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时间概念与人们的错误认知

  What we get wrong about time

  时间概念与人们的错误认知

  “Time” is the most frequently used noun in the English language. We all know what it feels like as time passes. Our present becomes the past as soon as it’s happened; today soon turns into yesterday. If you live in a temperate climate, each year you see the seasons come and go. And as we reach adulthood and beyond, we become increasingly aware of the years flashing by.

  “时间”是英语中使用频率最高的名词。我们都知道时光流逝是什么感觉。现在发生的事很快就变成了过去;今天转眼就变成了昨天。如果生活在温带气候,每年你都还能看到季节更替。随着我们长大成人,我们越来越意识到时光飞逝。

  Although neuroscientists have been unable to locate a single clock in brain that is responsible for detecting time passing, humans are surprisingly good at it. If someone tells us they’re arriving in five minutes, we have a rough idea of when to start to look out for them. We have a sense of the weeks and months passing by. As a result, most of us would say that how time functions is fairly obvious: it passes, at a consistent and measurable rate, in a specific direction – from past to future.

  神经科学家一直无法确定大脑中哪个部位负责感知时间流逝,但人类特别擅长感知时间。如果有人说将在五分钟内到达,我们大概能估计什么时候他们就快到了。我们还有周复一周、月复一月的感觉。因此,大多数人会说,人类感知时间的能力是相当明显的:它以一致和可测量的速度,从过去到未来、沿着固定的方向流逝。

  Of course, the human perspective of time may not be exclusively biological, but rather shaped by our culture and era. The Amondawa tribe in the Amazon, for example, has no word for “time” – which some say means they don’t have a notion of time as a framework in which events occur. (There are debates over whether this is purely a linguistic argument, or whether they really do perceive time differently.) Meanwhile, it’s hard to know with scientific precision how people conceived of time in the past, as experiments in time perception have only been conducted for the last 150 years.

  当然,人类对时间的感觉可能不仅仅是生物学上的,也可能是由文化和时代所塑造的。例如,亚马逊地区的阿蒙达瓦(Amondawa)部落就没有“时间”这个词。有人说,这意味着他们没有时间的概念,没有一个事件发生的框架。关于这是否纯粹是语言学问题,或者他们是否以不同方式感知时间,尚存在争议。与此同时,我们很难用科学的方法精确地了解古代人们是如何构想时间的,因为关于时间感知的实验只进行了150年。

  What we do know is that Aristotle viewed the present as something continually changing and that by the year 160, the Roman emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius was describing time as a river of passing events. And in the West, at least, many would still identify with these ideas.

  我们所知道的是,亚里士多德认为,现在是一种不断变化的东西。公元160年,罗马帝国哲学家马可·奥勒留(Marcus Aurelius)把时间描述为一件件流逝的事件。至少在西方,许多人仍然认同这些观点。

  But physics tells a different story. However much time feels like something that flows in one direction, some scientists beg to differ.

  但是物理学有不同的解释。无论多少人感觉时间像是朝一个方向流动的东西,一些科学家却不认同。

  如果记忆仅仅像录像带,那么想象一个新环境将会变得很困难。

  In the last century, Albert Einstein’s discoveries exploded our concepts of time. He showed us that time is created by things; it wasn’t there waiting for those things to act within it. He demonstrated that time is relative, moving more slowly if an object is moving fast. Events don’t happen in a set order. There isn’t a single universal “now”, in the sense that Newtonian physics would have it.

  上个世纪,爱因斯坦的发现打破了我们对时间的传统理解。他告诉我们时间是由事物创造的;不是在那里等着这些事物在时间里面发挥作用。爱因斯坦证明了时间是相对的,如果一个物体移动得快,时间的速度就会慢一些。事物不是按既定的顺序发生的。在牛顿物理学中,并不存在单一的普遍意义的“现在”。

  It is true that many events in the Universe can be put into sequential order – but time is not always segmented neatly into the past, the present and the future. Some physical equations work in either direction.

