Not long ago, I published a short story—a vignette, really—about a day at a carnival in the literary magazine Eighteen Bridges.
I wrote about a small boy who found himself at sea on a rope bridge, high above the crowd of onlookers and too terrified to make his way across. I had described time as slowing down while we watched the carnie rescue the boy. Time, an editor at Eighteen Bridges argued, never stops, it just continues a steady tick forward. (This is true, but depressing, and for mental health reasons is best not to dwell on.) Another editor suggested a revision that was far more precise and the story went to press.
But I thought of that editor’s quibble a little while later when I read Burkhard Bilger’s excellent, lengthy profile of neuroscientist David Eagleman in the New Yorker. Eagleman studies the perception and fluidity of time.
The Portland-based writer David Wolman also read Bilger’s profile and used it to propose one of the simplest, and pointed explanations of why we travel.
“The more familiar the world becomes,” Bilger writes in the New Yorker of Eagleman’s research, “the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.”
Wolman picks up the thread:
“Travel keeps things unfamiliar. Keep exploring unfamiliar terrain and seeking novel experiences, and your brain will write down more information, at least according to this theory. Perhaps it even creates the impression that time isn’t passing us by quite so damn fast.”