Chronoception

I was once took part in a class where the instructor performed an interesting experiment. He asked us all to close our eyes, and then raise our hands and open our eyes when each of us thought a minute of time had passed. After that he would tell us how far we were off. To my amazement there was quite some difference, with some people raising their hands quite early, some quite late, and some nearly spot on. Now, this was not a test of aptitude at timing, it was a test of a specific type of perception: chronoception.

I remember being quite bored at times as a child. Many mundane things seemed to take very long. Yet, the older I have become, the faster time seems to pass. Asking around, I found out that I am not the only one with that experience. During that class I raised my hand slightly later than the one minute marker. However, now, many years later, I am convinced that if I’d take it again, I’d raise my hand quite a bit later than the minute mark.

Time of course passes at a steady rate for everyone, that is: time in the physical world. However, that is not the same rate at which time appears to pass: our chronoception. How do physical and perceived time relate? Let’s dive deeper.

Fraction of Life Argument

When you were one, that one year represented one hundred percent of your life. Conversely when you turned two, the first year constituted half of year life and the second year as well. Following this logic, by the time you turn eighteen that eighteenth year adds only about five and a half percent to your life up to that point.

Going ahead in time, the hundredth year of your life would add only one percent. The basic idea of this fractional argument is that each additional year you live is a smaller part of your life. If we discount things that happen before age five, as most people have little recollection of this, and look at this strictly numerically, we get the graph shown below.

Life in Quarters: relative age as we get older [5]

Let’s interpret: roughly your teenage years are about as long as your twenties and thirties combined according to this graph. Although mathematically attractive, there are some problems with this perspective.

Consider that this theory implies that time at age ten seems to go five times more slowly than time at age fifty, and that is not quite what really seems to happen. A ten year old does not see his fifty year old uncle respond in slow motion, and juxtaposed: the fifty year old uncle does not see his ten year old niece dart around five times more quickly. Of course there are differences in time perception, but a five fold difference seems like an unlikely stretch.

In addition to this, there is one other major problem with this fractional argument: it does not accurately represent perceived time, as that does not pass at a constant rate, our chronoception is variable as we’ll see next.

Flow Control

Waiting in a line in the supermarket, particularly when you are in a hurry, seemingly takes forever. You notice the old lady fidgeting with her hands to get the cash money out of her wallet. Then a kid that just can not seem to stop screaming. Followed by someone who nervously taps his foot standing next to you. However, when you finally exit the supermarket and drive home, taking that more quiet route that you know all to well, time passes by very quickly.

Gears of Time by Majentta: https://www.deviantart.com/majentta

This example already shows that perception of time is relative to what occurs around us. When we are bored or blocked, time seems to slow down. Contrast this with when we are performing either routine tasks or are deeply engaged in something: time seems to literally fly by. So, it is easy to disprove the fractional argument on a moment-to-moment basis, but in fact: this holds even for longer spans of time.

Novelty

There is a difference between how we experience time in the moment and how we remember it when we look back. Waiting in line seemingly takes forever in the moment, but after a day or two, in hindsight, it was really just a very small part of that day.

In a similar vein: holidays always seem to go by very quickly. At least: that is what many conclude as soon as theirs are over. However, during your holiday, time actually seems to slow down. There is a good reason for that: new experiences.

In your daily life you see many of the same things every day, you do many of the same routine tasks everyday, and if you enjoy your work you are likely quite engaged in it. In this day-to-day life you have become highly skilled at filtering out distractions. Contrast this with your vacation where you have to do all kinds of non-routine tasks even to get to your destination, and then have complete days to fill in by yourself.

If on those days you do all kinds of activities you do not usually do, that’s all novelty for your brain. These novel things take more mental processing power and occupy more mental space. Your filters don’t work there, and hence everything seems to last longer. This is noticeable in the moment, but also if you start episodically telling others about your novel experiences.

The reverse is also true: if you would not do anything on your holiday, you will experience boredom, which also makes time appear to pass more slowly, at least: in the moment, perhaps not on retelling. Hence, the benefit of holidays for altering your perception of time, whether you do something or just sit there, either way: it helps slow down time perception at least as you experience it in the moment.

Excitement

This same phenomenon of things seeming to take much longer than they actually do also occurs when there is something physically happening that is exciting. People can overestimate the actual time something took by orders of magnitude.

I once had the genius idea to step into a wooden roller coaster, after not having been in one for many years, and not remembering how much I actually disliked such experiences. While the cars were being pulled up, I started remembering that roller coasters were not a pleasant experience, but by then it was too late. As the carts were released at the apex, and my stomach started to turn, I had no other option than to simply endure it. That ride probably took only a minute or two, but really: it seemed way longer than that.

The Brain

As anything in the reality you experience. Time perception too is a construct of your brain. And as your body becomes less agile with age, so does your brain. In fact your brain uses most energy to perceive new things when you are about five, and this tapers off from that point onward.

Consider that as you get older, you have had more opportunity to learn. Hence, the more you learn, the more complex the networks in your brain to represent what you’ve soaked up. Hence the size and complexity of the webs of connected neurons in your brain increases, which leads to longer paths that signals need to traverse.

