Shifting Time

Update: 2017-08-049
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We live our lives by the calendar and the clock, but time is also an abstraction, even an illusion. In this hour, TED speakers explore how our sense of time changes depending on who and where we are. Guests include director Cesar Kuriyama, poet Rives, psychologist Dan Gilbert, psychologist Laura Carstensen, and cosmologist Sean Carroll. (Original broadcast date: June 19, 2015)

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support for this NPR podcast in the following message come from Alfa Romeo with the all new Julie a sport sedan born from Alfa Romeo is more than one hundred and five year racing heritage with Italian craftsmanship inside and out learn more at Alfa Romeo USA dot com Hey it's guy here just a quick note to say that today's episode originally aired in June of twenty fifteen it's about time and how our sense of time changes depending on who and where we are and you can hear from psychologist Dan Gilbert longevity expert Laura Carson sin physicist Sean Carroll and others so here it is this is the Head Radio Hour each week groundbreaking Ted talks the Ted Technology Design Design at Stanford delivered and Ted conferences around the world gift of the human imagination we had to believe in impossible the true nature of reality beckons just beyond those talks those ideas adapted for radio NPR guy rise so sometime in two thousand eleven Cesar Correa Emma felt stuck in time I was about to turn thirty and I was working in advertising and I was working a hundred hour work weeks all the time you know I literally had like NO NO LIFE I ate my life was work Caesar was living in New York he still does but back then he was living a life he had not planned eighty years earlier he'd finished art school where he studied computer animation primarily but I dabbled in sculpture and painting and film and I just wanted to get a little taste of everything but then I sort of working in advertising and after that ten years you know I found that less and less creatively fulfilling and so I kind of hit a breaking point where I needed to do something about it it was a classic quarter life crisis and like any life crisis taxis are thinking about better times and so I was thinking back on when I was twenty but there and he ran into another problem it's kind of like I know generally what I knew I was in college as a sophomore who my friends were with my classes were in a day to day basis I have absolutely no idea this is where the story really starts to give Caesar fought with all of our modern technology there had to be a better way to remember the past to chronicle our own journey through time and so I thought the one second one second of video I realized I have this high definition camera my pocket at all times now think suits my iPhone and coming from an animation background I know that there's a lot you can catch with just a second so Caesar began recording short videos every day and then edit them together so that each day was represented by a single second of footage of a video with you that you can just like look at describe to us like this for like fifteen or twenty seconds well I have my phone and I might record the little NPR logo on the bike is ok since he first got this idea at Caesar Creek Emma has been recording a second of his life virtually every day for over four years the wow four years and four months that's four years of life in a twenty five minute videos aren't some jumping over to Choon first of two thousand eleven this is right before I took off on a ninety five De Rocher from the US and Canada well okay so what the first is the odometer on the car I mean I'm a Philadelphia question with friends and hiking through Pennsylvania I am camping near its fur I am going to play learning to play settlers of town which is when it turned out to one of them or go overseas or when watching his life flash by in a matter of seconds it's like this feeling the feeling that you're looking at the answer to a question we all ask ourselves where does the time go a couple of weeks and I realized wow like because it's all playing out chronologically I can fill in the caps or use the the knowing the second that comes tomorrow and secondly it's like to feel time you know this is very difficult thing to try to proceed is the fourth of July is I heading down to Boston it was going to cost and the Colorado camping on sand dunes and beach hopping work of the curse of sin Cesar first started doing this about four years ago he built this idea into an app that allows anyone to stitch the recorded seconds into a seamless video and to experience something most of us never see or think about the person you were on their first day of high school in the person you are on your last day of high school the person you are your first day of college in the person or an ad in your last day of college you know there's a massive growth and evolution that happens in that span of time but it happens gradually see you don't really feel or sense it and so now when I can grieve has it you know the past four years in twenty four minutes you know that my my understanding of time becomes far more finite than I think it's ever been and that raises the question How can something so predictable time feel so different depending on where or who you are an hour takes forever when you're five for every member like summertime when you were little kid and just go on and great and is what we think of as time even real no matter how small we caught the moment second half a second quarter the second the present is a psychological illusion and Israel when did time again this time absolutely crucial part of our best description of the universe was time something that emerges as an approximation if we look at the universe no right way this episode those questions and ideas about shifting time the cheese or cream by the way quit advertising to work full time on his one second the day after yeah it's the six of which I've used