time perception. Although we can make shockingly precise time estimates, when we experience something new, unusual, or dynamic, like hopping on one foot while taking instructions from a voice on the computer, or, say, jumping out of an airplane, we often miscalculate how much time has passed. Meaning, if you bungee jump for the first time, your fall to the bottom may seem like it lasted for 10 seconds while the recorded time may actually show that the jump only lasted for 5. The reason for this difference is unlike your body’s physical drop to the bottom, your brain’s perception of time does not follow a straight line between two points. Some scientists even believe your brain follows more of a curved path that is dependent on the amount of information you take in as you fall downwards. For example, David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, believes time perception is heavily influenced by the number of memories and data you record onto your brain. When you have a new experience, like jumping off a high dive for the first time, your senses are heightened. You’re taking in more details about sights, sounds, and smells than you normally would. And you store more data onto your brain in the form of memories. So, the more data you store in your brain, like the smell of chlorine as you leapt from the high dive or the color of the water, the longer your perception of that experience. Meaning, the number of memories and data you record on your brain has a direct impact on how long you believe that experience to have lasted. Have you ever heard a person recount what it’s like to be in a car accident? Although automotive accidents typically last seconds, those involved often say they felt the accident lasted far longer. Time perception can also account for why your childhood may have seem to have lasted forever. By adulthood, a year can slip by in a heartbeat, but children record more data onto their brains. This occurs because many of the experiences we have as children are new and unfamiliar to us. The stack of encoded memories on your brain is so dense that reading them back makes you believe your experiences must have taken forever. Additionally, when you’re 5 years old, one year is 1/5 of your life. But, when you’re 25, one year makes up 1/25, further altering your perception of time. And, if you’re an adult, think about a trip that you may have taken to a far-away land for the first time. Didn’t those two weeks you spent exploring your surroundings seem to have lasted far longer than 14 days? Though time perception is rooted in both hard science and theory, it provides a great lesson for us on how to live our lives. I’m sure you have all heard that a person shouldn’t sit on a couch and let life pass them by. Well, time perception tells us why that is. If you get up and engage with the world and have new experiences, and maybe even hop around on one foot and bark like a dog, you will literally perceive your own life to have lasted for a longer period of time.