When these paths themselves start to age, they degrade, giving more resistance to the flow of signals. This causes the rate at which mental images are acquired and processed to decrease as you get older: chronoception changes. Since your brain is perceiving fewer new images in the same amount of time, it seems as though time is passing more quickly. While in fact it is your own brain slowing down. This is an interesting form of perceptual relativity: the world around you is not going faster, you are going slower relative to it.

Your brain also becomes better at filtering out signals irrelevant to whatever you are doing. This is evidenced for example when something small changes in an environment you have been in for a long time. It is very common not to notice that change for a while, since you have tuned out certain details in your environment. The net effect is not only that you see less images, but that you also see less detail in those images. A complete change-up of environment can of course work wonders here.

Conclusion

We know that the older we get, the faster time seem to pass, but the question is: by how much? We know that for people in their early twenties physical time and chronoception are almost equal: they experience time approximately as it passes in physical reality. Seniors, between sixty and eighty, are off with their estimates by approximately twenty to twenty-five percent.

This leads me to conclude that as a rough rule of thumb what on average feels like a week for a twenty year old, feels like about five and half days for a senior. However, that’s an average. This strongly fluctuates based on the moment-to-moment experience.

As anything that you experience, chronoception too is a construct of your brain. It seems that as we get older we literally gradually lose track of time. One of the few ways to mitigate this to some extent is to expose yourself to novelty in any form, in short: go to new places, learn new things and meet new people. But most of all: enjoy your time.

References

  1. Kingery. K. (2019). It’s Spring Already? Physics Explains Why Time Flies as We Age.
  2. Muller, D. (2016). Why Life Seems to Speed Up as We Age.
  3. Livni, E. (2019). Physics explains why time passes faster as you age.
  4. Haden, J. (2017). Science Says Time Really Does Seem to Fly as We Get Older.
  5. Bonwit, H. (2012). Time Dilation & Back to the Future.
  6. Kiener, M. (2015). Why Time Flies.
  7. Spencer, B. (2017). Time Perception.

Copyright and the Information Age

In the previous article we looked at the origin of copyright. We learned three things. Firstly, that the introduction of copyright was driven by reduced costs of creating copies of creative works. Secondly, that copyright has shifted from authors to large corporations. Thirdly, that compensating the original authors is no longer really what copyright enforcement is primarily used for. In this article we look at what happens when the costs of copying are further reduced to nearly zero. What are the consequences and how should we deal with them?

Perfect instant copies

Like many eighties kids, I too had a cassette recorder. I used to record radio shows with it. These were sufficient for listening them back shortly thereafter, but did not have the same quality as the original broadcasts. In fact: they actually degraded over time.

Back then blank cassette tapes were subject to a special home-copy fee. To this day Dutch citizens still pay this fee for each blank CD or DVD they buy. This legislation has been extended to also cover hard disks and memory sticks. What is the purpose of this fee? It gives users the right to make copies for private, non-commercial, use without violating any laws. The collected fee is indirectly distributed back to the authors.

Analog copies, made using cassettes and videotapes, are quite different from digital copies, made using DVD’s and hard disks. Why? Firstly, digital copies are perfect: they do not degrade over time. Digital films, series or home recordings will look identical played back fifty years from now. Secondly, while copying onto a cassette still took effort, creating a digital copy is as simple as clicking a button. Thirdly, modern digital storage devices can be erased and rewritten many times. This further reduces the monetary costs of making and holding onto copies. Combined with today’s fast download speeds, the costs of copying a creative work like a movie, song or book, are reduced to near zero.

The implications of effortless zero-cost copying are profound. Importantly, it allows creative works to spread broadly and quickly. This aligns with at least one of the goals of its creators: reaching a large audience. However, ironically, it also conflicts with another goal of those same creators: financial compensation for exerted effort in creating the work in the first place.

Creative works as ideas

Now, before I go on, I want to avoid the trap of oversimplifying consumers and producers of creative works. Frequently the needs of a producers and consumers are presented as being opposed. I do not think this is the case. There’s a much more complicated interaction going on than a simple exchange if you consume a creative work.

If you listen to a song that resonates with you, it changes you. It inspires you to find different music of the same form, or even to make your own version or to remix it. Contrast this with buying a bottle of water or a bag of potato chips. These are things you consume to sustain you. Instead, consuming creative works changes you, and may even change the creative work itself by leading to indirect derivatives. In short: creative works are more like an idea. For these works differences in physical form (digital, analog, etc …) do not play a big role in conveying the idea itself.

Since ideas build upon one another, it is much more difficult to classify what really constitutes an original creative work. This is in fact the subject of many law suits. Listen to Taurus by Spirit and tell me if you think the intro riff of Stairway to Heaven is still original. Listen to Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke and Got To Give it Up by Marvin Gaye. There is no clear cut definition of where inspiration ends and where plagiarism starts. That’s because these examples are essentially all ideas building on one another.

