There seems to be no end in sight.
Time itself is even irrelevant now, at least from a subjective experience. During the coronavirus crisis, the far-reaching rise in civil unrest, and a racial reckoning related to the future of America, our experience of the concept has changed. Possibly forever.
Aristotle was possibly the first and foremost philosopher to define the idea of Time. “Our perception of change and its movement is pivotal to reconciling with the nature of Time.” One can think of it as a flowing and ebbing river that bends based on one’s experience. “The perception of change” is an important note there. This perception ends and begins at fundamental human consciousness. Consciousness is the essence that allows us to experience the present, look back at the past, and prepare for the future.
For centuries scientists, philosophers, and psychologists have tried to construct a definition that fits with how we experience real Time. My knowledge lies primarily with neuroscience and psychology; both areas tend to use physiological aspects of the brain to measure our perception of Time. For this discussion of its radical change, I will use mostly neurological and psychological studies to make my case. The case is this, most of humanity has seen the two aspects of Time (subjective internal and objective external) as separate spectrums. I argue that collectively, humans are now experiencing the subjective and objective sense of Time simultaneously because of emotional and traumatic factors outside of our control. This is why the days feel short, while concurrently, you check your phone, and its 5 pm.
David Eagleman is a neuroscientist who has studied memory, cognition, and the perception of Time for over a decade. His experiments focused on how individuals perceive Time when under stressful events. In an investigation you couldn’t pay me to be in, he had his subjects bungee jump from a bridge and counted the number of seconds they were falling. On average, the subjects counted 8 seconds when, in reality, their fall was around 3 seconds.
His team concluded that we experience Time as a function of information entering the brain. It’s experienced based on the neural representation of what we experience. Whatever mental & biological resources the brain uses to represent that information, somehow, is bound to our idea of Time. “Feeling like everything is happening in slow motion just before an accident? Your brain is in a hyper-perceptive sort of a state. Information is probably dense, and many mental resources are being used to hold it,” David says.
So, using that same logic, let’s add in paranoia, information-saturation, a social uprising, and a 100 year pandemic to the mix of stressful events. Imagine how much mental depletion is being done by trying to hold in the severe, traumatic, and even trivial information we take every day from our phones and tv?
Another major factor centers around boredom. The concept of being genuinely bored has been researched quite a bit. Although, we never imagined an event that would force entire countries into their homes simultaneously for months on end, eh? John Watt, a psychologist, wrote a study in 1991 examining boredom and its effects on Time perception. The study claimed that when participating in more boring tasks and routines, Time will pass more slowly. Vice versa, for less tedious tasks, Time will “speed up.”
From my perspective, our sense of Time is shaken, and I would hypothesize that a majority of people feel Time slipping away each day. We have conditioned ourselves to believe our homes are where we detach our minds from our work; the mixing of these conditioned responses are in an inrush due to this historical era of being in our homes most of the day. This is why Monday seems to ooze into Thursday, while 11 am quickly becomes 7 pm.
My intent is not to scare anyone with this next theoretical, but some scientists feel since this period of time has a multitude of emotional moments, we may create in ourselves false memories of what we experienced during this time. “Our memories are likely already being contaminated by the false information that circulates online, or family members with a propensity for confabulation,” Dr. Julia Shaw says. “By the time we get to next year, it might be very difficult for us to establish what we actually did, or saw, or felt during this period.”
But, many of us are trying to survive the NOW. By recognizing what influences your perception of Time, you can regain some control over how you will remember this period of your life. “If you want to parse the flow of your memory into meaningful pieces again, one of the most important things to avoid is routine. Look for new experiences and ideas, ideally ones that are emotional and require effort,” says Dr. Shaw.
This idea of novelty is undoubtedly in many aspects of memory, and Time perception research, and it seems to provide some sense of self and more acute awareness of the passage of Time. In other words…do something out of your comfort zone!! To escape the loop of your mind, you have to figure out which end the knot starts at.
Escaping The Loop