The quarter-of-a-second rule


Mother Jones excerpts my brief essay on the malleability of our sense of time, “The Patience Deficit,” from the anthology What Should We Be Worried About? Here’s the essay’s first paragraph:

I’m concerned about time — the way we’re warping it and it’s warping us. Human beings, like other animals, seem to have remarkably accurate internal clocks. Take away our wristwatches and our cell phones and we can still make pretty good estimates about time intervals. But that faculty can also be easily distorted. Our perception of time is subjective; it changes with our circumstances and our experiences. When things are happening quickly all around us, delays that would otherwise seem brief begin to seem interminable. Seconds stretch out. Minutes go on forever. “Our sense of time,” observed William James in his 1890 masterwork The Principles of Psychology, “seems subject to the law of contrast.”

Read on.

Image: detail of “Forest (4)” by Gerhard Richter.