Charging for copies

Back to physical copies: when copying still took effort, it made perfect sense to collect money at the point where these copies were produced. It made sense to charge more for a cassette, videotape, or even a DVD than its material value. The surplus intended for the authors of the work, and those on the intermediate ‘chain’: distributors, promoters, etc. However, when the costs of producing a copy reach nearly zero, this model becomes much harder to sustain. Indeed, the last two decades have revealed substantial cracks in this approach.

There have been numerous clashes between technologies that enable fast and easy access to content and the copyright holders of this content. The response: a mix of artificial copy-restriction mechanisms and harsh legal steps against copyright violators. Content distribution intermediaries tend to think of zero cost copying as a treat to curtail. Perversely, copy-restriction mechanisms penalize legitimate buyers of creative works. It makes them jump through hoops and imposes usage restrictions. This leaves a vacuum, inadvertently pushing consumers towards obtaining content illegally, depriving the artists of their remuneration [5].

Abstractions that worked in the physical world do not easily map onto the new digital reality. For example: I once encountered an on-line library that had only five digital copies of a specific book available. Since they were all ‘lend out’, I could no longer ‘lend’ this book. This bizarre example underscores the odd dichotomy. On the one hand, authors want their books to be read and spread as much as possible, making a case for unrestricted copying. On the other hand  authors want payment for each copy, making a case for restricting copying. This raises the question: is the point at which a creative work is copied, still the right point to charge for it?

Easy access

There are platforms that still charge for each copy, like Apple’s iTunes. iTunes is interesting because it broke with the traditional method of selling music. Instead of having to buy an entire album, consumers could conveniently choose to buy individual songs. This again emphasizes that the rise of piracy may have less to do with consumers being unwilling to pay authors for their works, and more to do with those works being hard hard to access legally. Indeed, piracy seems to be a service problem, not a pricing problem [3].

There are also alternatives that have moved away from charging for each copy, instead charging a subscription fee. This fee is distributed to the copyright holders of the original work. Sidestepping the issue of charging per copy, instead providing on-demand access to content for an ‘all you can eat’ fee. Examples of this are Netflix and Spotify. The downside of the subscription model and platforms, is that users tend to flock to popular ones. These popular platforms grow in terms of user base and power. When they become too dominant, they have an incentive to take a increasingly larger cut of the proceeds. This siphons away compensation from the author to the distributor. Hence, digital distribution platforms risk becoming the new middle-men. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The upside is that there is a willingness to pay for easy legal access to content, regardless of whether this is based on copies, or subscriptions. This is hopeful for both producers and consumers, more niche creative works will get a chance, which leads to more choice as well, and more quality by sheer volume of creative works being produced.  The recent rise of high quality television series is testament to this.

Alternatives

Is there an alternative model of compensation we could think of? Going back to the idea behind copies: the first copy of a book or movie is very expensive to make, but all subsequent copies cost almost nothing to produce. Finding a buyer for that first copy that distributes the subsequent copies for free is economically optimal and efficient. However, this still assumes that copies are the right way to think of creative works, is this still really the case?

Another way to think of a creative work is simply that creating the work itself boils down to putting in time and effort. Instead of paying for the copy, we can reward authors for their investment of time. This circles back to the original intention of copyright: to recoup your costs. Indeed there are alternative models that follow this model more directly: Kickstarter projects get funding in advance for producing a creative work based on an estimation (though some still rely on copy protection afterwards); pay what you want models ask you for a fee of your own choosing after the creative work is already produced, with usually no restrictions on copying; The gig model is based on spreading a creative work for free and then shifting to experiential modes of reproduction that can not be copied: giving concerts, provide public readings, etc.

These alternative ways of charging for creative works is interesting for producers and consumers as well, particularly because it allows cutting out the middle-man: studios, distributors, etc … this enables a much more personal and more direct connection between authors and their fans, and more efficient economics at the same time.

Conclusion

The ability to make perfect instant copies at negligible cost has changed the world profoundly. It has also, for better or for worse, has led to a much broader spread of creative works, some of which is legal, some of which is not. One point of view: sharing copies freely acts as a disincentive for authors to keep up their creative endeavors: the original problem that copyright intended to address. However, the low cost of spreading (and even producing) creative works seems to have led instead to a proliferation of such works, available under many different compensation schemes. Making it easier to both produce and consume such works.

Instead of the dire predictions, mostly by large corporate copyright holders, of a world deprived of creative works, we now live in one that has undergone a Cambrian explosion of such works. It seems that the original copyright model has outlived its usefulness. A more liberal approach that allows copying of creative works by consumers in combination with novel compensation schemes for producers, seems prudent for sustaining the ongoing dialogue of ideas these works represent.

References

  1. Stallman, R. (1997). The Right to Read
  2. Economist (2004). Killing Creativity
  3. Newell, G. (2011). Gabe says Piracy isn’t about Price
  4. Rosen, B. E (2010). Walking on Eggshells
  5. Kinsella, S. (2010). Kroes wants copyright as a building block
  6. Kelly, S. & Robinson, R. The Fast and Furious Rise of the Subscription Economy