How Do We Perceive Time?

Our brain and external reality constantly interact with each other.  The brain captures variations in the external environment, receiving sensory information, such as images and sounds, and preserves these changes. Neuroscientists have discovered that memories are stored in the brain as specific neuron patterns.  Patterns are groups of brain cells, called neurons, and their connections, known as synapses.  They account for all activities in our brain and contain information about what, where, and when. The brain can determine “what” and “where” by processing outside information, but it can’t handle “when” in a similar way.

A team of researchers from MIT has found that the brain has an ability to create the concept of time and has identified brain cells that keep track of time. As investigations have shown, to develop an analog watch, the  brain consistently fires specific neurons at determined times.  The researchers believe that a specific pattern of an event interacts with the metronome circuit, receiving time information and then storing it.  Scientists have found groups of cells related to patterns in the primate brain that code internal timing with extreme precision.

This finding allows us to assume that  people  have the ability to change their subjective perception of time, slowing down or speeding up it, as confirmed by neurobiologist David Eagleman.  The subjective time is stretched when a person acquires new information or skills.  This strengthening occurs because  new experience is processed more slowly and causes a perception of longer time.  An example of subjective extension of time is the concept of time that one experienced in his childhood, a period when children receive large amounts of knowledge and experience.  During this period of life, the brain spends a lot of time forming certain patterns for new experiences, leading to the quasi extension of time. With age, the process becomes quicker because more and more information becomes familiar for our brain and it becomes shorter to process it, giving us the feeling that time flies faster and faster.  This is why when we are a child, the Summer holiday seems to go on forever, and as an adult, a year seems to go by in a blink of an eye.

Realizing that our perception is in fact our reality, we could make our lives seem much longer by acquiring new experiences.  In this case, our brain makes us feel that time moves more slowly.


Svetlana Stroganova, Nikolai Shmelev

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