There is a short truism by the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer that those of us who are middle aged or older relate to. “Just remember, once you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.” We understand that a moving object behaves in this manner and so does our personal mental perception of time.

Speed is a fascinatingly fluid topic to ponder. We humans think of speed as the rate at which objects cover distances. Fast-moving objects cover greater distances in a certain amount of time than do slow-moving objects in the same amount of time.

The concept of speed is so common we usually take it for granted unless or until the state police pulls you over for operating your motor vehicle at a rate of speed that exceeds the posted legal limit. One might complain that he has sufficient driving skills to safely guide the car down the road at a faster rate than “average” drivers. I’m sure police officers hear that line from drivers quite frequently.

The truth is, that we are actually poor judges of speed. The truth of this can be seen whenever highways become covered with glare ice. One will notice stranded vehicles that lost grip with the surface in ditches and farm fields. Whatever or whoever the drivers were rushing to meet will have to wait.

Speed is beneficial in certain ways. A surgeon performs her operation to decrease the amount of time the patient requires to heal. This lessens the amount and extent of physical suffering. Likewise, when we take over-the-counter analgesics, we intend to speedily rid ourselves of headaches.

The flexibility of the perception of the speed of time is testable. An experiment I like to perform involves the treadmill. If you want time to slow down, walk or trot on a treadmill for a long, specified time, perhaps 15-minutes. Those 15-minutes may seem like the longest 15-minutes of your day.

In our society, we like to receive our news quickly. The late, great Edward R. Murrow had something insightful to say about this. “The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.” Murrow would surely be astonished with social media and also alarmed by it. One of the worst practices people have is to hastily share information that they have not taken the time to verify its truthfulness. Once the inaccurate information has been shared with the world, it’s nearly impossible to refute it.

Whenever we travel speedily, we eventually or suddenly need to slow down and stop. The faster we go, the longer it takes to halt. Think of a huge, speeding ocean liner, perhaps the Titanic. The captain orders “full stop” or “reverse engines” but the ship doesn’t slow down nor change direction immediately. The liner keeps moving swiftly because of its great momentum. The same principle is true when we drive a motor vehicle. Attempting to stop very quickly or steer too sharply away from an obstacle can have dire consequences.

Have you noticed a similar effect with your emotions? The pain of disappointment and heartache arrives instantly. Our careful analysis and arrival at the truth happens as slowly as an express ocean liner coming to a full stop.

Yes, speed has a great many benefits in our lives, but speed is best when moderated by slowness. We may like to drive fast, and surf the Web with lightning speed, but consumption of food should not be so fast. The slow-food movement is a beautiful thing. More people are taking time to be mindful in the preparation of meals and more of us are lingering over this carefully prepared food.

What I’m getting at is that we have a great many things in modern life that go very fast and we try to make them go even faster. I sometimes wonder why this is. Why must we have such blistering speed and what effect does this have on the human animal? We have a long ways to go to understand the full consequences of our obsession with speed.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a statement by linguist Noam Chomsky. “The major advances in speed of communication and ability to interact took place more than a century ago. The shift from sailing ships to telegraph was far more radical than that from telephone to email.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Meanderings, Science and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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