  的确,宇宙中的许多事件都可以按顺序排列,但时间并不总是被整齐地划分为过去、现在和未来。一些物理方程式的计算结果中,时间可以双向运动。

  A few theoretical physicists, such as the best-selling writer and physicist Carlo Rovelli take it even further, speculating that time neither flows, nor even exists. It is an illusion.

  一些理论物理学家,比如畅销书作家和物理学家卡洛·罗维里(Carlo Rovelli)甚至更进一步,推测时间既不流动,也不存在。这只是一种幻觉。

  Of course, although some physicists propose that time does not exist, time perception – our sense of time – does. This is why the evidence from physics is at odds with how life feels. Our shared idea of what the concept of “future” or “past” mean may not apply to everything everywhere in the Universe, but it does reflect the reality of our lives here on Earth.

  当然,尽管一些物理学家认为时间不存在,但我们的时间感确实存在。这就是为什么物理学的证据与生命的感觉不一致。人类对“未来”或“过去”的共同理解可能并不适用于宇宙中的其它地方,但确实反映了地球上的现实生活。

  Like the Newtonian idea of absolute time, however, our belief in how time works for humans can also be misleading. And there may be a better approach.

  然而,就像牛顿的时间绝对论,时间如何影响人类,大众的理念也可能是错的。也许有更好的方法去理解。

False pasts 虚假的过去

  One aspect of time perception many of us share is how we think of our own past: as a kind of giant video library, an archive we can dip into to retrieve records of events in our lives.

  我们很多人都有时间观念,其中一个内容就是我们如何看待过去:就像一个巨大的视频库,我们可以利用它来检索生活中的事件记录。

  But psychologists have demonstrated that autobiographical memory is not like that at all. Most of us forget far more than we remember, sometimes forgetting events happened at all, despite others’ insistence that we were there. On occasion even the reminder does nothing to jog our memories.

  但心理学家已经证明,自我记忆根本不是那样。大多数人忘记的事情比记得的要多得多,有时我们完全忘记了发生的事情,尽管别人坚持认为我们在场。有时,即使被提醒也不能唤起回忆。

  As we lay down memories, we alter them to make sense of what’s happened. Every time we recall a memory, we reconstruct the events in our mind and even change them to fit in with any new information that might have come to light. And it’s much easier than you might think to convince people that they have had experiences which never happened. The psychologist Elisabeth Loftus has done decades of research on this, persuading people they remember kissing a giant green frog or that they once met Bugs Bunny in Disneyland (as he’s a Warner Bros character, so this can’t have happened). Even recounting an anecdote to our friends can mean our memory of that story goes back into the library slightly altered.

  我们可以改变记忆,使之更有意义。每当我们回忆起一段过往,我们就会在脑海中重新构建这些事件,甚至改变它们,以适应任何可能出现的新信息。这比凭空创造要容易得多,让人们相信其实从未存在过的经历。心理学家伊丽莎白·洛夫图斯(Elisabeth Loftus)对此做了几十年的研究,她让人们回忆起自己曾亲吻过一只巨大的绿色青蛙,或者曾在迪士尼乐园遇见过兔八哥(因为他是华纳兄弟的角色,不可能出现在迪斯尼)。即使是向朋友讲述一件轶事,也可能意味着我们对那个故事的记忆已经发生了轻微的改变。

  Another mistake we make is to assume that imagining the future is completely different from thinking about the past. In fact, the two processes are linked. We recruit similar parts of the brain to reminisce or to picture our lives in years to come. It is the possession of our memories that permits us to imagine a future, remixing scenes to preview future events in a window in the mind. This skill allows us to make plans and to try out different hypothetical possibilities before we commit.

  我们犯的另一个错误是以为想象未来与想象过去是完全不同的。事实上,这两个过程是相互联系的。我们用大脑中相似的部分来回忆过去或描绘我们未来的生活。正是拥有了记忆,我们才能想象未来,在脑海中预览未来的事件。这一技能使我们能够预先制定计划,并尝试不同的可能性。

  These curious sensations occur as a result of the way our brains deal with time. A baby, with little by way of autobiographical memory, lives constantly in the present. She’s happy. She’s crying. She’s hungry. She’s miserable. A baby experiences all this, but doesn’t think back to how cold it was last month or worry that temperature might drop again soon.

