Our sense of time is deeply entangled with memory
“If our’ sense of time is largely a cognitive illusion, then where does the illusion come from? (…)
According to David Eagleman, it’s all about memory, not turbo perception. “Normally, our memories are like sieves,” he says. “We’re not writing down most of what’s passing through our system.” Think about walking down a crowded street: You see a lot of faces, street signs, all kinds of stimuli. Most of this, though, never becomes a part of your memory. But if a car suddenly swerves and heads straight for you, your memory shifts gears. Now it’s writing down everything — every cloud, every piece of dirt, every little fleeting thought, anything that might be useful.
This is a deeply Proustian idea. It turns out that our sense of time is deeply entangled with memory, and that when we remember more – when we are sensitive to every madeleine and sip of limeflower tea – we can stretch time out, like a blanket. This suggests that the simplest way to extend our life, squeezing more experience out of this mortal coil, is to be more attentive, more sensitive to the everyday details of the world. The same logic should also apply to our vacations. If we want our time off to last longer, then we should skip the beach naps and instead cram our days full of new things, which we will notice and memorize.”
— Jonah Lehrer, In Search of Time, Wired Science, August 30, 2010
Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next - and disappear. That’s why it’s so important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives. (…)
It is forgetting, not remembering, that is the essence of what makes us human. To make sense of the world, we must filter it. “To think,” Borges writes, “is to forget.”
— Joshua Foer, American science journalist, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, Penguin Press HC, New York, 2011