the myself so there's my two year old potty trained the party we find out more about it the NCC his Ted talk at Ted dot com So let's move up from a second to an hour and a theory about why one hour in particular seems to be so different from all the others four a m poets when they talk about for the morning often do mention it as a time of extraordinary stillness Placid ness aura of magic they're really talking about this time as something special this is Reid's just reads he's actually a poet himself I say I'm a poet that's what I put on my tax return and for years Reeves has been obsessed you with four AM the time he insists that you have to kind of experience for yourself am on him every morning I welcomed the wow feeling A is waking up on the action live game inside yes inside the room in the picture side by side the middle of the week and her knowledge as the key see another person not the case nobody else was I It's Full B and B's here's Harry it's described the floor in our state ever notice that for the morning has become some sort of means or shorthand it means something like you are awake the worst possible our time for inconveniences mishaps yearnings time for plotting to whack the chief of police like in this classic scene from The Godfather Coppola script describes these guys exhausted in short sleeves it is for time even grammar stuff in that like autopsies and in bombings and civilian days the house of the spirits after the breathtaking green is murdered the doctor's preserver with ung win some more tissues pace they work until four o'clock in the morning at a time for even grammar stuff then that like in last April's New Yorker magazine fiction piece by Martin Amos starts out on September eleven two thousand one he opened his eyes at four am in Portland Maine and Mohammad hotties last day began for a time that I find to be the most Placid and uneventful hour of the day for the morning sure gets an awful lot of bad press the cross a lot of different media from a lot of big names in it made me suspicious I figured surely some of the most creative artistic minds in the world really aren't all defaulting back to this one easy trope like they invented a right could it be there's something more going on here the the uh the the cell the is it like for three four or five well I think three is a junior varsity four in the morning a good example is F Scott Fitzgerald talks about three in the morning courage no man has courage and three in the morning but there really any dire three in the mornings in The Great Gatsby there's a really dire for the morning Jay Gatsby waits for Daisy The last night of his life and she comes to the window and disappears five in the morning you can tap on someone's window it for the morning it's still romantic you tap on someone's window five the morning they're like Non do tag I got a good or the like Let's go Jackie rate rate the days are started yeah it's transitional time where a mother to seeing this the morning closely the hours of the most of the EU with the paper guy and it ran its win by a driver and one passengers one driver one of the world that they don't then nobody around fifteen people just know how hard the perception of kind of song it's always boy and the world is still black people in the morning of the modern dark and stormy night the the the widest time feels so differently this very special moment in the day do we know well first of all I think and feel special because for most people it's a foreign land so it feel special the way that Paris feel special we only go every once in awhile or the flip side that's why it feels threatening or die or or or weird or un canon the But if you're in the mood is no better time to read a book and there's no better time to work on that novel and it's a little bit lonely sometimes but I know for the morning so it feels like something very similar to the I'm awake now back to sleep and I think in their eagerness to them what they are the areas of the gas tanks am thinking the morning the three youths he's a poet and curator of the museum of four in the morning which is actually a website you can find it at four in the morning calm and you can see several more talks by Reid's attack on our show today shifting time stay with us and Guy rise and you listening to the Ted Radio Hour from NPR the oral o Hey Everyone Just a quick thanks to one of our sponsors who helps make this podcast possible optimum health care and innovation company here's Bob Dunlap Chief Medical Officer Josh Eck saying Hobby Lobby in labs and its partners are using big data to help solve some of the health system's greatest challenges that up unless we have access to one of the world's largest sources of health care data one hundred and fifty million people and that information is across potentially decades it includes everything from when people see doctors to what the medical problems are and what happens in overtime patients privacy is protected and yet our partners can analyze it and see things that no one has before that is increasingly how we're going to make progress in the future and having this type of environment where people can be brought together to collaborate to share ideas and expertise that is when discovery happens the optimum how well gets done learn more at optimum dot com slash well that it's the Ted Radio Hour from NPR and I rise today shifting time ideas about how we perceive and think about time the the and remember when your kid have a day at school felt like forever the and then at a certain point in your life as you get older the days in the months just seem to move faster yes they do this is Dan Gilbert a Harvard psychologist and that's because older and younger people don't actually experience time all that differently they just remember it very differently when old people say time goes by so fast they're talking about the time that's already gone by there's also just a whole helluva lot more recording in the brain of an eighty six year old person when they're thinking about life