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Passage of time plays tricks - MessAge Media: Our Columnists

Passage of time plays tricks

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Posted: Sunday, June 9, 2019 5:00 am

For 2,500 years the three great pyramids on the Giza Plateau in Egypt stood silently as the ages of the Egyptian civilization past. Kings, generations, storms, wars, famine and disease came and went and yet the pyramids stood rock-solid through it all. Then 2,000 years ago the civilization crumbled. The ancient Egyptians had a saying, “Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids.” For those ancient people, the pyramids were everlasting man-made mountains that even time could not destroy.

The Egyptians were obsessed with “time” and developed a belief system to come to terms with the briefness of human life. Like many other ancient civilizations, they built temples out of stone, as they believed stone to be immortal. They were astute observers of the stars and could predict eclipses and knew precisely the times of the changing of the seasons. Like many other cultures this knowledge was vital to predict when to plant crops.

The Egyptians also seemed to have recognized another aspect of time. From a personal perspective, it did not appear to “flow” at a constant rate. Modern science has confirmed time is not a constant everywhere and proceeds into the future at rates dependent upon mass and velocity. The Egyptians were not knowledgeable on the science behind time variability, but they recognized the psychological aspect of time passing.

Part of our perception on the passage of time has to do with our attention. If we are engaged in a stimulating and absorbing activity, time seems to fly. Boring tasks seem to stretch on endlessly. If we are forced to wait for an appointment with nothing to do, the clock almost stops. Of course, time marches on without concern for human observers. It is only our mental engagement that creates the illusion of variability.

But there is another trick that time seems to play on us and that the Egyptians were well aware of. As we get older, starting from about age 20 or so, time seems to speed up. A day in childhood seems to stretch on endlessly, but as an adult, and especially a retired adult, time seems to flash by. When trying to remember when past events have occurred, it’s a good idea to make a guess and then double it. Does time speed up as we get older?

We reach our peak of mental quickness from late teens to early 20s. After that there is on average a slow decline. Part of the reason is we have a lot more stuff stored in our grey matter. We are creating a personal history. We are not as impulsive. We weigh our options. Hopefully, we have acquired a certain degree of wisdom gained through experience. But as we get older the physical brain does not process information as fast as before. This creates the illusion of time moving faster but, alas, it is just us getting slower.

A life-long resident of northern Minnesota, Terry Mejdrich is a former math teacher and farmer turned mystery author and freelance writer.

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