589 The Sedartis Effect

Sedartis is full of little insights which are borderline annoying. They are annoying, because they are obvious and it’s possible only to be borderline annoyed with them, because they are obviously true. They are the kind of insights that make you wonder: why has nobody pointed this out to me, say, in year eleven. 

Since joining me, unbidden, uninvited, and taking up quasi-permanent residence by my side, he has been doing this at irregular intervals, which, through their irregularity, at last have the advantage of containing a mild element of surprise.

‘The reason time passes faster as you get older, relentlessly, is very simple,’ he tells me. I did not ask him about this, I was just looking out of the window of yet another moving train, this time to Dorset.

‘I imagine it is,’ I say, having for some time felt I had my own plausible theory about this. ‘At the age of one, one year is a hundred percent of your lifetime. That makes it really long. So long that you can’t fathom its duration.’

I’m not sure that I can fathom it now, but, for different reasons…

‘By the age of ten, that same year is now only a tenth of your lifetime. In absolute terms, it may be as long as any other year, but you don’t experience life in absolute terms: you experience life in relative terms, always: relative entirely to you. Your year is now just ten percent of your body of experience.

At the age of fifty, one year has shrunk to a fiftieth of your lifetime: if somebody offered you a fiftieth part of a pie you’d barely think it worth eating. But it’s still a year, and it’s still a slice of your life.

And aged a hundred, your year now hardly registers at all. You may well lose track and forget how old you are: was it a hundred and two or a hundred and three years ago now that you were born? Does it matter?’

‘This all makes perfect sense to me,’ I say to Sedartis, ‘and why are you telling me? Now?’

‘Because you’re obviously at that point in your life when your perception of time reaches a tipping point: your life expectancy nowadays isn’t quite but may soon be about a hundred, so around now, as you’re halfway through this, your feeling of losing your grip on time will accelerate and because you’re now no longer moving away from your birth but towards your death, you will find this more and more disconcerting.’

‘What, more disconcerting than I find it already?’

‘Of course. But think not for one moment that you’d be happier if you lived longer.’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Because: if you were to get to the point, say, where you habitually had an active consciousness span of ten thousand years, it would not feel that much longer: as you’d get towards the last millennium, each year would only be between nine and one ten thousandth of our lifetime. That is about the same as three days are for you today. You will not experience a hundred times more than you do today, you will simply stretch your living out over a period a hundred times longer. And nor should that surprise you: when your life expectancy was thirty years or so, people did not generally think, our lives are so short; they simply did all their living inside those thirty years. No-one would argue that Alexander the Great, for example, or Mozart, didn’t really get enough living done in the thirty-odd years of their lives.’

‘No,’ I say, thinking a tad wistfully of Tom Lehrer, ‘that, I’m sure, no-one could argue.’

‘It’s, in a not entirely obvious way, not unlike the Doppler Effect: the sound waves coming towards you are compressed so they appear to your ears higher than once the source of the sound has passed: now the waves are getting stretched and so the pitch seems to drop. Of course, time is no wave and the comparison is clumsy at best and misleading at worst, but if nothing else it’s another example of how your reality is shaped entirely by your experience of it. You may, if you like, refer to the relative experience of time as the Sedartis Effect, I shan’t hold it against you if you will.’

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