Build Your Own Time Machine!

Back to the Future DeLorean Time Machine

Okay, not a real time machine. Not in the sense of one that will take you from 1985 to 2015 once you hit 88 mph. That kind of time machine is probably impossible. If you’re holding out for wormholes to do it then you’ll be disappointed to hear that the physicists at Caltech, using a partial unification of general relativity with quantum physics, think that:

Any wormhole that allows time travel would collapse as soon as it formed.

But it is possible for you to create a personal time machine in your head. Think of it as a psychological time machine. You can do this because we can all alter how we experience time by the degree of novelty we allow into our lives.

When you experience new things, the experiences seem to take longer. Or as Joshua Foer put it:

Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it.

This explains why time seems to speed up as you age (and seemed to stretch on forever when you were young). Or, as Scientific American put it:

When the passage of time is measured by “firsts” (first kiss, first day of school, first family vacation), the lack of new experiences in adulthood, James morosely argues, causes “the days and weeks [to] smooth themselves out…and the years grow hollow and collapse.”

This ‘monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it’ rule also contributes to the Return Trip Effect, where journeys home from new places seem to be shorter than the ride out.

All of which has important implications for how we live our lives.

  • To make your weekends last longer, build more novelty into them (new places, new activities).
  • If time seems to be rushing by you, find ways to add novelty to your daily routine.
  • And to make meetings somewhat less miserable, introduce an element of surprise.

As others have noted, the real lesson here is that you get to choose how you want to experience time. And there is a wonderful irony here – if you want to slow down the passage of time, start doing more with it!


Build Your Own Time Machine!

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