Years ago I was trying to understand if there was any social value in tithing - after all - money is not evenly distributed so the burden varies enormously along with the perceived value of the act. Instead I decided to tithe my time to the projects of others. It began as four hours a week, but I enjoyed it so much that I quickly moved to a point where I was donating eleven hours a week - a tithe of my waking hours.1
Special relativity elegantly shows that measured time is not fixed. For us it is usually fixed and most of us would measure an hour to be exactly the same thing anywhere on Earth and in an century.2 So my practice is still "better" than giving money.
So we know that observable time - what we can measure with a clock - is not fixed, but is rather dependent on relative motion even though we live an existence where we live in a strong illusion that it is fixed.
When you were in the third grade there were times when a special day never seemed to arrive - time seemed to stretch out forever. But when you are in high school taking a test that is much too long, a fifty minute period flies by and seems to end about as quickly as it started.
Our perception of time is relative and depends on other factors.
Much has been written about Csíkszentmihályian flow - the psychological state that is so addictive and puts you in a state where your concentration is so great that time appears to move very slowly. Even now - especially now - many Olympians are experiencing it in London and it is a major factor in sport. I'm a flow junky and attempt to recreate as often as I can. But there is another feeling that can alter our perception of the passage of time.
One of the gut feelings I've had is that awe is very important to human evolution - the fact that we take delight in such experiences may well be selected as it can fuel curiosity and discovery. I'll be the first to admit that my feelings are clouded as I love the feeling at a personal level and believe it has been a major driver in my own life.
I also have wondered how it changes the perception of time. For me it is similar to flow, but different even though both are immersive. Both leave me with a strong feeling of time stopping but flow, outside the experience, gives me the sense that time must have zipped by. With awe it "feels" different and seems to make almost everything that follows special. I have wondered if this is a mechanism that might work well for parents and very young children. The awe associated with watching a little kid develop may suppress the more negative aspects and help ensure the child has a lot of parental interaction. Also, from a child's point of view, there is an enormous amount of awe available in fresh experiences and this may drive curiosity which, in turn, can drive learning. I wonder if it it may be a driver of religious experience, but real speculation ...
I see awe as a "lean back" form of immersion and flow as a lean forward immersion. Both bring delight, change the perception of time and are totally addictive.
All speculation and gut feeling, but now people are experimenting. I saw a report on a paper out of Stanford on the subject and immediately put on my critical cap as I've seen a lot of garbage on the subject. This appears to be ok and starts you thinking about more direct questions and experiments. (pdf - a preliminary working paper)
When do people feel as if they are rich in time? Not often, research and daily experience suggest.
However, three experiments showed that participants who felt awe, relative to other emotions, felt they had more time available (Experiments 1, 3) and were less impatient (Experiment 2). Participants who experienced awe were also more willing to volunteer their time to help others (Experiment 2), more strongly preferred experiences over material products (Experiment 3), and experienced a greater boost in life satisfaction (Experiment 3). Mediation analyses revealed that these changes in decision making and well-being were due to awe’s ability to alter the subjective experience of time. Experiences of awe bring people into the present moment, which underlies awe’s capacity to adjust time perception, influence decisions, and make life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.
Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being Time might be the scarcest commodity for many people in modern life. A recent poll of over 1,000 Americans found nearly half (47%) felt they lacked enough time in daily life (Carroll, 2008). This feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it—or “time famine” (Perlow, 1999)—has been linked to undesirable side effects including trouble sleeping, stress, difficulty delaying gratification, and postponing seeing a doctor when ill (Lehto, 1998; Vuckovic, 1999; Zhang & DeVoe, 2010). In light of these findings, we asked, what could be done to shift people’s perception of how much time is available?
Three experiments examined whether awe, defined as the emotion that arises when one encounters something so strikingly vast that it provokes a need to update one’s mental schemas (Keltner & Haidt, 2003), can expand perceptions of time availability. Additionally, we investigated whether awe, through engendering the sense that more time is available, would alter prosocial decisions concerning time, consumption preferences, and well-being assessments. We predicted that people induced to feel awe, relative to other states, would be more willing to volunteer their time, prefer experiential goods over material ones, and experience a boost in life satisfaction.
Neat! Perhaps we not only have the awesome experience that, by itself changes our perception of time, but we may experience a better sense of what is important and have more positive social experiences following these "awesome" moments. Anecdotally it seems to happen for me and the three good friends I mentioned it to today. Maybe there is something deep here.
What are those experiences that leave you with a sense of awe? For me they usually involve a direct interaction with nature or experiencing sometime beautiful.
it comes during a total solar eclipse
it comes while I dance like a crazy person under a red aurora.
it comes on a cloudless and moonless night in a place a hundred miles from the nearest city with the Milky Way so bright you can't find the constellations
I have to seek it out, but it just comes as long as I'm open to it.
It rarely comes when I'm interacting with a computer, although I regularly achieve flow using a computer.
My guess is both are excellent for your mental well-being, but don't take my word for it.. go out and cast your soul out leaning backward in awe of Nature and lean forward as you become the master of your craft.
So many questions!! and that is just as it should be.
1 My TEDx talk goes into the practice in more depth if you can put up with a not so great talk...
2 I won't go into a discussion of Einstein's Special Relativity, but recommend learning about it if you don't know already. It turns out High School math and a bit of logical thinking is more than enough - that is why it is so beautifully elegant. You'll struggle a bit with the concept, but when you see why it works - why measurements of length and time aren't fixed for two observers who are moving relative to each other - you'll feel the delight in understanding something rather deep.
I strongly recommend a classic text on the subject:
Spacetime Physics: Introduction to Special Relatively by Edwin Tayor and John Wheeler
I think the old 1971 version is the better and it is readily available as a used text for very little.
Somewhat Smashed Green Peas
Now is the time you can find fresh green peas. The problem is they rapidly lose their sugar. If you can't use them within about 12 hours of picking, you are probably better off with a high quality flash frozen pea, but if you have some in your garden or can pick some nearby they can be incredible!
This is really simple and quite wonderful - even with good frozen peas. As always the amounts are approximate so you don't need to be terribly careful. You can experiment with adding a bit of cream or season it differently, but I prefer letting the peas just speak for themselves.
° 450g freshly picked or high quality frozen peas
° 120g scallions - trimmed
° 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
° 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
° finely grated zest of a lemon
° sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
° cook the peas in salted boiling water until just tender
° chop the scallions and keep the green and white bits separate. Heat the olive oil in a pan and gently cook the white part of the scallions, but don't let them brown. After a few minutes stir in the garlic and a minute later the green bits of the scallions and lemon zest. Cook until the green bits just begin to wilt, but no further.
° Drain the peans and reserve a bit of the water - maybe four tablespoons. With a stick blender or food processor blend half of the peas with the reserved water and onion mixture. Keep it a bit rough.
° Now mix in the remaining whole peas, season and serve.