Check It Out: A timely look at how time works

By Jan Johnston, Columbian book reviewer

Published:

 
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photoJan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at readingforfun@fvrl.org.

Review

“Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception”

By Claudia Hammond; Canongate Books, 342 pages

Did you remember to set your clocks back one hour? I’ve always found the phrase, “Spring forward, fall back” an easy way to remind myself which direction to go when dealing with daylight saving time. But I once knew someone who had trouble remembering this expression. “Spring back, fall forward” seemed just as plausible to my friend. I tried to be helpful by saying, “Well, if you fell forward, you’d break your nose, and that would be bad and painful. And to spring back, your legs really should be bent in the other direction, so that’s weird.” I seem to recall that my friend stared at me for a long moment and declared that my explanation wasn’t helpful. I might as well have said, “Spring roll, fall guy” for all the good it did.

Speaking of springing and falling, time is a funny thing. By the way, for those readers who have followed this column the past couple of years (a big “Thank you!”), you may have noticed that I mention “time” a lot. I decided to re-read some of my reviews from this time last year and the year prior (to avoid repeating myself), and I was struck by how often I comment about the passage of time. And here I am doing it again. Well, I hope you can bear with me.

So, back to my comment that time is a funny thing. For instance, why do Mondays always appear to stretch out before me like interminably long, flat roads, but by the middle of the week I feel like I’m busting down an autobahn, doing every thing I can to avoid whiplash? As Claudia Hammond writes in her fascinating book “Time Warped,” time, or more precisely, the perception of time shrinks and stretches like a piece of elastic. Why does this happen? That’s just one of the many questions posed in this week’s book.

One of the examples that Hammond uses to demonstrate the elasticity of time is what she calls the “Holiday Paradox.” All of us have probably experienced this. A holiday trip to visit family and friends speeds by so quickly it feels like we’re saying goodbye just after we’ve said hello. Then when we get back home, it feels as though we’ve been away for ages. In this all too familiar scenario, not only does time act like a rubber band, it behaves in a contradictory manner. How can an experience feel fast and slow at the same time? It’s an interesting conundrum that the author tries to help us make sense of.

In addition to exploring the whys and wherefores of time’s mind-bending characteristics, “Time Warped” offers tips and guidance on how to manage time more effectively. Careful not to call her book a self-help guide, Hammond does say this: “a sweep across the research in this field does indicate certain ways in which we can, if we choose to, both harness and mould the way our minds perceive time.” By helping the reader to understand some of the psychology, neuroscience, and biology involved in a human being’s perception of time, Hammond gives us a good foundation upon which to better manage and appreciate whatever time we have left. I, for one, am going to take advantage of the “extra” hour given back to us today by sleeping in a little longer. All that springing forward has left me exhausted.


Jan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at readingforfun@fvrl.org.