FAIRBANKS — “You are only young once,” Ogden Nash once noted, “but you can stay immature indefinitely.”
The woman I’ve lived with for 40 years attests to that sentiment, but I maintain that it’s my boyish charms that keep her interested.
Like so much in life, it’s a matter of perspective. For example, the excellent online comic Wondermark recently included a satirical list titled “Stuff to Make You Feel Old,” featuring statements like “The formation of the universe happened closer to the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary than to the present day,” and “The release of New Coke happened closer to Alaska becoming a U.S. state than the present day.”
Still it made me thoughtful, and then I read about how Geoffrey Dummer first presented the concept of the integrated circuit, or microchip, on May 7, 1952, a couple months after my birth. Some research revealed that Dummer’s invention and I happened closer to Tchaikovsky’s premier of “The Nutcracker” than it did to today. So did the outlaw Dalton Gang’s botched robbery of the Coffeyville banks, Arthur Conan Doyle’s first publication of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” and James Naismith’s invention of the rules for basketball.
It put me in mind of a discussion about tachypsychia that I had with a Guys Read volunteer, a retired physician. I told him how time seemed to slow dramatically when I ran with the football long ago, with a 6-second run feeling like an hour, and he told me its clinical term is tachypsychia.
The online Dictionary of Hallucinations says, tachypsychia “comes from the Greek words tachos (swiftness) and psuchè (life breath, spirit, soul, mind). It translates loosely as “rapid mind” or “fast psyche.” The term is used to denote an altered perception of time in which is experienced as either speeded up or slowed down. Tachypsychia has been described chiefly under extreme circumstances such as physical exhaustion, extreme stress, and trauma.”
Michel Siffre, a French spelunker and cave specialist, knows all about time’s relativity. He lived in a glacial cave without clocks or outside communication in 1962, and found after a month’s isolation that his counting out two minutes’ worth of seconds actually took five minutes, and his perceived 34-day experience lasted 59 in reality.
“10 Ways Our Minds Warp Time,” a 2011 article from Spring.org.uk, cites a number of scientific explorations of time’s mutations. When we’re in life-threatening situations, for instance, “we remember the time as longer because we record more of the experience. Life-threatening experiences make us really pay attention, but we don’t gain superhuman powers of perception.”
The same thing happens when we hear enjoyable music, because “greater attention leads to perception of a longer period of time. Time can also be extended by trying to control your emotions, under-going hypnosis, taking hallucinogenics, and having painful medical experiences. Conversely, it can be shortened by getting tired and old. When exhausted, “our perception of time goes awry and we find it more difficult to distinguish between short spaces of time.”
Moreover, “there is some psychological evidence that time passes quicker for older people. One study has found that people in their 20s are pretty accurate at guessing an interval of three minutes, but people in their 60s systematically overestimate it, suggesting that time is passing about 20 percent more quickly for them.”
And here’s another advantage to living in Alaska: you may not live longer, but it will feel like it, for another study showed that “when body temperature is raised our perception of time speeds up ... Conversely, when we are cooled down, our sense of time also slowed down.”
Fortunately, libraries freeze time and thought so they can be utilized and enjoyed when the moment’s right for the reader. The greatest thoughts we know of, the most insightful stories, beautiful art and music, the best of humankind, are all stored in libraries.
All libraries aren’t alike. Most of the world’s libraries don’t let everyone in, let them roam the bookshelves, answer questions or read to children. It’s all relative. Perhaps I go overboard in my effusive appreciation of the American public library, and appear petulant when they’re under-appreciated or diminished. But like saxophonist Randall Hall put it, “Maturity is knowing when to be immature.”
Greg Hill is director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries.