The Perception Of Time
The philosophers and psychologists agree little better about our sense
of time than they do about our sense of space. Of this much, however, we
may be certain, our perception of time is subject to development and
NATURE OF THE TIME SENSE.--How we perceive time is not so well
understood as our perception of space. It is evident, however, that our
idea of time is simpler than our idea of space--it
has less of content,
less that we can describe. Probably the most fundamental part of our
idea of time is progression, or change, without which it is difficult
to think of time at all. The question then becomes, how do we perceive
change, or succession?
If one looks in upon his thought stream he finds that the movement of
consciousness is not uniformly continuous, but that his thought moves in
pulses, or short rushes, so to speak. When we are seeking for some fact
or conclusion, there is a moment of expectancy, or poising, and then the
leap forward to the desired point, or conclusion, from which an
immediate start is taken for the next objective point of our thinking.
It is probable that our sense of the few seconds of passing time that
we call the immediate present consists of the recognition of the
succession of these pulsations of consciousness, together with certain
organic rhythms, such as heart beat and breathing.
NO PERCEPTION OF EMPTY TIME.--Our perception does not therefore act upon
empty time. Time must be filled with a procession of events, whether
these be within our own consciousness or in the objective world without.
All longer periods of time, such as hours, days, or years, are measured
by the events which they contain. Time filled with happenings that
interest and attract us seems short while passing, but longer when
looked back upon. On the other hand, time relatively empty of
interesting experience hangs heavy on our hands in passing, but, viewed
in retrospect, seems short. A fortnight of travel passes more quickly
than a fortnight of illness, but yields many more events for the memory
to review as the filling for time.
Probably no one has any very accurate feeling of the length, that is,
the actual duration of a year--or even of a month! We therefore divide
time into convenient units, as weeks, months, years and centuries. This
allows us to think of time in mathematical terms where immediate
perception fails in its grasp.