Alternative Truths

The unexpected truths about judgment and decision making.

Quirks in Time Perception

There's still plenty we don't understand about how humans perceive time, but one fact is clear: we don't perceive time the way clocks portray time, one second at a time, with each second passing just as quickly as its earlier and later counterparts. Read More

Passage of time explained.....

Thank you for this insightful article. As I age, I am experiencing what others, decades ahead of me at one time, complained of, the seeming speeding-up of time that was indecipherable, concerning an apparent rapidity of weeks, months and years that rushed past them gathering speed all the time. It is such an interesting field and some explanation is quite reassuring. I see those much younger than myself feeling exactly the same as I do now though, obviously the by-product of both parents having to work and the subsequent hurried lifestyle, especially with young children, so I do give thanks for my own less-hectic growing up time.
In your research, have you compared the experiences of those, say, in their nineties now, to those in their fifties and sixties, and found any difference in time perception ?

Thanks for your kind comment.

Thanks for your kind comment. I haven't researched the question you've posed, but there's plenty of literature on time perception across the life-span. For example, this article ( examined time perception in a population with a mean age of 75 years, and found several factors that explained why some people believed that time was passing faster than others did. The main finding was that people with time on their hands (e.g., those who were unoccupied or bored) tended to feel that time passed more slowly.


Thank you for that very thoughtful piece! Time is a fascination for me. On a broad scale, it is the most powerful agent for change. On a microscopic scale, it seems enigmatic. Think of a time-of-day and try to quantify it. Eg, "for how long is it ten o'clock?". For a second? half-second? quarter-second? Once I concede that this reduction can be carried to infinity I am forced to settle for "zero". It is never actually ten o'clock. Ten o'clock, or any other time-of-day, is always either approaching me or behind me. This is where I hit the wall. What does this say about the true nature of time in general? Is it real or imagined?

Someone has proposed that all of existence happened at once in a massive, instantaneous explosion of energy. That everything has already happened but that with our primitive perceptive capabilities we can only experience it as it is parcelled out to us through this artificial cognitive structure that we call time.

That's a fascinating

That's a fascinating observation, and it draws on all sorts of psychological literature suggesting that our perception of the world is bound by the devices we use to describe it. That applies to language (illustrated by the apocryphal story that people who live amongst snow are more sensitive to different shades of white), to social perception (social categories like "White" and "Black" carry plenty of meaning, but the categories are illusory and no one actually has white skin or black skin), and of course to our conception of time and space (seconds and inches are only informative because we're used to using them). (My earlier blog post made a similar point about improving our ability to understand large numbers: Without the help of concrete analogies, it's very difficult to comprehend the magnitude of very large--or very small--numbers.)

Time and Aging

On a new program "Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman" (6/22/2011)on the subject of "time", Mr. Freeman made the observation that perceived differences in time changing are age-related according to a formula that is based simply on the square root of the ratio between different ages. For example, if we were to compare the different perceptions of time changing of a 10 year old to when he or she is 60 years old, we would take the square root of 60/10 or 6, which is 2.449. In other words, the 60 year old person appears to witness time chaning 2.449 times faster than when he or she was 10 years old. I appreciated hearing something which sounded quite authoritative (after all, it was stated by the distinguished actor Morgan Freeman!)but when I went into the physics and related litratures, I could, in fact, find no substantiation for this formula. Personally, I always thought that there was an explanation of why I seemed to witness things happening more quickly the older I got. Can anyone out there, find a source or citation for Mr. Freeman's statement and send it to me at my email address of I would appreciate that very much.

Dr. Craig Blake
Professor Emeritus
and one-time student of physics who changed majors and wishes ever since that he had not.

length of time between two holidays

I am trying to think of a way to make time between two holidays away from home (I am talking years) seem as though no time has passed at all (LITERALLY). Then it would feel excellent next time I went to an exciting holiday destination that I had not gone back to normal routine since the last time I left that place to go back home. Would blocking out all the memories in between and only focusing on what exactly I did when I left that holiday destination help? Also how do I make next year (2014) come sooner since this will most likely be the next time I go on an exciting holiday?

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Adam Alter is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at New York University Stern School of Business.


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