Hourglass or sand timer in front of a beautiful clear sunrise or sunset.

Time Is Stranger Than We Thought

Time flies when you’re having fun! Or so it seems. Or does it? What is time? In the Western world, we think of time as a linear construct that moves left to right. Think of a timeline, and that’s generally what we perceive. But time is seen as vertical or even three-dimensional in other parts of the world.

Time is a concept that can shift based on our perspectives and experiences. Time is stranger than we think, and as you’ll discover, it’s significantly impacted by our circumstances.

There’s No Clock That Is 100% Accurate

Clock face showing two hands pointing at numbers.
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You might think that we’ve got this down pat by now. But we don’t. We have atomic clocks that are incredibly accurate, but they aren’t perfect. The process of defining time occurs around the globe on a constant basis, with data submitted to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris for ongoing review and evaluation.

Time Is Experienced by Our Minds

Time Brain - a brain made out of all clocks.
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Our perception roots us in time, with a variety of daily factors and interactions shaping our perception. From memory to emotion, we sense time in our minds. Consider this, according to research, repetition and routine, in hindsight, create a sense that time has moved faster than those who seek novel and unique experiences. 

“Let’s Do the Time Warp Again”

blurred image of fast cars speeding by on a road.
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You’re singing it right now, aren’t you? We can all experience a time warp. Like in the movies, when a crash scene plays out in slow motion or when your life “flashes before your eyes,” our experience of time can vary based on our highly stressful encounters.

Health Challenges Impact Time

Hands hold colorful image of human head with brain waves inside of it.
Photo Credit: Berit Kessler/Shutterstock.

Some brain disorders, such as epilepsy, can temporarily speed up or stop time. While those around the person experiencing the issue remain static in their own time frame, the patient can experience time quite differently.

Athletes Can Experience Time Differently

Man surfing a wave.
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Athletes can train their brains to view timing differently, with greater specificity, than the average population. A hockey player can envision the puck’s trajectory and timing to get to the destination at the right time, and surfers can time the perfect wave.

You Live In the Recent Past

Woman apparently yelling with illustration of sound lines coming out of her mouth.
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It’s tiny, even minuscule, but by the time the voice of the person speaking to you reaches your ears and your brain, time has passed since they spoke. Fortunately, we all experience this, and our brains sync light and sound together, so we consider it to be the present.

Life Outside Conventional Time

Multiple clocks show time around the world.
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In Nepal, it’s 2024 and 2081. Nepal uses the Sambat calendar, which uses a different timeline than our traditional Western calendars. Nepal is outside of standard time zones by 15 minutes. Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada are 30 minutes outside the standard time.

By the way, in Thailand, it’s 2565, and according to the Islamic calendar, it’s 1445.

A Second Is How Long?

Close up picture of clack face showing seconds.
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A second is 1/60th of a minute, right?

Not exactly. In 1967, the Thirteenth General Conference of the International Committee for Weights and Measures officially defined the second as “the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom.” Glad we could clarify that.

It’s All in the Past

Beautiful stars in the sky over a forest of trees.
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Light takes time to travel. By the time the sunlight reaches us, it’s 8 minutes and 20 seconds old, while the light from our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is 4 years old when we see it in the night sky.

Racing Against a Deadline

woman stressed by punctuality at the office looking at man holding up wristwatch showing the time.
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The clock ticks faster and faster. You need to get that report completed before vacation. When you’re focused on a big project, your brain pays less attention to time, creating a sense that time is passing quickly. But when you’re bored or less active, your brain focuses more on time. Look around at people checking the clock during a meeting versus a concert. You’ll see.

They Said We’d Never Fly

Wright Brothers airplane being tested. Their plane was the first Military Plane Purchased by US. Biplane circa 1910.
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In 1903 the New York Times declared that it would take 1-10 million years before we could take to the skies. It turns out their timing was quite wrong. That same year the Wright Brothers launched their first successful flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The Smallest Measurement of Time

Woman with dark make up blinks eye.
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Planck time is the smallest measurement of time, but it’s not one we use for any daily purposes. It takes five hundred and fifty thousand trillion trillion trillion Planck times to blink a single time. 

The Fourth Dimension

Clock face with rainbow lights and spiral lines shining out of it.
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Time moves forward. Never back. It can’t be touched, smelled, or tasted. But it can be measured, making some consider it the fourth dimension of reality.

The Sunset Hour

Paris, France - Eiffel tower at sunset.
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The sun sets in Paris both earlier and later than London. The Parisian time zone is one hour ahead of London, but being slightly east, Paris sees the sun set just before London sees it set.

People of the Future Are Already Here

Ginat clock floats over a city with fireworks in the sky.
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The 22nd century is several decades away, but there it people living today who will see that century ushered in. When the fireworks launch on New Year’s Eve 2099, millions of people from today will be witness to the new century.

More Interesting Perceptions

Young woman shopping in the grocery store and Reading ingredients or sell by date.
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Time isn't the only thing with varied perceptions. What we perceive as risky can also vary quite a lot. 

Author: Todd Rowley

Title: Copywriter

Expertise: social services, transportation, mental health

Todd Rowley is a copywriter and content writer. He’s an unabashed introvert, an only child with a curious spirit, and a lover of the Oxford comma. Originally educated as a Child and Youth Worker - spending more than 25 years in the field - he also dabbled in Religious Education and Communications Studies.