Felt Time by Marc Wittmann

Felt Time by Marc Wittmann

Author:Marc Wittmann
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: The MIT Press
Published: 2016-03-25T00:00:00+00:00

Figure 7

Subjective speed in answer to the question, “How fast did the last ten years go by for you?” Respondents, aged 14 to 94, were asked to indicate their feeling of time on a scale: –2 (very slow), –1 (slow), 0 (neither slow nor fast), 1 (fast), 2 (very fast). Up to the age range from 50 to 59, subjective speed increases, after which it remains constant.

In sum, studies demonstrate that time passes quickly for adults on the whole, and a correlation exists between age and temporal perception. However, one should also note the broad range of response behavior among participants, which makes it clear that older people, when compared to younger ones, do not necessarily all have the feeling that time is passing more and more quickly.

Numerous studies from the field of cognitive psychology have shown that the subjective duration of a span of time depends on the number of events stored in memory and the number of changes experienced in this period. The more events or contextual changes that occur within a given stretch of time, the longer it is subjectively experienced.2 Contextual changes concern changes in environment, thought, or feeling. A large quantity of changes perceived over a stretch of time causes duration to expand subjectively, compared to the same span spent under conditions that are monotonous and poor in experience. When a period offers many experiences that can be recalled, it appears to have lasted longer in retrospect. An exciting week on vacation that yielded many new impressions lasts much longer, subjectively, than a week following the same old routine while commuting between home and the office.

In Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain—a novel about how we feel the passage of time, among other things—the “Excursus on the Sense of Time” directly explores how new experiences affect our perception of time. Mann uses the example of the vacation to illustrate how many different experiences during the first few days at an unfamiliar place stretch time in subjective terms. Then, after one has spent a while at the new location, the days shorten in proportion to the effect of habituation that sets in. Finally, toward the end of the vacation, the days fly by as one realizes that the holiday is rushing to a close.

Experiences that are exciting and new expand time. But when what was novel becomes a matter of routine, time starts to pass quickly again. The narration of The Magic Mountain also develops on the model of how phenomena of perception and memory unfold over an extended span of time. At the outset, detailed descriptions of the first few days at the sanatorium in the Alps fill page after page. The novel’s protagonist, Hans Castorp, views his surroundings and the events there with new eyes, and so there is much that warrants telling. Hours take up whole pages. Later on, the same amount of space is devoted to weeks and even months; far longer stretches of time must pass for the same number of pages to be filled.


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