Science Writing

The Relentless March

It is believed that the first measurement of time was the separation of Day and Night. Two distinct passages of the Earth’s rotation (despite the cause not being known at the time) that nicely worked out to be roughly even, depending on where the observer was.

As time went on, early humans and their ancestors noticed other patterns in the natural world; the 28-ish day lunar cycle, and the changing of the seasons.

By observing the constellations in the sky, these early humans noticed yet another pattern, and the yearly cycle of the Earth was discovered; roughly 365 days.

It is important to note that cultures around the world viewed time differently; the modern understanding of time, one event towards the next, past through present and into future and never any other way around, is not the only way to view it.

Some cultures view time as cyclical and others blend past/present/future into one cohesive time that permeates everything (for more on this concept I’ll post some links below, as cultures and their views on time deserve their own blog).

But it is undeniable that since science and logic have become the mainstays of reason on Earth, time has been further broken down until we now measure our lives in hours, minutes and seconds. Recently, a clock has been built that will only dip out of sync by about 1 second – after about 33 billion years.

Time has dominated our lives since we evolved but during the burgeoning of the industrial revolution, humans took time and turned it against ourselves.

We split time from day and night into hours and we split those hours into minutes of work, rest, and leisure. Weeks are now separated into five days of work and two of rest (if you are lucky and privileged to live in countries that have them). Days are broken up in scheduled blocks in which tasks must be completed and it seems that when the lines of these blocks bleed into one another, it is only ever work bleeding into leisure and not the other way around. We dominate the lives of children with schedules and timetables as well, breaking their lives up into school hours which in turn have different subjects, some breaks, some time for play.

And whilst time, Clock Time that is, the movement of the Earth, is measurable and is the same on every clock and watch, the time we experience, Perceived Time, is subjective and it changes and flows every moment of every persons life, even if you don’t think about it.

I’m sure though, when prompted, you will be able to think of a time in your life where time seems to have sped up; whilst you were watching a blockbuster at the cinema, or deep into the middle of a heart-wrenching novel. Or maybe it’s easier to think of the opposite, those times when the world seems to crawl at a snails pace when you glance at the clock after thirty minutes to find that only five have passed.

This is because the world and all stimuli we experience is filtered through our brains before we become consciously aware of it.

When we are young our brains are designed to absorb information at a rapid rate. We learn, we experience at a pace that surpasses anything we will achieve later in life. As we age our brains become slower and we register images and experiences at a pace to match. Perhaps this sounds counterintuitive, but that slowing down of our mind, causes our perception of time’s march to increase in speed.

We notice less things as we age, every day moments and events go by unmarked, and in missing them the rate of our Perceived Time increases as our mind barrels through with more focus but less awareness.

There is another aspect to the increasing pace of Perceived Time and that is routine. It is the enemy of a slow perception of time.

You do the same thing every day. You get up to an alarm, you go to the toilet, shower, clean your teeth, get dressed, drive to work, have lunch, work some more, drive home, run errands, eat dinner, watch a TV show, go to bed.

Your brain notices less, dulled as it is by the repetition of your days.

Rate of Perceived Time increases.

Life seems to disappear before your eyes.

But don’t fret. There is something you can do to slow the relentless march of time.

Take moments out of your routine.

It’s that simple, really. During your day, pause and looked up at the sky or go for a walk during lunch, wake up earlier and read before getting out of bed.

Pause your routine and your brain will notice things, it’s awareness will increase and it’s focus will spread out, your rate of Perceived Time will decrease and for that moment at least, it will feel like that world is still and you have all the time in the world.

It would be remiss of me not to circle back to Clock Time. I said before that it is the same on Earth on every watch and clock and for all intents and purposes it is.

But really, it isn’t.

Clock Time, that mechanical ticking that we associate with long days and boring hours, flows and shifts in startling, fascinating ways.

Let’s say you’re on a train, on a track that circles the Earth, impossible I know but bear with me in this thought experiment. The train starts and steadily increases at 2g’s or ~19.6 meters/second/second. It continues this acceleration until your speed on the train reaches 0.9c or 0.9 the speed of light (269 813 212 m/s).

For you, Clock Time is the same, a year passes and you age a year. But the train stops and you step out and you find that outside of the train, 2.3 years have passed.

Congratulations, you have travelled into the future and all you needed to do was go ludicrously fast.

This effect is because time is not a constant (neither is space, meaning that length can contract and expand but that’s another story). The constant is the speed of light and that unbreakable law of the universe means that other factors have to bend and one of those is time. It’s the reason clocks on GPS satellites have to adjust for time dilation as they are travelling far faster relative to us on Earth.

So not even Clock Time is as static as one might assume.

The important thing, for Clock Time and Perceived Time, isn’t the time itself, it’s what you do with it.

And if you spend five minutes of it reading this blog post, thank you.

I hope you pause throughout your routine and take time to slow down; you might find your days feel longer and you have given yourself just a little bit more time to enjoy the time you have.

Because let’s face it, we all get a lifetime and it’s up to us to decide what to do with it.

Further Reading/References

This is the world’s most accurate clock — for now, anyways – ABC News (

Time perception in children: A neurodevelopmental approach – ScienceDirect

Physics explains why time passes faster as you age — Quartz (

What Is Time? A History of Physics, Biology, Clocks and Culture. | Quanta Magazine

A very, very brief history of time | Pursuit by The University of Melbourne (

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