DGEQ: Why does time seem to go faster as I age?

“Is it really April already?”

When I was a child I heard adults say things like that. They always gave me the impression that time moved faster for them than it did for me. It seemed illogical. After all, their days were 24 hours long and so were mine. But decades later, I know they were right. For me, too, every year passes more quickly than the one before. Time is definitely speeding up. But why? How can that be true?

Speed is relative

The thing to remember about speed is that it’s relative. To determine how fast something is going, you have to ask relative to what? You need something to calculate it against. For example, we measure a car’s speed in miles-per-hour (distance covered relative to time elapsed). So if we calculate the speed of time relative to itself (the way I did as a skeptical child), we don’t really learn anything. We would say time is passing at a speed of 24 hours per 24 hours.

To understand why time passes more quickly as we age, we need to measure it relative to our own lifespan. Someday you’ll die, which means that today you have some X number of years left. You don’t need to know how many years X is in order to use it. Whether it’s 5 years or 150 years is irrelevant. Each passing day brings you one day closer to your inevitable death. You never get further from it, you’re always moving toward it.

So each day, month, year that you live represents a certain proportion of the total ‘distance’ you have yet to cover. As X is always going down, that proportion is always going up.

An example

Let’s say I’m going to live another 45 years, starting today. The next 365 days represent 1/45, or 2.22% of my remaining life (that’s intimidating, no?). Next year I’ll have 44 years left, and so the passage of next year represents 1/44, or 2.27% of my remaining life. Ten years from now I’ll have only 35 years left, and the passage of that fine year will represent 2.86% of my remaining life. And so on.

How fast time feels to me (% of remaining life consumed per year)
2014: 2.22% / year
2015: 2.27% / year
2016: 2.33% / year
2017: 2.38% / year
2018: 2.44% / year
2019: 2.50% / year (or roughly 13% faster than it felt in 2014)

Covering ground

When I have only two years left, 365 days will represent 50% of my remaining lifespan. That’s a lot of ground to cover in a year. But I won’t really know when I have two years left, or one or five. I might not feel the blinding speed.

Because most of us lack precise information about how much time is left to us, we have only a vague sense of this speeding up over the years. We don’t know when the end is, but we intuitively understand that each passing year ensures it will be here (literally) sooner rather than later. It is our body’s inherent knowledge of its own decay that gives us this eerie sensation of going faster and faster as the years go by.

What does DGEQ stand for?

Right, I almost forgot. It means “Don’t Google Every Question.” The Internet is great, and doubtless we are fortunate to have convenient access to more quality information than ever before. But I’ve noticed there is a whole lot less thinking going on lately, and it’s not a coincidence.

Your brain is an incredibly powerful, creative piece of equipment. Right now it seems like many are only using theirs as a dragnet to filter and process the rest of the world’s collective information. That’s a bit like taking the wings off a jet and heating soup with the engines–a total waste of potential. Let your brain get out and play in the sunshine of personal reflection. It will make you smarter. Don’t just look stuff up. Save some of the mystery for yourself. Think.

Be your own philosopher

The question I’ve posed here is clearly a philosophical one, which makes it unanswerable in the scientific sense. Has someone already proposed a smarter theory? I don’t know, I haven’t checked. If I were writing an academic article I would have started and ended with research, as the academy demands. But I’m not.

Is my theory off the mark of a popular explanation? Have I arrived at the same conclusion as someone more credible? Again, I don’t care. I didn’t want to search for an answer ‘out there’. I still want to think for myself, too. I am a philosopher. So are you, if you decide to be.

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

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