Time Warped, By Claudia Hammond

The link between time and emotion

Genevieve Roberts
Saturday 02 June 2012 17:14

It's the most often used noun in the English language, the subject of continual curiosity at the speed of its passing, and of bafflement at its ability to contract and expand.

So it's surprising that more people haven't dedicated their time to thinking about time.

Claudia Hammond, the Radio 4 broadcaster, psychologist and author of Emotional Rollercoaster, which explores the science of feelings, is more sensitive to the subject than most: she is a synaesthete who sees colours and shapes when she thinks of the passage of time.

And she explores the subject thoroughly. Some of Time Warped is on tried-and-tested ground: no one questions that time travels differently if you are scared rather than relaxed; that an hour in amusing company speeds by faster than half the time with someone who is dull, but Hammond's examples of time-warping add insight to these observations. She looks at the skydiver Chuck Berry, whose parachute failed, and the BBC journalist Alan Johnston's experience of being taken hostage, to show the expansion of time in a near-death situation; notes the experiences of the French speleologist Michel Siffre, who spent two months in an underground cave to find out how much our sense of time is thrown without external clues; and adds in a few pleasingly eccentric stories, such as the man who takes a photo every 20 seconds so that his life can be recalled – in its entirety.

She also explores links between time and space and emotion: how fear, or hearing someone sobbing, makes time slow; and questions whether both depression and ADHD are time-perception disorders.

Despite Hammond's slightly irritating use of phrases such as "and we'll learn how it worked out", as if she shares in her readers' discoveries, her examination of the elasticity of time is accessible. And her pop-psychology test to find out whether you are in the half of the population who believe time is moving towards you, rather than seeing yourself moving through time, is entertaining.

She highlights the human failing of always believing we will have more free time in the future, and gives practical solutions for not overestimating how much we can fit into our schedules. But this is no cure for the sensation of time accelerating as years pass. Hammond's conclusion, that time rushing by is a sign of leading a busy, happy life, may be true, but is as unsatisfying as the feeling of sand slipping through an hourglass.

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