Time, Airports, and Death
Time scares the shit out of me. More accurately, the relativity of time scares the shit out of me.
I’m writing this in the liminal space that to me, best represents temporal relativity: an airport. I don’t know why airports always feel like they exist outside of the rest of normal time and space. Perhaps because they’re a place specifically built and used to alter time and space: you get into a tube and then everything sort of stops for a bit, and when you emerge you’re somewhere else entirely and often the time people say it is doesn’t match your time. But regardless, the point is, I can sense that I’m getting older. (How’s that for a fucking segue…)
Sure, with age comes wisdom (ish), and yes, I’m starting to feel the aches and pains I’ve been told to expect, but the thing that really makes me recognize the passing time is how fast it moves now. Yeah, yeah, I know - welcome to every folk song in history. I’m hardly the first person to note this, but that’s because it’s universal trait of humanity. And like many universal truths, there’s a scientific reason behind all of it.
It turns out that not only is time relative in the scientific sense, but your brain stores information about time in a relative fashion as well. More specifically, your brain experiences, understands, and stores events surrounding the passing of time relative to the sum total of time you’ve experienced in your life.
To steal a very concise example from my friend Steve: when you were five, a summer felt like it lasted forever because it was 1/20th of your life. You perception of the events both in real time and in retrospect were affected by the way your brain stores that information in memory, and the result is that the summer felt almost endless as you experienced it.
But this summer flew by, didn’t it? That’s because as you experienced it, those events were perceived and stored in your memory as 1/150th of your total life. Next summer will feel even faster because it will be perceived and stored as an even smaller fraction. The summer after that will be a smaller fraction yet again. And again. And again.
Time is personally relative, because your brain relates the time you’re experiencing now to the total amount of time you’ve ever experienced.
That process will never slow down, stop, or reverse. It will always accelerate, forever, in a single direction, because more time and more memories mean each singular new event or season will be a smaller fraction of the whole. So every every year you will always feel, or perceive, or remember having a little less … time than last year.
Time will always feel like it’s moving a little faster this year than last year. Then a little faster again. And again. Always.
Until the end.
That’s terrifying to me...
But it’s also ultimately a core part of being human.
We are, in many ways, nothing more than the sum of our experiences. You - the you that makes you you - are the product of stimuli and stored memories. Our lives and personalities are responses to external stimuli filtered through the internal perception of our experiences. What we feel as present reality is actually milliseconds in the past, as our brains gather, interpret, and respond to the real world.
That your perception of the passing of time will continue to accelerate is an inherent and underlying element of the way we’re all built, no different than the way you absorb oxygen or the way your skeleton supports your muscles. We process experience relative to time. It is one of the billion little things that make us human, and is as inevitable and inescapable as death itself.
And that’s the thing with fears: they’re often not logical. Fearing the inevitable is ultimately pointless. But just like death, it doesn’t mean I can’t fear that temporal perception acceleration reaper.
And I do. Time scares the shit out of me.
Next week, we’ll let our anxieties force us to grow…