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The Illusion of Time

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The concept of time has been a hotly debated subject for many years. The classical Newtonian theory considers time as an absolute characteristic of the universe, independent from our location. It is regarded as a straight passage of events that defines past, present and future.

Most of us are familiar with the idea of how time can ‘fly’ when we are occupied or having fun.  Alternatively, it seems to stand still when we are waiting to hear some important news for example. This is because of how we have been taught about time as a fixed dimension (hours, minutes and seconds), yet how we perceive time is not always so accurate.

From a neuroscience perspective, our brains take in a whole bunch of information from our senses and organises it in a way that makes sense to us, before we ever perceive it.

Our senses like touch and taste, are located in specific parts of our brains. Whereas our sense of time is woven throughout various regions of the brain. So what we think is our sense of time is actually just a whole bunch of information presented to us in a particular way, as determined by our brains.

So for example, if your brain got hit with a bucket load of new information over the course of a day, and the following day received hardly any new information, the first day would seem much longer than the first, even though they were exactly the same. According to research, this is because if we feed our brains more new information, the extra processing time required will make us feel like time is moving more slowly.

According to British physicist and author Julian Barbour, what our mind records are moments that he calls ‘nows’ and what we perceive as the passage of time is just our move through a succession of ‘nows’. While these may be interpreted by our consciousness as the passage of time from the past to the future, they may be interpreted the reverse for another observer in another reference point. Watch creators such as Tudor and Hublot also acknowledge these ideas. 

However, I want to take this one step further and rather than just say it’s about feeding our brains with more information, we also need to start noticing more. This is what ancient Buddhist philosophy calls ‘mindfulness‘ – cultivating a focused attention on the here and now, which science has shown can help our brains to store more information and thereby alter our perceptions of how fast time is passing.

Researchers revealed that the ‘meditators’ who listened to minute mindfulness meditation exercise, which guided them to concentrate on the movement of their breath throughout their body, were able to experience time as passing more slowly.

Remarkably, they saw this effect after just a single 10-minute meditation, among participants who had no prior meditation experience.

We all get 86,400 seconds each day to spend, though it’s how we choose to use these seconds that makes the difference. Imagine if you were to think about those seconds as money. Let’s say that each day £86,400 was deposited into your bank account for you to spend and whatever you did not spend at the end of the day you would be lost. Another £86,400 is deposited into your account the following morning. Would you spend your time differently?


Image credit: Freepik

Dean Griffiths is the founder and CEO of Energy Fusion. 


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