  这些奇怪的感觉就是源于我们大脑处理时间的方式。一个几乎没有自我记忆的婴儿总是活在当下。她快乐、哭泣、饥饿、悲伤。婴儿会经历所有这些,但不会回想起上个月有多冷,也不会担心气温很快会再次下降。

  Then gradually a toddler will begin to develop a sense of self. With that development comes an understanding of time, of yesterday as distinct from tomorrow.

  然后慢慢地,一个蹒跚学步的孩子会开始建立自我意识。随着这一发展,便开始理解时间,理解昨天与明天的区别。

  Even at that age, though, imagining one’s self in the future remains a challenge. The psychologist Janie Busby Grant found that if you ask three-year-olds what they might do the following day, only a third can give an answer judged to be plausible. When the psychologist Cristina Atance gave small children some pretzels to eat followed by the option of more pretzels or some water, it won’t surprise you to learn that, thirsty after eating the salt, most chose water. But when she asked them what they would like to have when they came back the next day, most still opted for water. (Adults chose pretzels, knowing that by tomorrow they will feel hungry again.) Very small children are unable to imagine themselves in a future where they might feel differently than they do in this moment.

  尽管如此,在那个年纪想象自己的未来仍然是一个挑战。心理学家珍妮·巴斯比·格兰特(Janie Busby Grant)发现,如果你问三岁大的孩子第二天可能做什么,只有三分之一的孩子给出的答案被认为是可信的。心理学家克里斯蒂娜·阿坦斯(Cristina Atance)给小孩子们吃了一些椒盐圈,然后让他们选择是吃更多的椒盐圈还是喝点水,感到口渴的孩子大多数都选择了水,这并不奇怪。但接着问他们第二天回来想要吃什么时,大多数人还是选择水。成年人会选择了椒盐圈,因为知道明天回来他们又会觉得饿 。小孩子们则无法预计未来会和现在有什么不同。

  The experience of time is actively created by our minds. Various factors are crucial to this construction of the perception of time – memory, concentration, emotion and the sense we have that time is somehow located in space. Our time perception roots us in our mental reality. Time is not only at the heart of the way we organise life, but the way we experience it.

  对时间的经验是由我们的思想主动创造的。各种因素对于时间经验的构建都至关重要——记忆、注意力、情感,以及我们对时空关系的感知。我们的时间感植根于我们现实的感观。时间不仅决定我们安排生活的方式,也决定我们体验生活的方式。

  Of course, you could argue that it doesn’t really matter whether we perceive time accurately according to the laws of physics. On a daily basis, we can carry on walking without needing to remember that, however flat the world feels while you’re on the ground, it is spherical. We still talk of the Sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening, even though we know that it is the Earth and not that the Sun that is moving. Our perceptions don’t keep up with the science – and we can only create our everyday experience of the world using the senses we possess.

  当然,你可能会说,根据物理定律,我们能否准确地感知时间并不重要。在日常生活中,我们可以在不需要记住时间的情况下继续行走,无论你感觉世界有多平,它都是球形的。尽管我们知道是地球而不是太阳在移动,但我们仍然谈论太阳在早晨升起,在晚上落下。我们的感知跟不上科学的发展——我们只能用我们所拥有的感观来创造我们对世界的日常体验。

  Likewise, our perception of time is not something we can choose to ignore. However much you learn about four-dimensional space-time, waiting for that delayed train is still going to feel longer than having lunch with your friend.

  同样,我们也不能忽视对时间的主观体验。不管你对四维时空了解多少,感觉上和朋友一起吃午饭的时光很短暂,但等晚点的火车却需要很久。

  But even if we can’t change our perceptions of time, we can change the way we think about it – and perhaps feel better about its passing, and ourselves, as a result.

