Is time slowing?

(In a comment, I offer a possible explanation for this phenomenon.)

Roosevelt%20inauguration.jpg Meet%20the%20Beatles.jpg
The same duration separates FDR’s inauguration from the release
of the Beatle’s first LP as separates Ronald Reagan’s election from
the present moment, though the former duration seems much longer.

It is strange to realize that we are now as far in time from the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, as that decision was from the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which it confirmed.

Or look at it this way. We are now farther in time from the election of John F. Kennedy, than the election of Kennedy was from the election of Woodrow Wilson—two years before the beginning of the First World War!)

- end of initial entry -

James P. writes:

I reflected this weekend that we are now as far from the inauguration of Ronald Reagan (30 years) as the inauguration of Reagan was from the Korean War and the final two years of Truman.

Gintas writes:

When you’re young the days are short and the years are long. When you’re old the days are long and the years are short. So the answer to your question is “yes and no.”

James R. writes:

I don’t think time is slowing it’s just that progressivism is so firmly entrenched it now seems established, so many of the changes it wrought seem old now. But if you look at the other things they continue to do, it seems to be speeding up. For example it’s almost a guarantee that at the Republican Convention of 2020, if not 2016, there will be married homosexual military couples giving speeches and/or introductions, on display as an example of Republican family values and inclusiveness. (Unless something radical changes in the meantime).

James R. continues:

Here’s a cheering thought if you’re worried that time is slowing: Probably in 2020, if not 2016, Chaz Bono will give the Keynote Speech at the Republican Convention, and talk about how supportive Sonny Bono (R—CA) always was of Chaz’s choices.

LA replies:

Maybe it’s like this. Our sense of the amount of lapsed time between two events is a function, not of the amount of chronological time between them, but of whether the two events occurred during the same cultural era or in different cultural eras. Two events that both occurred since the onset of the counterculture, i.e., in the same era in which we find ourselves, will seem close in time to each other. Two events that occurred before and after the onset of the counterculture will seem much farther from each other. For example, it feels odd to us that as much chronological time has passed between the election of Ronald Reagan and this moment, as between the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt and the Beatles’ first LP. The time between Reagan’s election and now (31 years—from November 1980 to November 2011) feels relatively short, because the election of Reagan took place in the same cultural era in which we are still living, while the time between Roosevelt’s inauguration and the Beatles’ first LP (30 years and ten months—from March 1933 to January 1964), feels much longer, because the two events took place in different cultural eras.

But James R.’s point is also correct. The changes within this present cultural era seem to be occurring much more rapidly. But they are still within the same sensed era, which makes it seem that not that much time is passing.

LA adds:

But maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe the sense of greater elapsed time between two events is not a function of the two events being in two cultural eras, but of the first event preceding one’s own personal memories. Maybe the Roosevelt-Beatles gap seems greater to me simply because Roosevelt was before my time (and thus seems farther in the past), and the Beatles weren’t, while Reagan’s election is in my time as is the present moment.

But I’m not sure that’s right either. Because I think that the same sense of greater elapsed time is also experienced by people whose lives have bridged the two events in the two cultural eras. (See Paul T.’s comment below.)

Paul T. writes:

It’s certainly a disconcerting feeling, and the more examples one comes up with, the stranger it all seems. I have some fairly clear memories of 1960, but find it hard to wrap my mind around the plain fact that at that time there were still many people alive who had even clearer memories of the Victorian period. Many of these late Victorians lived to hear JFK’s announced goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth before the decade was out. And when my cousin Al Jolson starred in The Jazz Singer, only about thirty years before that, there were plenty of Civil War veterans walking around. My mother knew Jolson’s sister very well, though there must have been quite an age difference between them.

LA replies:

It’s not clear what you find disconcerting.

Paul T. replies:

Like most people (I suspect), I tend to divide history into periods—Civil War, post-Civil War, Great Depression and so on, and to populate each period with its own characteristic sets of people: the bright young things of the ’20s, the people of the Eisenhower years, etc. These divides are analytically useful, but they ignore the fact that a human life is often long enough to fall across periods, so that a Victorian could live to see space travel, or someone present at FDR’s inauguration could also have seen Jim Morrison perform. As you point out, it’s not just the passage of years that make these juxapositions so striking, it’s the fact that those years embody dramatic cultural shifts. Someone whose life falls between periods seems to be living in two or more different worlds or dimensions. It’s a real-life parallel to some fanciful, time-travel-based episode of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone. And to me, that’s somewhat eerie.

LA replies:

Right, so a person born in, say, 1885, who was 16 at the death of Queen Victoria and 29 at the outbreak of the Great War, would have been 84 at the time of the Moon landing.

Tim W. writes:

It seems more as though it’s speeding up. I’ve always heard that the mental clock speeds up as we age. So if you’re seventeen, it seems like ages have passed since you were seven. Memories of a vacation you took when you were seven seem ancient. But if you’re forty-seven it seems like only yesterday when you were thirty-seven.

