Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.” And it’s still as close a definition as we have. This is a great podcast from Radiolab, where, as they describe it, “we try our hand at unlocking the mysteries of time. We stretch and bend it, wrestle with its subjective nature, and wrap our minds around strategies to standardize it…stopping along the way at a 19th-century railroad station in Ohio, a track meet, and a Beethoven concert.”
Modern life is plagued by what’s been called “time famine”—the sense that we have way too much to do and way too little time to do it. Scientists were wondering if there might be a way to shift this common misperception of time—and counter these damaging consequences. The fact is, most of us do have enough time, but it’s maddeningly difficult to keep perspective on this. These scientists suspected that stopping time—somehow keeping people in the moment—might alter overall perceptions of time scarcity. And how do we go about stopping or expanding time? With jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring experiences.
(Scientists found)…those who felt they had more available time were less impatient; they were more willing to volunteer their time to help others; and they were less materialistic, preferring new experiences like a Broadway show over new goods, like a watch. Overall, the awe-inspired volunteers were much more satisfied with their lives.
Everyone experiences time differently. This is true at the level of both physics and biology. Within physics, we used to have Sir Isaac Newton’s view of time, which was universal and shared by everyone. But then Einstein came along and explained that how much time elapses for a person depends on how they travel through space (especially near the speed of light) as well as the gravitational field (especially if its near a black hole). From a biological or psychological perspective, the time measured by atomic clocks isn’t as important as the time measured by our internal rhythms and the accumulation of memories. That happens differently depending on who we are and what we are experiencing; there’s a real sense in which time moves more quickly when we’re older.