What’s Wrong With Time
Time seems to be moving at warp speed or super slow right now: It doesn’t have to
I thought I had a handle on time. Just a few weeks ago, a day contained 24 hours, each of which contained 60 minutes, and all of those had 60 seconds in them. Not so now that some nefarious superpower is running a sick Salvador Dali experiment on clocks. Whole days have been appearing and disappearing like pop-up ads. Others, I’m certain, last entire weeks. Just this morning I set down my coffee for a second, and then it was late afternoon.
Time moving more slowly would make sense under the circumstances. Assuming you aren’t one of the doctors, nurses, grocers, or transit workers on the front lines, you wake up, you make coffee, you sit somewhere. Same bed, same chair, same work, same kids. If time flies when you’re having fun, these groundhog days ought to be proceeding at the pace of a Ken Burns documentary.
“If I’m standing there waiting for August for us to get back to normal, it will feel like it’s never going to happen,” says Bryan Poole, a professor at Lee University in Tennessee who studies interactions between emotion and time perception.
So how then do you explain the excess speed, the sense of whole days sprinting by on their hind legs? Is it because when something global and destabilizing happens, our perception of time is destabilized, too? Or because [opens Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason; paraphrases] time is a construct that has no referent in the real world and is created entirely in our minds?
The ur-myth about altered time perception involves a geologist, Michel Siffre, who set up camp deep in the Scarasson chasm in the Alps back in 1962. Siffre decided to stay in the cave for two months, to try to “live like an animal,” without a watch or the sun or access to any time cues at all.
Siffre slept and ate when he liked, calling a team at the cave’s entrance to report his activities and responses to various tests. One test was to estimate two minutes by counting to 120 at a rate of one number per second. It took Siffre five minutes to do it. Time was passing more slowly for him in the cave than it was in the outside world.