Why does time seem to pass more rapidly as we age? Seem is the operative word, and the passage of “time” is indeed subjective up to a point. The phenomena of events unfolding, and folding; the “arrow” of time–the movement toward relative order and entropy, complexity and disorder–essentially the observable rate of changes, adds up to the appearance of the flow of so-called time. The apparent flow of time (as such) is a summary, a kind of consensus of perception we share with others who have similar cerebral and perceptual activity.
The young perceive with more attention, without trying, if they’re doing something they enjoy. As we age our capacity for that kind of open attention erodes unless we work to restore it…Perception–most obviously eyesight–actually takes place at a rate–this rate, that rate, another rate. But always at some rate. It’s just that we don’t notice our perceptual rate, for the same reason we don’t see our own eyes (without a mirror). Our usual rate of perception is simply innate to us…however there is a spectrum, a margin, of possible modification.
I can *see faster* if I exert my attention. I find that if I locate my attention itself, then I root my attention in the present moment, and quiet my associations as best I can, then simply perceive, time slows down while I maintain this state. This slowing is a subjective perception in one respect, since objectively events are unfolding at the whatever speed is natural to them–but in another way, time *has* slowed for me since I’m aware of more of it. The brain is taking pictures and stringing them together, more rapidly than we’re aware of. Normally we’re getting fewer “frames per second”, so it all seems to go by faster, like the major events of a day whipped by on flash cards. For neurological reasons, reasons of entrenched habit, and the psychology of aging, time seems faster as there’s less information processed. Adding more “frames”, more beats of perception, means more information to process which takes “more time”, so to speak. Events move more slowly–though not tediously. (People sometime note the same effect with some mind altering drugs though in my opinion it’s not as beneficial a means for slowing time, over all, since it doesn’t enhance our control of attention).
When we get older, we work more and more on autopilot; our cognition gets weathered, and we generally tend to take less in. So since we’re skipping intervals, time seems to “speed up”. If we move against this process by activating attention, time seems to slow down. It becomes, at least, richer and fuller–more the way it effortlessly was…when we were young.
People have been talking about the apparent speeding of time for the elderly so glib people, and perhaps some neurological theorists, have tried to come up with an explanation, and they’ve given us the tortured one about relativity based on time used and remaining, but it doesn’t explain the alteration of the passage of time with the enhancement of attention…And they’re just wrong, those people. Suppose your car starts spinning out of control on a freeway–this happened to me, and luckily cars flashed by me and I wasn’t hit and I ended harmlessly in the margin…and time slowed down for me. Everyone has had this experience. So how does the graph and the relativity and time-remaining thing explain that? How does it apply? It doesn’t. The one thing that explains it is that perception of events increases, temporarily, in such a case, which apparently slows time …only, time is an illusion of existential, environmental, and internal activity. An objective view of this activity working out is the fourth dimension. We incorporate bits of the fourth dimension, I suspect, when we stretch our attention to take in more “frames per second”.