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Why Do Humans Perceive Time The Way We Do?

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As human beings, we can’t really think of ourselves without time. We organize our days around its passing. We define ourselves through the events that have been encoded into our memories. Experiences unfold through a present that passes relentlessly from one moment to the next, and we make plans to achieve our goals with the knowledge that tomorrow will arrive on schedule, as it always does. 

This is the phenomenology of time, or what neuroscientists call time consciousness. These aspects, or layers, of our experience of time, have played an important role in informing our intuitions about the nature of physical time. We assume that it has directionality, moving from an unchangeable past to an immersive present to unknown future— and that all of the above unfolds at a uniform rate throughout the cosmos.

But the more scientists have scrutinized the concept of time, the more they’ve come to understand that these common-sense assumptions may not reflect time’s true nature. 

Einstein’s Big Idea

The first radical shift in our understanding of time came with the widespread scientific acceptance of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Up until then, Newtonian time, or absolute time, existed independently of a perceiver, and progressed at a constant rate, everywhere. Relativity changed all of this. By perceiving space and time as an interwoven material, Einstein explained how mass warps this fabric to create gravity. The implications for merging space and time meant that mass not only distorted space; it distorted time, too.

Today, GPS satellites have to account for Earth’s varying distortion of space-time at different locations by adjusting the clocks in satellites and building mathematical corrections into their computer chips. Without this adjusting for relativity, Earth’s GPS systems would fail in about two minutes. 

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Time bending(Credit: GoodIdeas/Shutterstock)

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Click the link below for the article:

https://www.discovermagazine.com/the-sciences/why-do-humans-perceive-time-the-way-we-do?utm_source=pocket_discover

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