Perception of Time at the Intersection of Neurology & Physics

With the invention of digital computers, the notion of time as a universal construct has become extremely pervasive.  Most data are recorded and retrieved with the construct of a date/time stamp. For example, when people review their bank accounts, they typically select transactions from a certain date range.  Meanwhile, when making personal plans and appointments, it is always in the context of date and time.

Nevertheless, the human brain lacks an inherent structure or sense of time.  A memory or event from 20 years ago may seem more vivid than an experience in the last 20 minutes.  This is the result of some memories being fleeting wisps of recollection while others are seared into our brains, based on factors such as the emotions or attention associated with an event as it occurs.

Meanwhile, in Einstein’s theory of relativity, time dilation describes a difference of elapsed time between two events, as measured by observers that are moving relative to each other.  In other words, it does not matter how much our lives are governed by minutes, days, or months, time will never be absolute. One of the most revolutionary concepts that we learned in the 20th century is that time is not a universal measurement.

As a result, it appears that the human brain’s seemingly limited temporal model of events is actually more in harmony than we realize with the phenomenon defined by modern physics.

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