Cognitive Pearl #094 Which Side Of The Bathroom Door

If your eyes are open






The motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, once remarked that the length of a minute depends on which side of the bathroom door one is. His observation graphically illustrates that time is experienced differently depending on circumstances (such as needing to go potty).

Yet what fascinates me is why we need to keep track of time in the first place. Is it not enough that our physiological functions keep track of time for themselves? Beyond the social convenience of keeping track of time (it’s much easier to plan a meeting when we all arrive at the same moment) and the technological requirements for synchronization, why did nature endow us with the sense of time?

To suggest an answer, at least this cognitive therapist’s perspective, let’s consider the most basic of cognitive skills: pattern recognition and it’s correlate, pattern deviation. Pattern recognition requires the ability to discern. This incredibly important cognitive skill requires a reference point against which observed phenomena are monitored.

This capacity is not uniquely human. My dog can track a wayward ball rolled across the floor and grab it. What makes the human capacity for pattern recognition different however is the enormous demands that we put on ourselves and our environment. While Sleepy’s abilities to track that ball are no doubt a manifestation of his predatory skill set, he has no idea of the subtle and myriad differences that I need to live my human life.

And that’s where the sensation of time comes in.

The sensation of the passage of time provides the background information for us to measure so many of the contents of our crazy, complicated lives. Priorities are set according to their time (temporal) immediacy. Our interaction with the world around us is shaped by the duration of events. Time provides the ‘antihero’ to those wonderful moments of transcendence, moments when time falls away like some unneeded clothing. And when human life is disrupted such as by trauma and misery, time becomes both part of the suffering, and as we’ll read about in the next post, part of the healing.