Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Time-warping volume makes you wait for answer
One of the greatest mysteries regarding our perception of time is what British psychologist Claudia Hammond calls "the Holiday Paradox."
Why is it that when we go on a vacation, the time seems to rush by very quickly, but yet, when we return, it seems like we've been gone for much longer.
Hammond looks at this "warping of time" as well as several other topics in this informative volume on the mysteries of time perception, but she likes to keep the reader waiting to hear the answer.
She addresses such ideas as our ability to keep track of time, how we picture time in our imaginations, and our ability to remember events, including whether or not we would have an easier time remembering the day of an event if it occurred on a weekend, rather than a weekday. (Turns out weekends are easier, as they are less connected with routine.
Hammond teaches psychology at Boston University in London and serves as a broadcaster on BBC Radio 4. She is the author of one other book, Emotional Rollercoaster: A Journey through the Science of Feelings.
In this volume, Hammond explores which part of our brain is responsible for our sense of time perception. However, it may be that there are multiple centres, each contributing to a part of the process. She cites research from the fields of psychology, neuroscience and biology, and studies that demonstrate these concepts.
She also illustrates the ideas with real world examples, such as the French speleologist who spent two months in an ice cave in complete darkness, in order to discover what happened to the natural rhythms of the body without outside clues such as clocks and daylight.
By the time we reach the chapter Why Time Speeds Up as You Get Older, the answer may not take us so much by surprise. Part of the key is two different ways of looking at time -- prospectively as well as retrospectively.
Of course, our perception of time includes both the past and the future.
Although we spend a good portion of time reconsidering the past, it may be that our default state is to look toward the future. We don't record events exactly, like a tape recorder. Our memory doesn't store events, what is does is reconstruct events when required.
This method has the advantage of being highly flexible, but it is also extremely unreliable. It's very easy for anyone to have a vivid memory of an event that didn't even happen.
Yet it also appears that our ability to reconstruct our memories is what allows us to time-travel into our own future -- something that, so far, only human beings have the demonstrated ability to do.
The importance of this type of research many seem to affect only individuals, but consider the situation that Hammond notes. Many public opinion surveys rely on people's ability to remember events.
For instance, a survey on local community clubs may ask you to report how many times you used the facility in the last year. Our perception of time may lead us to over or underestimate, which may impact public policy.
With a better understanding of how we remember past events, there are better ways to word such questions in order to improve the validity of the data.
Anyone interested in psychology-related topics would find this volume well-written and appealing. And on the topic, for those who might also appreciate a different view of time, consider In Search of Time, by Canadian science writer Dan Falk.
Winnipegger Donna Harris is an amateur science enthusiast who is always wishing for more time.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 15, 2012 J9
Updated on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 3:52 PM CDT: Updates with Canadian book cover
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
(1 of 23 articles for this week)