their thinking and crawl across much greater expanses of time and so to Traverse that many years in five seconds versus traversing five or six years in five seconds you get the sense that you're going alot faster which makes sense when you think about it but it still doesn't explain why we tend to think of ourselves as the time depending on where we are in life I turned twenty one I thought I'd finally grown up when I turned thirty I thought the dog now I'm grown up boy was I crazy about that was twenty one yet I repeated that was forty and then when I was fifty and the amazing thing is that each time it happens I'm pretty sure I'm right this time despite the fact that I was wrong every other time so a thirty year old would say Yeah I'm different from the person I was twenty but I'm now the person I am a forty year old say ye differ from those thirty but I finally figured out who I am going and so on so forth not only that but the same person says that thing over and over again we all know we will change we know that we're going to gain a few pounds and get a few wrinkles but we think that fundamentally the people we've come our personalities our values or preferences likes and dislikes will remain relatively stable in the future and in that we are wrong the Dan and other psychologists have tested this by taking a group of people of a certain age you ask them how much they're going to change in the next ten years then you find a group of people who were ten years older than us come how much they changed in the last ten years I can ask you questions like on a scale of one to ten how extroverted are you now how extroverted you think you'll be in ten years how extroverted were you ten years ago everyone is perfectly rational and everyone has perfect memory those two numbers should match what we found is no matter what the dimension of change and no matter how old the people were those numbers never match the Dan explained why that is on the Ted stage all the walking around with illusion illusion that history our personal history has just come to an end we call this the end of history illusion illusion that we have just recently become the people that we were always meant to be and will be for the rest of our lives at every age people underestimate how much their personalities will change in the next decade and it isn't just ephemeral things like values and personality you can ask people about their likes and dislikes their basic preferences for example name your bestfriend your favorite kind of vacation what your favorite hobby what's your favorite kind of music people can name these things we ask half of them to tell us you think that that will change over the next ten years and half of them to tell us you did that change over the last ten years people predict that the friend they have now is the friend will have an ten years the vacation they most enjoy now is the one Noah enjoyed ten years and yet people were ten years older all say you know that's really change the matter which decade of life are talking about the amount of change between twenty and thirty is greater than the amount of change between thirty and forty the pace of change does indeed slow as we age all of us have the sense that we're coming into our own that we're finally becoming the person we are meant to be yeah that's not entirely wrong you will change less in the future than you did in the past but you will change more in the future than you expected what explains that and why are we so bad it imagining how we will change over time we don't really know we have some good guesses the best guess to date is that when you try to imagine yourself in the future you can imagine changing in one direction as easily as you can imagine changing and the other as a result of it being easy for you to imagine becoming more extroverted and to imagine becoming less extroverted you mistakenly conclude that you won't change at all but this is a mistake I mean imagine a frame the problem differently you're walking down the road and you come to attend will you turn left or right well I can imagine turning left I can imagine turning right that's fine would you conclude that as a result of not knowing which way you're going to turn you won't turn at all of course not that problem you see that just because you don't know the direction of your turn doesn't mean turning is unlikely and yet somehow as we move through time because we can't predict exactly who we will be we mistakenly take that to mean we will remain the person we are what do you think is helpful about having this illusion that we have just become the person that were always meant to be his hair like a reason why we feel that way well we certainly don't know that there is something helpful about it every psychological tendency doesn't have to have a benefit yeah but if you ask me to guess what benefits might accrue to people who believe that the amount of change in front of them is quite limited most people are fundamentally satisfied with who they are they feel that they finally arrived at being a pretty good person a pretty capable person a pretty responsible person as a result the idea that any of these things might change feels a little threatening a little undermining so I think status is a comfortable illusion that all of us live with and it might be one of the reasons why we don't believe there's much change in the future as we're going to find out there really was so based on all the evidence say you seen can you sort of come up with a rough age where most people are actually coming of the person they were always meant to be fifty seven I was half of which happens to be your age right now if you ask me next year I might have a different opinion The The The The The The bottom time is a powerful force that transforms our preference is a tree shapes our values it alters our personalities we seem to appreciate this fact but only in retrospect only when we look backwards do we realize how much change happens in the decade it's as if for most of us