Time Warped by Claudia Hammond

I started reading this book a little while ago and something about it bugged me so I ended up putting it away in a small, untended little section of my bookcase awaiting a finer, more receptive day for me to pick it up. Luckily I did find that day, and I wish I could ‘time warp’ (hardy-har) back in time to my earlier self and encourage myself to persevere because this is a great book. But perhaps it just needed to be the right ‘time’ (hardy-har some more) for me to read it, and fortunately this ‘time’ was definitely the right ‘time’.

Time warped is an examination of the complex world of time perception. It falls into that nexus of subjects I really enjoy: neurology, psychology and subjective experience so I should have known it would be a winner (if the fact that it’s published by Canongate wasn’t enough of a steer). It’s a subject that is particularly interesting to me on account of my son’s medical condition – Alice in Wonderland syndrome – which affects, amongst other things, his perception of time. I didn’t find any particular insights into my son’s condition (it would be surprising, as it’s extremely rare) but the book itself is extremely insightful.

Because the book is about time perception, this throws up a lot of interesting case studies, and scientific studies, which have been carried out on the way we perceive time. Examples like the story of Michel Siffre who spent 2 months alone in an underground cave in order to understand better how the body responds to time unecumbered by the usual cues – no wristwatch, no natural daylight. What he uncovered was quite surprising as although time seemed to drag, the two months ended much quicker than he expected. Reporter Alan Johnson’s terrible experiences in captivity and how he dealt with the seemingly endles, fear-filled time are instructive if hard to read about; and the cognitive psychologist Marigold Linton who painstakingly (not an ill-chosen word) recorded an event from her day every day for 10 years and tested herself on them later, uncovering some interesting insights into the nature of memory and why it is so difficult to date events from our history.

In fact this book is chock full of fascinating insights. Hammond explores an fascinating range of perceptional issues including synesthaesia (perceiving things in colour…including time), the difficulties of dating recent or distant events, the different ways in which people perceive time in space and how this affects our life experience. There’s a whole section about why it is that time seems to move faster as you grow older (an experience I can testify to) why ADHD might be a time perception disorder (or why time seems to move more slowly when you’re bored). I found it particularly fascinating how people perceive themselves within time; covering a range of things from whether you perceive time as moving independently of you or yourself forward moving through time; whether you visualise time as a line, a wheel or a swirly-spiral; and the ways in which written language can affect how we perceive time – for example whether the future is to the left or to the right or beneath us can be dictated by the practices of our written language.

Most helpfully, the book concludes with a chapter about how we can improve our sense of control over time, and how we can slow the passage of time down by doing things like introducing more novel activities into our lives (new experiences can make time stretch), how to make ourselves feel like we have more time available to us, and how to appreciate the time we have.

Time Warped is a facinating, highly interesting book which includes some practical steps that we can take to improve our relationship with time without having to deposit ourselves in an underground cave for 2 months to start to appreciate what we have. It’s a fun and clever read with just the right balance of scientific content, personal and cultural experience and anecdote. It makes for a pleasurable and, often, humerous read and is well worth getting over any initial (undeserved) reservations about the subject. In the end I found this a highly enjoyable book, a worthy use of my limited time.

Time Warped is published by Canongate Books.




About bookbii

I'm an ordinary woman living an ordinary life in an ordinary place, and it is quietly wonderful
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