28 Jan 1999



Note, this was written before I had a blog. I recovered it from the Internet Archive. Back in graduate school I had a “musings” section of my site and those essays are in the same spirit as this blog so I’ve added them with retroactive datestamps.

The three constants in the universe, so I’m told, are the speed of light, death, and taxes. I can’t really do anything about the speed of light, and I feel quite powerless to affect taxes, as I live in a city that charges almost as much in income tax as the state it’s in (Hint: this state is the most populous on the east coast and charges a buttload in both income and sales tax, and the city shares its name). So, that leaves death. Now there I can at least do some explaining.

I have an analytical mind (nooooooo!). I like to reason things out, and so as my tiny being tries to grasp the true nature of life and death, it grabs on to little morsels. This particular morsel I want to share is so tiny, so not helpful, that it’s almost a waste. But it seems to explain a lot to me anyway, so I’ll carry on…

The issue at hand is the following.

Resolved: People tend to feel their life slipping past them faster and faster as they get older. Middle-aged folks may even feel decades slip by at a time. As our store of patience grows, so does our tendency to allow time to pass in large chunks. Our lives speed up.

The solution to this paradox is the following logical deduction: If a < b then c/a > c/b. (Okay, okay, so long as c is positive.) The way to read that more relevantly is, “If you are younger than me (a < b) then c days seems longer to you than to me (c/a > c/b).” So the fractions

c/a and c/b represent the fraction of our total lives so far that waiting for c days represents. For example, if you are four years old, then waiting for a toy for a week represents waiting around 0.5% of the total amount of time you have ever existed. If I am 40, then a week is only 0.05% of my total lifespan. Said another way, waiting 10 weeks feels the same to me as waiting a week does for you, the four-year-old. And plus I’m waiting for a video game and not a toy!

All the math is meant to confuse you into thinking I’m right. Certainly you can’t argue that the equations don’t lie. What was left unsaid is the basic hypothesis here: we measure the size of periods of time in relation to our own total experience of time. As we gain familiarity with time’s flow, that is, as we age, we can let more of it trickle by in one gulp without thinking too much about it. But I feel it’s more precise than that: our sense of how long a month or a year is is proportional to our age. That means that a one-day-old baby (awww) feels as much time go by in its second day of life as I will between now and when I’m 50. Wow. And to think mommy gets most of that day alone with baby in the hospital. I’m jealous.