Written by Chris
As the old joke goes, “I have the ability to travel through time, but I can only go forward and only at a rate of one second per second.”
We are are all traveling through time in the same way, but I have recently begun to appreciate just how much our perception of time can vary. During this trip, things have felt wildly skewed. So how is it that you can live forever and die young? In short, the answer is to try new things.
“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.” –Albert Einstein*
Preferably find something else to try than putting your hand on the stove, though.
*This “quote” has often bothered me, but it is relevant here. While this does appear to be an actual quote from Einstein (alleged article text), it has absolutely nothing do to with his theory of relativity. In fact, it appears Einstein may have been attempting to give us a bit of hilarity.
As soon as we started this trip, immediately after we loaded up our car and drove away, time started to get strange. The days seemed to crawl by but, simultaneously, segments were over before we knew what was happening. We are now 4 months into our one-year journey and I cannot believe it is one third over already. And at the same time, when I consider all of the things we have experienced in those 4 months, it is inconceivable to me that we still have twice again as much time left to travel. What is going on here?
We soon realized that it was the novelty of our new experiences that was skewing time for us. When your brain cannot fall into its usual routines, each situation has to be analyzed anew and a lot of mental effort is being expanded. Time slows down. Then, when you get back into a familiar pattern, your brain can go on autopilot, you can daydream your way through, and it is over before you know. I think a lot of us have experienced this many times in what I call the “out and back” paradox. It goes like this. Say you are heading out to someplace you have never been before. It takes some mental effort to get yourself there and find the place. Then, when you are done, you head back home and the trip back seems to be substantially shorter than the trip there. What happened? Novelty and mental effort on the way there, routine and spacing out on the way back. Time distortion.
Another great example is to think of what life was like when you were a kid. Days seemed to go on forever. The school day was intolerably long, but it was usually no more than 7 hours and there were two recesses and a lunch break in there. Now, I can clock the occasional 10 or 12-hour workday and be fine. I’ve been on a few cross-country drives with minimal breaks, bus as a kid, a 4-hour car ride to Cedar Point was an eternity (but I would pay any price for a ride on the Gemini). The difference? As a kid, every experience is novel. Your brain is constantly busy building frameworks to help handle reality more efficiently. Now, as adults, all of those frameworks are in place, most experiences are old hat, and we sail right through; highly cognitively efficient but missing out on all the nuanced details of the individual experience.
So in a sense, now, I am seeing the world every day as I did as a child. Things are new and exciting and full of mystery every day. I don’t know what I am going to encounter and I am constantly stretching to make sense of these new worlds I inhabit. Perhaps that is why people are so often drawn to travel; it gives you the feeling of being young again (young mentally, that is. Alternately, the rigors of travel are exceptionally good at reminding you of your true physical age).
So seek out new experiences and it will feel like you are living forever. At the same time, a lifetime of new experiences will keep you mentally young right up until the day you die.
The next time we see you will probably be an eternity from now. It will be here before you know it.