Why does time fly by faster with each passing year?

Why does time seem to fly by faster with each passing year?

Norbert Cunningham gives a nice summary of a theory by David Eagleman.

As we experience ever more in life, familiar patterns recur and the memories our brains store get ever more compressed. Our brain can skip or compress a lot of things we know or have already experienced because we’ve got the general template from the first time and it need add only new details. As a result, when we draw on our memory, it is much less vivid and detailed, having the effect of cutting some frames out of a film, which seemingly speeds time up.

According to Alison Gopnik

[W]hen we are faced with the unfamiliar, when we fall in love with someone new, or when we travel to a new place, our consciousness of what is around us and inside us suddenly becomes far more vivid and intense. In fact, we are willing to expend lots of money, and lots of emotional energy, for those few intensely alive days in Paris or Beijing that we will remember long after months of everyday life have vanished.

At the end of a trip, much more time seems to have passed than it usually would after only so few days. Your co-workers may ask “Didn’t you just leave?”, yet to you it feels as if that were months ago. (It’s as if they had done the traveling, not you, accelerating away to near light speed and returning, while you were stopped to smell the roses.)

According to the theory, the tick-tock of the clock with which you measure time is the memorizing of uncompressibly novel experiences, that is, an increase in entropy, a decrease in the ability to predict what’s around the next corner — the learning of something about reality.

According to Jeremy Hayward

It is only when the old presuppositions clash with reality and the new have not yet become convention that we are learning anything about reality at all.

If incompressibility of experience is key, then time probably feels slower to those who savor nuance instead of just wolfing life down.

According to Anton Kerssemakers (translated by Johanna van Gogh-Bonger) in a reminiscence of his time with Vincent van Gogh

In the museum he knew where to find what interested him most; he took me chiefly to the Van Goyens, the Bols and the Rembrandts; he spent the longest time in front of the “Jewish Bride”; I could not tear him away from the spot; he went and sat down there at his ease, while I myself went on to look at some other things. “You will find me here when you come back,” he told me.

When I came back after a pretty long while and asked him whether we should not get a move on, he gave me a surprised look and said, “Would you believe it – and I honestly mean what I say – I should be happy to give ten years of my life if I could go on sitting here in front of this picture for a fortnight, with only a crust of dry bread for food?” At last be got up. “Well, never mind,” he said, “we can’t stay here forever, can we?”

I wonder if, for someone of his higher awareness, 2 weeks with Rembrandt’s brushwork would have been richer than 10 years of the typical human’s sleepwalking.




  1. I like how you assembled this info from various sources to create an easy to understand answer your post question. It reminds me to take the time (no pun intended) to appreciate life’s beautiful moments.

    I can totally relate to the Gopnik quote you shared and I always cherish those “intensely alive days.” My wife, cultural junkie, is currently reading Gopnik’s new book, The Philosophical Baby. It provided great insight into the development of human thinking and consciousness from the start of life.


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