  时间长短无法改变,但可以改变对时间的态度,因此让时间流逝中的我们自我感觉更好。

Time for change 时间改变

  Instead of considering the past, present and future to be in a straight line, we can look on our memories as a resource to allow us to think of the future.

  我们不应把过去、现在和未来看成一条直线,而是应尽量把记忆当成资源,让我们得以思考未来。

  This is crucial. Humans’ ability to time travel mentally, forward and back, is why we’re able to do so many of the things that set us apart – such as plan for the future or create a work of art. And the important role that memory has to play within that isn’t a new idea: Aristotle, for example, described memories not as archives of our lives, but as tools for imagining the future.

  这是至关重要的。人类能够在思想上进行时间旅行,前瞻或者后顾。因此我们能够做那么多与众不同的事情,比如,计划未来,或是创造一件艺术品。其中记忆的重要性前人早已知晓:例如,亚里士多德的眼中,记忆并非生活的档案,而是想象未来的工具。

  This means that what may have seemed like a flaw before – our difficulty to recollect the past accurately – is actually an advantage. If memories were fixed like videotapes then imagining a new situation would be tricky. If I asked you to picture yourself arriving at your workplace next Tuesday morning not via your usual route, but instead floating on a lilo on a turquoise canal lined with tropical flowers, past familiar buildings right up to the front door of your office where your old school friends will greet you with a cocktail, in an instant most of you will be able to do it. (An exception is people with an unusual condition called severely deficient autobiographical memory.)

  我们很难准确回忆过去,这以前看起来是一个缺陷,但实际上却是一个优势。如果记忆仅仅像录像带一样准确,那么想象一个新环境将会变得很困难。如果我请你想象你下星期二早上去上班,不是你通常的路线,而是乘坐一个漂浮的塑料充气床垫,沿着两岸开满热带鲜花的蓝绿色的运河划过去,经过一座座熟悉的建筑,抵达你办公楼的大门,在那里你的老同学们会拿着鸡尾酒迎接你。瞬间你就能够想象出来这样的场景。除非是患有严重自我记忆丧失缺陷的人。

  Your memory is so flexible that in an instant you can summon up your personally-recorded memories of the street where you work, what it’s like to lie on a lilo, the faces of your school friends, images of tropical flowers and cocktails. You not only locate all these memories which might be decades apart, but you then splice them together to invent a scene you have never witnessed or even heard of before.

  你的记忆如此的灵活,可以在瞬间唤起记忆中你工作的街道、躺在地板上的感觉、你老同学的面孔、热带花朵和鸡尾酒。你不仅找到了所有这些可能中间相隔几十年的记忆片段,还把它们拼接在一起,创造出一个你从未见过、甚至从未听说过的场景。

  Cognitively, it sounds like hard work. In fact, the flexibility of our memories makes it fairly easy to do.

  从认知角度看,这像是一项艰苦的工作。事实上,我们记忆非常灵活,这很容易做到。

  So we shouldn’t curse our memories when they let us down. They’re made to be changeable, in order that we can take millions of fragments of memories from different times of our lives and recombine them to give us endless imaginative possibilities for the future.

  所以不应该抱怨记忆不可靠,会让我们失望。因为它们可以改变,我们就可以把生活中不同时期的数百万个记忆片段重新组合起来,为未来提供无限的想象。

  In fact, when our memory for the past is damaged, so is our ability to think about the future. The neuroscientist Eleanor Maguire asked people to describe an imaginary future scenario in which they were standing in a museum. Some said it had a domed ceiling. Others a marble floor. But people with amnesia were unable to suggest what it might look like due to our reliance on memory to allow us to think about the future.

  事实上,当记忆受损时,我们思考未来的能力也会受影响。神经学家埃莉诺·马奎尔(Eleanor Maguire)让人们想象未来站在博物馆里的场景。有人说它有一个圆顶天花,也有人说是大理石地板。但健忘症患者却无法预测未来,因为人类依赖记忆来思考未来。

  Instead of thinking of our memories as a handy video archive, we can bear in mind that our memory of an event might not be perfect – and accept that others might have very different memories of the same event.

