Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

How We Sense Time

Credit: freshidea/Adobe

Credit: freshidea/Adobe

By Jack Brooks

Our sense of time is critical to our everyday experience, from consciousness to movement and learning.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Have you ever looked at one eye in the mirror and shifted your gaze to the other eye, surprisingly seeing no movement of your eyes? Or misheard something, such as the Jimi Hendrix lyric, ‘scuse me while I kiss the sky for ‘scuse me while I kiss this guy? At first glance these are simply sensory limitations, but when we look under the hood these are clues about how we process time.

Unlike other senses, time is directional; it unfolds as one event after another. Psychologists have pondered how the sense of time arises as, unlike the traditional senses, there is apparently no receptor or sensory system capable of signifying time.

And yet time must arise from somewhere, as we can track durations ranging from fractions of a millisecond to days with considerable accuracy. The former is the time it takes sound to travel between our ears, the detection of this difference enabling us to localise sound. The latter is demonstrated by our ever-changing circadian rhythms. This article will focus on time events that unfold in the past 2–3 seconds, dubbed by psychologists as the subjective present.

Free Will

Philosophers have debated for hundreds of years whether we have the free will to do what we wish or if our actions are pre­determined. The question was pigeonholed away as a thought-experiment until Benjamin Libet of The University of California, Los...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.