Almost everyone has heard the statement, “Time flies when you are having fun.” As is so oft observed, life is fleeting. We are young one day and seemingly old the next. “Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?” (Psalms 89:47). Why do we perceive our lifespan this way? Haven’t we all wondered why time seems like sand running through our fingers? One explanation for this could be called the memory retention theory.
When I was a child, my brothers and I would get off of the school bus around 3:30 p. m. It seemed to us like a long time until we had to go to bed. We would do our chores, play, run around in the woods, ride our bikes, make our cardboard box forts, build little cabins out of small trees in the woods, and all sorts of activities before it was time to come inside for the night for the dreaded bath time and then settling down. Time passed the same for us as it did our parents, but I can assure you that as an adult when it gets to be 3:30 p. m. now, it seems like the day is almost over with little time left to accomplish anything. Looking back over life can be like a patient recently told me, “Everything from 30 to 60 years old just seems like a blur.” This isn’t particular or unique to modernity for it is mentioned in Psalms 90:4: “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”
Not everything in life flies by quickly. Lamentations 5:20 asks, “Wherefore dost thou forget us forever, and forsake us so long time?” When we are in pain or anguish, we all notice how time seems to creep forward ever so slowly. Have you ever had an accident and noticed that you seem to remember everything in detail like it happened in slow motion? What is the explanation for this difference?
Think of a movie being played on a projector and the film reel whizzing along. We realize that what we are watching are multitudes of still images being played fast enough to give the impression of motion in our minds. Our eyes are like the cameras on the set of a movie capturing the scenes of life. However, when we play back our “movies,” we don’t have high-speed rewind or fast forward. Playback depends upon our memory capacity at the time of our experience.
When we are young, our minds are like brand new, empty computers with clean hard drives except for the operating system. A new computer always functions fast and efficiently with a quicker recall of whatever we try to access. However, if you let that computer get overly cluttered with too many files and startup commands, it will use up too much background processing power which will greatly reduce the computer’s functionality and speed.
The human brain records everything in detail more readily and easily when we are young. As we get older, our memory capacities begin to slowly diminish. Consequently, our life experience seems to pass faster. You have probably heard many people state that the older one gets, the faster time passes.
Now that we have a basis for how to think about why time would be perceived differently, some questions would naturally come up as to why times of extreme pain or joy seem to last longer to adults when everything else seems to be the usual speed. This can be explained by the ability of our bodies to enable the “fight or flight” mode when we are stressed, endangered, or just overly excited for pleasant or painful reasons. When entering “fight or flight” mode, the blood flow in a body is diverted away from our intestinal tract and directed toward our brains, muscles, and heart. With the greater brain blood flow comes an increased functional capacity. A vehicle wreck, a life-threatening experience, or some other traumatic experience is remembered many times in complete detail and time seems to slow down. Those times of life that are the most pleasant seem to pass fast because it is during those times that we are most relaxed with normal blood flow.
The loss of memory that occurs as we age is mainly due to vascular disease that slowly develops over time. The nervous system is the first to suffer when the microvasculature becomes diseased. Just ask a diabetic. They get this type of disease faster than other people. Some of the nerves of our bodies have blood vessels only one red blood cell in diameter.
If we want to experience life to the fullest while keeping the time from seeming to pass so fast, it is important to live as healthy a life as we can. God’s word has a lot to say about how to live healthy because He wants us to live up to our potential so that we can glorify Him in the process, remembering it in detail.