I watched a tiny bug hover by my shin. When it moved, I couldn’t even see it. It darted so quickly it seemed to just reappear inches from where it was. I got to thinking. If it moved so fast I could barely perceive it, what did it perceive? It must perceive time differently – more quickly – than I do, else how could it so precisely control its own movement and reactions?
We humans created a concept of time and based it on movement. Rotations of the earth. Orbits around the sun. The resonance of cesium. Time is inseparable from movement, from distance. How far away is Chicago? Oh, about 16 hours.
Ephemeral Mayflies are one of about 2,500 known insects with a single-day lifespan. We humans quip: “They’re born, they mate, and they die; all in one day. What an impossibly short life.”. A Mayfly has never seen a second sunrise. Their life brightens, warms, cools, darkens, and ends. From darkness, they return to darkness. Meanwhile, we have never seen a second planet, star, or galaxy born.
Imagine a being to whom our days are their equivalent to our seconds. Or our years equivalent to what we think of as hours. Not even 100 hours? We’re born, we mate, and we die. What an impossibly short life.
Seychelles Giant Tortoise have the longest known longevity and move at a speed of 0.63 miles per hour. How frenetic must we appear to their eyes?
Thus, I suspect our perception of time is tied to our innate speed.
Moving faster than is natural can bend one’s perception of time, but it requires that speed be perceived.
Flying as a passenger on an airliner you cannot perceive your “true” speed, or speed-over-ground, except for fleeting moments when you pass directly through clouds and wisps of vapor are gone before you can focus on them. Otherwise, the cabin is a still room, the cloudscape only creeping.
Interstate highways elongate curves, drawing out the landscape. As speed limits increase, the dashes of lane markings are lengthened and their gaps stretched. Our peers in traffic move at similar speed, the delta typically within the range of a human’s running pace or double that, but any more: “What a maniac!”. All this serves to create the optical illusion that 80 miles per hour is like running or walking.
Auto racing, however, has tight turns, tight lanes, close walls, and dramatic back-to-back acceleration. We are constantly reminded of the too-fast speed. It’s adrenaline-fueled, exhilarating even to watch, and dangerous. It forces the driver’s brain to process covering distance – to process time – faster than is natural.
Want to bend time? Drive a track at 100 MPH. How long does a 2-minute lap feel?
The whole of our universe, when considered fractally, could be no more than the fleeting flare of a match as perceived by beings that exist on a timescale nigh inconceivable compared to the gasp of a human lifetime, or humanity’s existence. How “slowly” then, must they move?
How small are we?