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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.