Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Altered Sense of Time

In my undergraduate course in Physics, I was exposed to “Twin Paradox” - a thought experiment in Special Relativity. According to the paradox, if one of the twin brothers travels at the speed of light to outer space and returns back on earth, he will be younger than the one left behind on earth. This paradox was based on the phenomenon of “Time Dilation” which describes that time slows down for observers in different frames of reference. To better explain the phenomenon, my teacher oversimplified the theory and put across an analogy of two people doing some work. Say, when my Mom is gardening time would fly swiftly for her since she enjoys the activity. On the contrary, if I have to deal with some banking work (which I hate), I will feel that it is taking too long to finish off the drab work.

That was what I learnt in Physics long back. I remembered this episode while I was reading about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's theory of Flow.

Csikszentmihalyi describes “flow”, or optimal human experience, as a state of happiness while engrossed in an activity. He describes flow as

"being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're
using your skills to the utmost."

When in the state of flow, the mental energies are drawn towards doing the activity better, bringing a sense of fulfilment and meaning. This is a Zen like state where one truly experiences the joy of the activity one is involved in and stops getting distracted.

In this immersed state, one experiences an altered sense of time while surfing on the challenges the activity poses. As challenges are mastered and goals met, newer should surface to continue experiencing the flow. The challenges should match with the individual’s skills. Challenges way beyond proficiency can result in anxiety whereas lack of alluring challenges can set in boredom.


Chaitanya said...

This is a lovely and catchy article, time means different things for different people...yet we all relate to time! :-)


Dr. Alan said...

That's so cool.

I got some design project going at:


mathatheist said...

It's so true. I remember an old timex ad - the headline said, every one said Monday was a really long day. We checked. It wasn't. Grin.