Still, there does seem to be an aspect to this phenomenon I can’t quite understand. Remember the 1973 nostalgia movie American Graffiti? Its tag line was “Where were you in ‘62?” It was as if eleven years was an eternity then. When recording artists Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka, and Rick Nelson made comebacks in the ’70s everyone acted as if they had been gone forever, when in fact only a decade or so had passed since their last big hits. I notice this phenomenon in old films as well. Two characters will meet who haven’t seen each other for, let’s say, five years, and they act as if it’s been decades. “A lot of time has passed.” “Yes, so many years.”

I’m basically ignorant of today’s popular culture, so does anyone know if there is pop culture nostalgia for the 1990s? Or even the 1980s? Are there current movies and TV shows set in those eras, and are those decades treated as if they were far in the past?

Tim W. writes:

Could our mass immersion in video have something to do with the speeding up of time? When the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake hit, there was no TV. People nationwide eventually saw some newspaper photos of the devastation but there was no round-the-clock coverage. Only the people immediately affected by the quake truly remembered it years later. To most Americans it was a distant story with only a few available visual impressions. An earthquake that devastating today would feature video in continuous loop, available worldwide on every news channel plus internet videos which could be saved and played forever. It would be imprinted in everyone’s memory.

Think of how many times we’ve seen the video of the planes striking the Twin Towers on 9/11. Compare that to how many times the average American in 1951 had seen video of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Some had seen it maybe once or twice in newsreel footage at a theater. Many likely had never seen it, even a decade later. Could the lack of visual impressions of Pearl Harbor have made it seem like a distant event in 1951, while 9/11, which we all have seen too many times to count, doesn’t seem like that long ago?

November 29

Paul T. replies to LA:

Yes, and that’s almost exactly my grandfather’s case—born in 1888 and lived to see John Glenn’s orbital flight. Mind-blowing, as we used to say…. !

Wesley L. writes:

I just wanted to say that this is the most thought-provoking post I’ve read, here, in a long time. Very interesting.

Dimitri K. writes:

It is a great observation of yours. I have also observed something. Being a physicist-chemist, I observed the lack of scientific discoveries in the last 50 years. Some people want to pretend that inventing the IPod is equal to inventing a rocket or Relativity theory, but it’s not. IPod is mainly a new design of an old computer. The last scientific hopeful named Global Warming seems to have died, and now everyone sees that the king is naked.

And all other phenomena which you used to criticize, also add to the same pattern. We have passed the apex of our growth. I believe, the last financial crisis is simply a consequence of that decay. It cannot be fixed by financial means. Actually, it cannot be fixed by any technical means.

November 30

Philip M. writes:

There have been occasions, often when looking at your site, that I have felt the seed of an idea or an insight that will not, no matter how long I turn it over in my mind, form into a bigger truth that I can easily express. I’m sure there is something interesting there, but it is like it is something that is just beyond my limitations. Do you know what I mean?

I felt this very much when you were writing on the thread about time speeding up. I have felt before that there is something very profound about the way in the modern world that we measure out our sensation of time passing in terms of milestones in progressive political change—the “twenty years since they allowed gay adoption” mentality. I am thinking particularly of liberals (we are all political creatures and do it in some contexts of course) and the way they experience the world. It is partly to do with the idea that they have a spiritual and ethnic vacuum in their lives, which normally provides a person with a kind of ontological basis for placing yourself in the stream of time and space, and that because they lack this, their own opinions and urges become their only way to measure or be part of a wider sense of time and reality, so they must agitate for social change and more liberalism, as markers for their own life, and for the life of their civilisation, neither of which would have any other meanings in existential areas without this—but also it is like “sticking pins” into a living thing to see that it is still alive, because for them, there is no other way of experiencing that life and seeing that their civilisation lives.

Like I say I have never been able to get this out of me in a satisfying way.

As I think about this, something else also occurs to me about this thread. Some people have noted that time may seem to go faster because we are getting older. But if we view every civilisation as an organism, in the sense Oswald Spengler talks about it, then could not that speeding up be us experiencing the advanced age of the civilisation itself? That maybe our civilisation is nearing its end, it is old, and things seem to be speeding up for “it,” and that the people who live within it are conscious in some way of feeling this themselves—seeing as the civilisation is itself made up of the people in it? Maybe each age really does “feel” its age, is actually experienced differently, which is one reason why the art of another age can seem so vital and unrecreatable?

LA replies:

There is a lot here. I’m going to have to return to your comment and think about it more. Also, I should mention Rodney Collin’s “The Theory of Celestial Influence,” which deals with issues of this nature, such as the relative time of existence in different scales, how time is different depending on the size of the entity. But it is not easy reading. Collin was a close student of Ouspensky’s.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 28, 2011 11:22 AM | Send

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