As the Years Go Passing By

Clapton lifted the classic Layla riff from Albert King and added a few notes—King was the most parsimonious of bluesmen, but he did play all the right notes—Uncle Eric then played his own tune a little bit faster.

Albert King died in 1992, and Clapton completed his final world tour earlier this year—time flies. In 1964 the Rolling Stones released a song called Time Is On My Side—it’s doubtful whether they still see it that way. Three years later the Beatles came out with the landmark Sergeant Pepper’s album, in the Magic Summer of 1967.

Why magic? Well, San Francisco’s summer of love was in full swing, with Owsley acid lacing some pretty uninspired soda to prepare electric Kool-Aid, and free concerts by Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. For youngsters growing up under a dictatorship in Southern Europe, that would be magic enough, but apart from that Beatles album a couple of other tunes hit the stores that summer:

Small Faces (“Itchycoo Park”); Eric Burdon & The Animals (Winds of Change); The Doors (The Doors and Strange Days); Jefferson Airplane (Surrealistic Pillow and After Bathing at Baxter’s); Pink Floyd (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn); Love (Forever Changes), Cream (Disraeli Gears); The Byrds (Younger Than Yesterday); The Rolling Stones (Their Satanic Majesties Request); The Who (The Who Sell Out); The Velvet Underground (The Velvet Underground & Nico); Procol Harum (Procol Harum); and The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold As Love).

Paul McCartney is 73 years old, so When I’m 64 is a thing of the past.

Getting a handle on time is a challenge, and of course everything is relative—five minutes vary greatly depending what side of the bathroom door you’re on.

But one thing is clear: time goes faster when you’re older. This truism is an example of Murphy’s law—incidentally I always prefer the Brit term sod’s law—crude but wonderfully descriptive.

There are various reasons, well-rooted in science, why time accelerates with age. In 1890 psychologist William James observed that as time passes we have ‘fewer firsts.’ The expression in mine, but the concept is simple—first day of school, first date, first kiss, first orga…nic vegetarian meal, etc.

The list goes on but tails off. Unless you lose your virginity in your forties, or become a cougar, chances are you’re running short of firsts. As a consequence, James argued that years meld, and time speeds up.

Other studies have come up with various complementary hypotheses—in this case I don’t think there’s one right answer, not for one person and certainly not for society.

For instance time goes a lot faster when you do something you enjoy, because you don’t think about time, or about how long something is taking. That’s why the expression ‘do you know how long this took me to do?’ is always used in the context of a chore, a duty, or something that’s not well received. No child ever asks mother reprovingly “Do you know how long I’ve been watching TV?”

One interesting theory, first published by Paul Janet in 1877, focuses on time elapsed—it looks at the time ratio. At age ten, one year is ten percent of your life, at age fifty it’s two percent—the idea is that the relative passage of time is faster.

I researched a couple of articles on this, one of which states that time increases gradually and evenly. No. Mathematically, you can express this time ratio (L) as a power law, L = P/A (duh), where P is the period of interest, say one year, and A is your age.

The interesting thing about this function (zzz… is this explanation going to take forever?) is that it’s a typical long tail, as used by the major internet sellers.

That means the ratio falls real quick in the early years of your life, but at twenty five it’s still 0.2. By the time you’re fifty it’s 0.1, but after that it decreases pretty slowly.

I was in my mid-forties when I decided to drop www from all my web prefixes, I simply didn’t have time to write those three letters any more. Wittmann and Lehnoff, in a 2005 study in Germany, found that

perception of the speed of time (in the last decade, anyway)… …peaked at age 50, however, and remained steady until the mid-90s.

How cool is that? There are biological theories for this ‘time-trap’, including the fact that your biological clock runs slower as you age, but time does not—I like that one too.

There’s a huge sensory experience component at play, and I’m convinced that if you become seriously disabled time slows down terribly. If you’re ill, sitting in a hospital room, time crawls.

The stillness of time in children explains how easily kids get bored,  sitting at table pole-axed by parental conversation.

When it comes to short-term events, we still behave similarly as kids and adults, albeit with slightly less whooping (at least some of us).

There are things I look forward to immensely, and I go into kiddie mode—the waiting is unbearable. So the trick therefore must be to populate your life richly with these opportunities, so that you look forward to the next event as if it was your first fu…ndamental encounter with life itself.

It’s all a question of dealing with what’s behind and what’s in front. But a quarter of the world doesn’t see it that way. The Chinese concept of time is not on the horizontal plane, like the West—it’s vertical.

Now that’s a first. For almost two billion people, the past is above you, the future below. The Chinese aren’t chased by their memories, their past presses down on them instead. And their future is something they have to dig to find.

Like a fortune cookie.

So dig deep. And don’t look up.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.


One Response to “As the Years Go Passing By”

  1. Miriam Says:

    I would say that in the west mode your last phrase would sound like ” go ahead and don´t look back”. Easier to say than to do…

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