Friday, August 7, 2009

Childhood summers

I apologize once again the long silence in my blog. I have been away from Internet for a large part of the summer. It was great having summer holidays for the first time since 2001. Besides the previously mentioned trip to Ireland, we spent a lot of time in our summer cottage. Time somehow seems to extend there. It reminds me of childhood summers, and the way they felt endless.

They don't make summers like that anymore. The passage of time seems to accelerate when you grow up. Weeks are flitting by almost too fast to notice. Month, which was an eternity when I was a child, is hardly no time at all. Even years feel shorter (I recently had my birthday, again! I definitely don't feel that old.). I am often aghast at how many years have passed from something that for me seems to have happened quite recently.

We split time down into regular, measurable units; days and hours, minutes, seconds even, but our personal, experienced time does not always move at the same speed. A week abroad feels like a longer time. Then when you return home and everyday life takes over, it quickly fades into something that happened long ago. If, however, you keep returning to the same place, like archaeologists doing fieldwork, you may get a funny feeling that hardly any time has passed since your last visit, although it may in reality be a year or two.

I think it is the way our brain works that makes the difference in the way how our personal time behaves. The human brain is an amazing thing. Even when we are just idly walking along a street, the brain keeps taking everything in, filing and classifying, making connections. For most of the time, we are not even aware of this happening. The brain filters much of the incoming perceptions as background noise that our conscious minds need not be informed about. When we go to unfamiliar circumstances, the brain keeps making remarks to our consciousness more often. This has no doubt been a survival trait for our ancestors.

For a small child every day is still full of new experiences. For most of us adults our daily lives run pretty much the same script over and over again - get up in the morning, go to work, try to get things done, pick the child from daycare, go home, cook dinner, go to sleep. We do this negotiating through our everyday lives in a sort of autopilot. When we travel and go sightseeing we are pre-disposed to pay attention to our surroundings. However, in our normal lives we have little use for the knowledge gathered abroad, so it gets filed away. If we, however, return to the same place later on, the brain picks up from where we left the last time, bringing forth the memories surprisingly fresh.

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