Page 226. " Ah me, how time flies! "

Scientists have been attempting to understand our perception of time for years. In youth, it is a race to adulthood and a push for independence; in middle-age, people grieve at its loss and yearn to return to the carefree days of youth. The loss of youth is a central theme throughout J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, and a major reason why the story appeals equally to adults and children alike.

But how are perceptions of time formed?

Perception of Time Shares Common Metaphors
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikePerception of Time Shares Common Metaphors - Credit: Rob Brewer
In Britain's Guardian newspaper, Laura Spinny writes about different languages  and how they reflect and shape one's perception of time. "For the Aymara people living in the Andes," she says, "the past lies ahead and the future lies behind." In fact, says Spinny, in her 2005 article, "How Time Flies," Rafael Núñez, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego, studied the people as part of his research into how we develop abstract ideas and believed he found "definitive evidence" that the Aymara have a sense of the passage of time that is the mirror image of his own – the past is in front of them, the future behind. This, Spinny says, means that, "all languages resort to metaphor to express it. In fact, with staggering monotony," Spinny reports, "they all resort to the same metaphor: space."

In another article bearing the same title, Steven Kotler writes about the work of Baylor neuroscientist David Eagleman and his attempts to understand how the brain  perceives time. Eagleman has discovered some startling concepts, writes Kotler at Psychology Today, which "could lead to new treatments for mental illness."

Eaglemann's interest was sparked by something called the flash-lag effect, an example of which can be seen at Michael Bach's Visual Phenomena and Optical Illusions website. The effect remained unexplained until Eaglemann theorized that the brain predicted images a few milliseconds ahead of time. Eaglemann's research, says Kotler, provided, "the first evidence that our perception of time is not an exact representation of what is occurring in the moment we consider to be the present."