Life in a blur

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Mike Master­son Mike Master­son is a long­time Arkansas jour­nal­ist. Email him at mmas­ter­son@arkansason­line.com.

Ask any­one older than 50 how rapidly they be­lieve the days, weeks, months and years are passing, and I be­lieve most will tell you faster than they can keep up with.

It’s be­come re­al­ity in so many lives to feel there aren’t enough hours in the day any­more. Mon­day now seems to me to be fol­lowed by Thurs­day. Aren’t week­ends just three days apart to­day?

I’m still think­ing sum­mer’s about to be­gin but it’s al­ready Au­gust. Fall be­gins next month, then another hol­i­day sea­son, and we’re back to an­tic­i­pat­ing the buds of spring. But wait, wasn’t it spring last week?

I’ve asked friends if they share this ex­pe­ri­ence. They all agree. No one can ex­plain the seem­ingly shared drag race along what as­phalt re­mains. At the same time, this phe­nom­e­non of speed­ing time also is too ob­vi­ous day af­ter day not to rec­og­nize the phe­nom­e­non.

Do you feel your age? I don’t. I of­ten feel as if I’ve never left my mid30s, which were 35 years ago. Why is that?

Even those who fall ill can find it dif­fi­cult to be­lieve they are fac­ing such age-re­lated prob­lems when only yes­ter­day they were

21 with life spread be­fore them grander than Chero­kee Casino’s buf­fet.

But to­day, many of us with di­a­betes, re­placed hips and other health con­cerns can’t even en­joy one of their deca­dent sug­ary desserts.

Per­haps time is in­deed an il­lu­sion be­stowed by the di­vine cre­ator in or­der to make sense of con­scious­ness over our brief life­times. While the tick-tock ap­pears real enough when we’re in the thick of liv­ing in this world to­gether, Al­bert Ein­stein said he be­lieved ev­ery­thing ac­tu­ally is hap­pen­ing all at once, and time is both flex­i­ble and rel­a­tive: “The dis­tinc­tion be­tween past, present and fu­ture is only a stub­bornly per­sis­tent il­lu­sion.”

Another sci­en­tist on so­cial me­dia com­pared time to a DVR we’re watch­ing and the movie it’s play­ing is our life. Change un­folds in the movie, but the DVR, as with time, is static and un­chang­ing.

The in­ex­pli­ca­ble magic we call con­scious­ness is con­tained within the ma­chine of time that makes sense of the elec­trons we (who are com­prised of atoms) trans­late into our story.

Such ra­tio­nales prompt me to re­flect on how we mea­sure time passing by the mem­o­ries of our unique ex­pe­ri­ences. With­out mem­o­ries stored in our brains, we are left with only this very mo­ment of aware­ness, right?

On that point, I ap­pre­ci­ate sci­en­tist Ab­hi­jit Naskar’s ex­pla­na­tion: “Time is ba­si­cally an il­lu­sion cre­ated by the mind to aid in our sense of tem­po­ral pres­ence in the vast ocean of space. With­out the neu­rons to cre­ate a vir­tual per­cep­tion of the past and the fu­ture based on all our ex­pe­ri­ences, there is no ac­tual ex­is­tence of the past and the fu­ture. All that there is, is the present.”

Au­thor Ken Poirot agrees: “Time is but an il­lu­sion acted by be­ings with lim­ited per­cep­tion.”

Lit­er­ary No­bel win­ner Thomas Mann tried ex­plain­ing why things seem to be hap­pen­ing more quickly in this way: “Time has no di­vi­sions to mark its pas­sage. There is never a thun­der­storm or blare of trum­pets to an­nounce the be­gin­ning of a new month or year. Even when a new cen­tury be­gins, it is only we mor­tals who ring bells and fire off pis­tols.”

Writ­ing in Psy­chol­ogy To­day, James Stone in March 2016 shared his views in an ar­ti­cle ti­tled, “Why is time passing so quickly these days?”

The psy­chol­o­gist and au­thor cites rea­sons for our per­cep­tions, the first be­ing what he calls “ra­tios.”

He refers to French philosopher and psy­chol­o­gist Pierre Janet’s ex­pla­na­tion back in 1877 in which Janet said time speeds up for us as we age be­cause in youth each new ex­pe­ri­ence com­prised a smaller frac­tion of a nat­u­ral mea­sur­ing stick—our lives.

“When you are 5,” Stone writes, “a year rep­re­sents 20 percent of your life. When you’re 50, it’s a measly two percent of your life.”

The in­tel­lec­tual ex­pla­na­tions are, I be­lieve, ei­ther on tar­get or very close to the way we per­ceive time to be passing. But I want to know how to get off this speed­ing train if that’s even pos­si­ble.

The sec­ond rea­son, as I men­tioned above, lies with our mem­o­ries. We tend to mea­sure time in terms of vivid mem­o­ries, he writes, and we just hap­pen to store more vivid mem­o­ries when were younger. He also be­lieves that un­like our hor­mon­ally driven youths where emo­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences were fresh, pow­er­ful and de­tailed, we tend to see life in the older years in larger chunks rather than in vivid de­tail.

Stone cited a study show­ing that the var­i­ous pres­sures we ex­pe­ri­ence later in life (some self-im­posed) also con­trib­ute to the sen­sa­tions, caus­ing sub­jec­tive time to ac­cel­er­ate in our minds. He uses the ex­am­ple of a bas­ket­ball team down by 20 in the fourth quar­ter that sees the clock as mov­ing “un­mer­ci­fully quickly.”

The bot­tom line is nei­ther Stone, Ein­stein and cer­tainly not me, can fully ex­plain why it’s al­ready Tues­day when yes­ter­day was Fri­day.

The an­ti­dote? Slow ev­ery­thing down. Re­lease ev­ery need­less, self-im­posed pres­sure and in­ten­tion­ally re­turn, when­ever pos­si­ble, to that child­like sense of won­der with all the beauty and mag­nif­i­cence that sur­rounds us.

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