The Oddball Effect
I follow PostSecret on Twitter, and that’s where I heard about this article in the New Yorker by Burkhard Bilger, called “The Possibilian”, about a neuroscientist who’s looking at how we process time. He’s hooking drummers up to EEGs and surveying people in amusement parks and all sorts of intriguing, intricate things.
But what stuck to me was the concept of time passing faster as you age. The way the article explained it, “The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.”
That bothered me a lot, because I – as I do – immediately took it personally. If I were more adventurous, less homey, would my life feel longer and fuller? Am I frittering my time away in ways I won’t even remember? Isn’t that as bad as not having had the time at all?
The article goes on to talk about “the oddball effect”. If you watch images flashed rhythmically on a screen, and they’re usually the same one, but occasionally a different one, it will seem as if the new image is up for much longer than the same one. You pay more attention to it because it’s different, so that time seems to last longer.Â This is why I remember my study abroad in much greater clarity than I do the rest of college, for instance: it was nothing but new and different.
But then the interviewer explained why the scientist behind all this gave himself widely varying research – from caterpillar venom to the afroementioned drummers. “By leaping from topic to topic, he forces his brain to give each problem far more attention than familiarity would allow. ‘Emerson did the same thing,’ he said. ‘He had a lazy Susan with multiple projects on it. When heâ€™d get bored, he would just spin it and start on something else.'”
Aha. So you don’t need to necessarily be in a new geography or situation. You can do this to yourself every day. Now that we can all do.
What’s on your lazy Susan?