  我们不应仅把记忆当作方便的视频档案,我们应当了解,对某一事件的记忆可能并不完美,而其他人对同一事件的记忆可能也非常不同。

Slowing down 慢下来

  There’s one other thing we can do. The single question I have been most often asked after writing a book on time perception is, how can we slow time down?

  我们还可以做一件事。写完一本关于感知时间的书后,我最常被问到的一个问题是,我们怎样才能让时间慢下来?

  But I wonder whether we should be careful what we wish for. In middle age, the weeks and the years can feel as though they flash by. But part of our sense of time passing is dictated by the number of new memories we have made. When you look back on a busy holiday, even though it went quickly at the time, in retrospect it can feel as though you were away for ages. This is because of all those new memories you made by spending a week outside your usual routine. If life feels as though it’s going fast, this could be a sign of a life that is full.

  但不知我们是否应该小心翼翼地许愿。人到中年,一年四季仿佛都在飞逝。但我们的时间感部分是由新记忆的数量决定的。当你回顾一个繁忙的假期时,即使那时感觉过得很快,回想起来好像是很多年前的事。这是因为日常状态之外度过的一周带给你很多新的记忆。如果你觉得生活过得很快,这可能是生活充实的标志。

  Meanwhile, time does feel as though it’s going more slowly if you are bored or depressed or feeling lonely or feeling rejected, none of which we would want to seek out. As Pliny the Younger wrote in 105, “The happier the time, the shorter it seems.”

  如果你感到无聊、沮丧、孤独或挫折,感觉时间确实会过得慢些,但这些都不是我们想要的。正如小普林尼(Pliny the Younger)在公元105年所写的那样,“越快乐,时间似乎越短暂。”

  But if you do want to shed that unsettling feeling on a Sunday evening that the weekend has whizzed by, there is something you can do: constantly seek out new experiences. Take up new activities at weekends and visit new places, rather than heading for the same pub or cinema. All this fun means the time will fly in the moment – but because you will lay down more memories, when you get to Monday morning, the weekend will have felt long.

  如果你真的想在周日晚上摆脱这种快乐稍纵即逝的感觉,你应当努力在周末寻找新的体验,参加新的活动,去新的地方,而不是去同一家酒吧或电影院。所有这些新体验意味着时间飞逝,但因为你留下了更多的记忆,因此到了周一早上,会感觉这个周末很长。

  Some routine, of course, is unavoidable. But if you can create a life which feels both novel and entertaining in the present, the weeks and years will feel long in retrospect. Even varying your route to work can make a difference. The more memories you can create for yourself in everyday life, the longer your life will feel when you look back.

  当然,有些例行公事是不可避免的。但如果你能在当下创造一种既新奇又有趣的生活,那么回顾过去的几周或几年,你会觉得很长。即使是换一换上班的路线,也会有所不同。你在日常生活中创造的记忆越多,回首往事时,你就会感到生命越长。

  The way we experience time in our minds is never going to match up with the latest discoveries in physics. We all know what the passing of time feels like. Although we can’t change the way our brains perceive time, there are better ways we can start to think about it. But even then, the way it warps in certain situations will continue to surprise and unsettle us. In the end, perhaps, St Augustine put it best when he asked: “What then is time? If no one asks me, then I know. If I wish to explain it to someone who asks, I know it not.”

  我们头脑中体验时间的方式,与物理学的最新发现永远不一致。我们都知道时间流逝是什么感觉。虽然无法改变大脑感知时间的方式,但我们可以从更好的角度思考时间。即便如此,某些情况下时间被扭曲将继续让我们感到惊讶和不安。最后,或许圣奥古斯丁(St Augustine)提出了最好的问题 :“那么,时间是什么?”如果没人问我,我还知道。如果有人问起,我就向他解释,我也不知道。"

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