It’s About Time

The time perception is a strange and mysterious phenomenon. In contrast to the objective time, psychological time is subjective, and as such is a subject to a variety of changes. Most of us know the feeling when the time drags endlessly and other times, when it flies incredibly fast.

The perception of time has many aspects: the sense of the passage of time, the length of what is happening in the present, past and future, and the speed time passage. Studying results of the number of experiments, scientists admit to the existence of a biological clock in the brain, but no one has yet found this clock, although there are several regions that set the course of time processes. Perhaps this is due to the electrical signals between neurons throughout the brain, and these clocks do not physically exist.

We know so little about the perception of time because, thus far, it hasn’t been a focus of heightened attention to science and business. Most studies have been carried out on animals. This seems rather odd, since unraveling the mystery of time  would mean managing time in larger sense than in “time management for idiots.” Nevertheless, we already know a great deal, and science continues to lift the cloak thrown over a mystery that is TIME.

The passage of time  as an illusion:

In one study (Gruber & Block, 2013) described an experiment where the participants were shown two videos, one of the man walking, another — of a toast being made.  Each frame was shown for 100 milliseconds, with varying duration of the intervals between the frames: of half a second, three and seven seconds. Participants had to decide whether or not they actually “see the passage of time”. The perception of the passage of time was lost at 6.1 seconds interval for changes in motion (walking) and 4.7 seconds for color changes (browning of bread). The researchers conclude that time is just an illusion of our perception. If a time had physical characteristics, it wouldn’t dependent on an event, whether it is a color or a motion. If it is only a subjective perception, it will change depending on a qualitatively discernible stimulus taking place at the time.


Emotions, danger, stress:  Strong emotions alter the perception of time.

Many testify that during a car accident some people feel that time slows down. This phenomenon has been well studied in combat. Studies have shown that during the shootouts, in 65% of cases, the police officers experienced a sensation of time slowing down. It was also found that the earthquakes are perceived to last much longer  than their real duration.

Alan Johnson, the journalist BBC BBC, who has been held hostage by a group of radical Islamists for nearly four months, recalls that one night he was able to hear on the radio the news of his execution. He thought that perhaps his aggressors reported the news earlier than they killed him, and at any moment they’ll come for him. Time slowed dramatically, and that night felt like an eternity.time

Psychologist David Eagleman decided to check whether it was true that the sudden acute stress and fear cause time dilation. He scored volunteers who have agreed to jump off the 30-meter tower on a net attached not far from the bottom. It was perfectly safe, but very scary. On their wrists, the volunteers wore “watches” where the numbers changed with great speed and were indiscernible in a normal state. Eagleman believed that if the time is indeed slows down, the volunteers will be able to see these numbers. None of this happened. In all likelihood, the time slowdown is also subjective — an illusion.

Karl von Vierordt (1868) was the first to record a law of time perception which relates perceived duration to actual duration over different interval magnitudes, and according to task complexity. His notable book  Der Zeit Sinn nach Versuchen (Experimental Studies of the sense of time) was published in 1868. One of the conclusions of is many experiments  is known today as the Vierordt’s law .  It states that, retrospectively, “short” intervals of time tend to be overestimated, and “long” intervals of time tend to be underestimated. Between these two values is the point of indifference — a sense of elapsed time duration corresponds exactly to the physical time.

This, in my opinion, is the least optimistic illustration of TIME and, unfortunately, the truest one.  Simply put, regardless of the mode of our perception of TIME, it’ll catch up with us, and this is absolutely effing nothing that can be done about it. d187d0b0d181d18b
Philip Zimbardo, the author of one of the most famous studies, the Stanford Prison Experiment, found that the orientation in time influences our decisions and behavior, shaping our lives whether or not we are aware of it. Zimbardo’s formula of optimal perception of TIME is simple:

  • positive attitude to the past,
  • above average orientation toward the future,
  • moderation while indulging in the pleasures of life in the present.

Thus the negativism toward the past should be suppressed, as well as fatalism in the outlook for the future.


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