present is a magic time it's a watershed on the timeline it's the moment at which we finally become ourselves human beings are works in progress but mistakenly think their finish the person you are right now is as transient as fleeting as temporary as all the people you've ever been the one constant in our life is change the way it really is amazing that something like time which seems so fixed can be experienced in so many different ways depending on where you are like you know the human brain just doesn't know how to think about time us most people what's real the present the past or the future they see the present yeah actually the wrong the past in the future of both real present is a psychological illusion the present is just the wall between yesterday and today if you go to the beach you see water and you see Sam than it looks like there's a line between them but that line is not a third thing there's only water and there's only say similarly all moments in time are either in the past or in the future which is to say the president doesn't exist the psychologist Dan Gilbert teaches at Harvard he's got lots more Ted talks that are all amazing can see them at Ted dot com So if the passage of time changes our personalities and their values what its effect on our emotional state can use your name please ma'am my name is Laura Christensen I am a professor of psychology at Stanford University and I'm also the founding director of the Stanford Center on longevity so personal question to mind telling me her age roughly your age oh I'm sixty one roughly ok so you must be you must be happier now than you ever been in your life of course white what's going on is just a day or just being sixty one he is getting older getting older and happier which sounds counterintuitive because when you get older add things start to happen to get sake your friends get sick you can't move around as much but Flores crazy discovery was that as time moves forward people actually become happier that's right older people are happy they're happier than middle aged people and younger people certainly study after study is coming to the same conclusion here's Laura Christensen on the Ted stage years ago my colleagues and I embarked on a study where we followed the same group of people over a ten year period the sample was aged eighteen to ninety four and we studied whether and how their emotional experiences changed as they grew older the participants would carry electronic pagers for a week at a time and we pay gym throughout the day at random times the page them we asked them to answer several questions on a one to seven scale how happy are you right now how sad are you right now how frustrated are you right now are straight in the right now right now and using this intense study of individuals we find that it's not one particular generation is doing better than the others but the same over time come to report relatively greater positive experience and soul people as they grow older seemed to experience fewer negative emotions and just as many positive emotions is when they're younger so on balance life experience feels better yeah and spit when it when scientists first discovered this finding about emotion improving with age they referred to it as the paradox of aging and people were shocked but why is that our perception of time is different the older we get and then were also ahead here on downs and the like why do people say that well remember talking to two sisters who live together an apartment complex and they were talking about having lost many friends over the years and I was saying but they're lot of people around here who are your age who are like you you can meet all sorts of people and that one of them looked at me and said You know we just don't have time for those relationships and I remembered looking at are my first thought was he looked a million a lot of time in your hands if you hear what you do it all day and I realized that she wasn't talking about time in the days she was talking about time left in life and I realize that at some point in life were never going to make a new old friend because there isn't time so that at that moment you were like Wait a minute this light goes off and head you're thinking I get it yeah I went home and I remember sitting in my living room staring out at the City of San Francisco and thinking it's all about time not just clock time in calendar time that lifetime and if there's a paradox of aging that recognizing that we won't live forever changes our perspective on life in positive ways when time horizons are long as they typically are in youth people are constantly preparing trying to soak up all the information they possibly can taking risks exploring we might spend time with people we because it's somehow interesting you know we might learn something unexpected we the you know after all of it doesn't work out there's always tomorrow as we ate our time grow shorter and our goals change when we recognize that we don't have all the time in the world we see our priorities most clearly we take less notice of trivial matters we say her life were more appreciative more open to reconciliation we invest in more emotionally important parts of life and life gets better and that's why we think people get happier as they grow older because when death isn't literally knocking at your door today but is coming closer you know is kind of moving into the attic and can hang out in the backyard of it focuses us on life and the people and the aspects of life that matter most I mean it seems like we have the capacity to also I guess in a way slow down our perception of time when we want to well yes you know whenever I give public lectures and talk about these differences in time horizons and how they relate to goals and younger people are preparing for this long term future in older people are savoring the moment almost every time some young person will come up to me afterwards and say How do I get old fast
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