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Sensing Time

by Ron Kurtus (revised 5 December 2004)

Everyone can tell when time passes. Your body can measure time, almost like a clock measures it. They say we experience time, but is it possible that time is something we sense, just like we sense light or sound?

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.



Measurement devices

We have devices to measure time, such as clocks. But it is not clear where the sensor for time is within the human or animal body. Certainly there is a biological clock that indicate when you grow, mature, get old and die, but it cannot be pinned down as a detector of some outside energy, as with the other senses.

Some people can use an inner clock to wake themselves up in the morning. I've done in some special situations where I had to get up early, but I did not have an alarm clock handy. Before going to sleep, I said to myself, "Wake up at 5 AM." Sure enough, I woke up on time. The only problem with doing that, I found, is that your sleep is not very sound.

You can also get a sense of time passing, but most people are not sure how they sense it.

Relative time

As people get older, they notice that time goes by more quickly. I wonder if there is a reason for this? One answer to this question is that time is relative to how long you have been alive. In other words, you relate time to how much time you have already lived.

Proportion to time lived

What this means that for a baby one day old, the second day is one half of the life he or she has lived so far. That day takes a relatively long time compared to the rest of the baby's life.

When you are 5 years old, you have lived about 1825 days. A year is 20% of your life so far. That seems like a long time.

When you are 10 years old, you have lived about 3650 days. A year is 10% of your life so far. A month is less than 1 % of your life, so time still goes by slowly (especially when waiting for a holiday).

When you are 20 years old, a year is just 5% of your life so far. Days are much smaller, so time goes by faster than before.

When you are 50 years old, you have lived about 18,250 days. A year is only 2% of your life so far. That is not much, so it goes by fairly fast. Of course, days go by much faster.

There is a joke that when you are young, time goes by fast when you are having fun. But when you are old, time goes by fast whether or not you're having fun.

Solitary confinement

Prisoners who are held in solitary confinement may lose a sense of actual time. But they still have a sense of time according to their biological clocks, which tell them when they are hungry and when they should sleep, but it may be distorted. Inactivity and not being able to interact with others makes the time seem to go by slower.

Future time

Not only can we sense or get the feeling of time as it goes by, but in some situations people can get visions of time in the future. Usually, this happens in a dream and is often called déjà vu.

Déjà vu

Déjà vu literally means "I was here before." So people will have dreams that seem to occur—at least partially—at a later date. Now the question is if this is sensing time in the future. That may be an answer.

Prophesies

In many religions, certain people would have dreams that would predict events in the future. This is different than déjà vu, which mainly concerns the individual. People who have had such predicting dreams are often called prophets.

There are many examples of this in the Judeo-Christian Old Testament Bible. Non-religious prophets include Edgar Cayce and Nostradamus.

Summary

There is no specific organ that seems to measure time that we know of right now. The sensing of time seems very relative according to a person's age, as well as outside stimulus. Sensing future time seems to be possible in some people.


Use your time to help others.


Resources and references.

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Web sites

Brain Areas Critical To Human Time Sense Identified - From Daily University Science News

Theory of subjective time perception - From Halfbakery.com

Circadian fluctuation of time perception in healthy human subjects - From Accelerated Learning Online

Time - By Dr. Roy Mathew, Professor of Psychiatry and Associate Professor of Radiology, Duke University Medical School

Senses Resources

Books

Top-rated books on Senses and Communication


Questions and comments

Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.


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