Logarithms, Time, and Living a Long Life
In 1987, Paul Janet put forward the idea that when you’re one year old, a year is 100% of your life. When you’re 2, a year is reduced to 50%, and so on. It’s why car rides are so long for young children, and why waiting for summer break can sometimes feel like an eternity when you’re young but then three fly by in what seems like an instant as an adult.
The apparent length of a period of time is proportional to the total time you’ve been alive. If you were to map it on with a line, you’d see your life compress toward the end, creating a logarithmic type of function.
There are some benefits to this. For one, you don’t need to wait as long for things to happen. We teach kids patience at school and at home, but maybe it’s not patience that’s needed… instead, maybe it’s just time and plotting ourselves farther along the x-axis of the logarithmic function. My wife and I will sometimes plan events a year in advance, and while it seems it’s far away, it always approaches (and then is over) fairly quickly. I notice this with fun parties too. I show up and in seemingly just a few seconds the party is over and everyone is going home.
Compare that to those nights in college that seemed to just go on forever and ended with Chinese takeout in a dorm lounge.
The downsides are somewhat obvious – life will feel a lot shorter than the years it takes to live would have you believe. Time just seems to slip by because every day becomes a lot more uniform, especially if you work at a desk or have the exact same routine every day. For those with kids, a huge downside is that your perception of watching your child grow is far shorter than their perception of how long it takes to grow.
But David Eagleman, a professor at Baylor College, says that there’s a way to combat this. Not a way to live longer, but a way to expand the perceived length of time. And that is to seek novelty.
This draws upon the fact that as children, everything is new and novel. Our perceptions of a year change but things also become more familiar. So if you seek out new and novel experiences as often as you can, the length of perceived time it takes for a year to occur should slow significantly.
When I think about parenting, I realize that part of being able to enjoy the ride has to do with seeking novelty. They say it goes by so fast, and they’re correct. But the choices we make during the ride about what activities to do every day and how far we stray from normalcy should have an effect on our enjoyment and fulfillment. And that’s worth pursuing.