How To Slow Perceived Time

There are two times, there is the chronological time that eats away at our world and bodies, changing its form as entropy works its magic, and there is the psychological time that jumps back and forward through chronological time, forgetting the majority of chronology for the most salient memories—which change every time they are remembered; a memory is a memory of a memory, and never the events themselves.

Our cultural focus on chronological memory, then, is curious because the majority of our lives indeed do happen in this entropy universe, but also within our fragile heads by what preoccupies our mind and what we give attention to. Thus, while we have the same number of hours as Malala we may not achieve what she does with those hours, and in a way we have fewer hours than fiction makers like Marcel Proust who wrote two million words worth of another world; part of the envy of screen starlets is of a similar kind: we feel they are living more than us perhaps because their roles give shallow viewers the impression they’ve had the opportunity to ‘be’ many people. But more so, this jealousy stems from the opportunity they have to play and experience more of life-time than others, less privileged and Godly, can. Say, dating beautiful people and seeing beautiful landscapes, having beautiful conversation and making beautiful children that are looked after by underlings. It is the excitement and experiences that make salient memory, and this is why we talk about “really living” rather than existing being “seeing the world’ or “achieving our dreams” or even “getting rich” or a “beautiful makeover”—or surgery. You might think you don’t but it litters magazines and the internet to meet the so very many that do. Remember: The Daily Mail online is the most media popular website in the world.

There is some hidden wisdom in the clout of admiration and jealousy of celebrity; their play, experience, enjoyment is what we ought to emulate. Rather than being them (an impossibility) we should do what we envy them the freedom to do. Live a novel and diverse life. As Joshua Foer writes in the wonderful Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

Monotony collapses times; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a longer 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 important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.

The answer to the ambitious title of this piece is that time can be slowed down if you enact novel experiences and memory-making. Psychologically you can ‘live more’ through prioritising quality over quantity—even looking at it, life and time, as quantity or metaphorical forward and back or up and down (note: slow ‘down’ time) is liable to make it feel as though life is passing you by. Hence reminders by therapists and online gurus (of course, I’m not included) to stay in the moment; the more you think about time the less you have, the more you remember and experience the more you have..

Using the present to create a bank of good memories (not necessarily on a beach, maybe in a studio or on a building site or at a desk) is pretty much the best definition for a good life, which is the sum of hours spent, afterall, and more so the hours that are remembered. The reason I chose to study in two separate continents was me practising what I preach here, as is this website giving me time to think and enjoy sharing in exchange for not learning French in my nonacademic hours and not earning good money. As Hendy David Thoreau said, “The worth of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it”.

As Ed Cooke, memory champion, explains to Joshua Foer in his book:

Novelty and breaking routine, is the best way to slow down perceived time. We remember a unique trip elsewhere often more than we do our individual commutes because while the first stays always unique and novel ergo more memorable, the latter falls into generality. We remember discrete events more than typical events in the usual series of our wake-up-eat-brush-teeth lives; we’ll remember different foods and different lovers because of difference and ‘first love’ more because it’s new. Our worst experiences often make life more meaningful, rather than pleasurable, and again will be memorable to our brains as a bookmark or sadly upturned page in the book of our life

As says Ed Cooke, contrary to time flying when you have fun, “the more we pack our lives with memories the less time seems to fly”; the feeling that time flies is actually because you enjoy the time, experiencing flow, so it seems to go too soon—not that it actually does. Moreover, there is a difference between remembered time in the present and the passing of time in the present; fun times are better remembered in the future although they seem to pass too soon in memory from the focal point of just after they have ended, or in middle-distance.

Sadly though, while novelty is the key to memorable life and pleasure in evolutionary terms, our invented success – society, workloads, goals – requires tedium to acquire the freedom for such novelty. Thus, we will work hours and hours, 70-80% of our quantitative time to pay for the qualitative. We defer our hopes till we have security, but often that is like saving up our sex life for our old age, and we will look back and see the mistakes we’ve made for the forever principle of “when X is done, then I can Y”. Okay, as recommended limiting”>here limiting your Xs and Ys is necessary in life, but choosing the logical choice can often be wrong for what is feeling and memory rather than the proper investment propagandised on YouTube, magazines, TV. Afterall, what d’you want to remember? That is the best route to a memorable future, and I suppose – a memorable past, also. Time to make some, memorable, memories.

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