Why Conventional Wisdom About Slowing Time Won't Work, (In Fact, it is Exactly, Perfectly, Wrong)
Recently nearly a dozen people sent me an article about how to slow down time. It was thoughtful, articulate, compelling, and as it turns out exactly, perfectly, wrong. The author's observation was that the pace of life is picking up (true), that constant interaction with technology is causing our minds to race (true), and that the key to slowing down time is to detach, slow down, and clear our minds (exactly.perfectly.wrong). Why is it wrong? Well, I'll get to that in a second, but first to clarify - the author's advice is not bad advice - lots of people probably need to detach, slow and clear their minds - there are lots of health and other benefits to doing so. However if slowing time down is the goal, then this advice is exactly, perfectly wrong. In order to show why we'll need a brief lesson in neuroscience.
Philip Zimbardo of Stanford was one of the first to look into how our brains focus on time - in particular that sometimes we are thinking about the future, sometimes the present, and sometimes the past. He calls these “temporal perspectives.” Here’s the critical factor: when it comes to time perception (how long did this day last, this month, this year, last summer) all that matters is past temporal perspective. More specifically, the you that you are and the time you experience, all exists in long term memory. The future doesn’t matter, the present doesn’t matter, only memory. You experience with time perception is directly correlated to the quantity of recallable memories you store, and how intense (deep) they are. How you experience time in the present actually has an inverse relationship with your perception of time. This is where the fallacy begins…
“The day was super hectic, busy, it flew by… alas time sped up and I ‘lost time.” Yes, time in the present temporal perspective was swift, but the key question is, “did you lay down a lot of memories?” If none of the high speed hectic activities were intense or meaningful or recallable, well then.. yes. But consider a long boring day where time extends to infinity in the present temporal perspective. The clock on the wall simply stops ticking and the day is endless. Most likely this is actually going to leave almost no memories… Sure slowing down your mind and assuming a zen-like pose might be good for your nervous system, but it won’t create memories.
So here’s why the advice is exactly perfectly wrong. In order to expand time, you have to create lots of recallable, intense memories. In order to do that, you have to process lots of information at a high rate. Slowing or emptying your mind? It might be important for a health check, but those days of high speed “in the zone” engagement where the pressure is on and you perform at your best? That’s the stuff time perception is made of.
More in my forthcoming book (working logo below)