It’s the fall, and the clichéd opening for messages such as mine often hinges around “back to school” and opportunities for new learning experiences through our exhibitions and programs. While that’s fun and engaging, what if there is something about these new experiences that adds more to our life than we currently understand? Richard Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical College, recently wrote a short article for the New York Times, exploring data that indicates learning new things can perhaps change our sense of time as we get older. In Dr. Friedman’s words, “Don’t despair. I am happy to tell you that the apparent velocity of time is a big fat cognitive illusion and happy to say there may be a way to slow the velocity of our later lives.”
There are many factors that influence our perception of time, which have nothing to do with age. But it does seem that as we get older, we tend to feel that months and years are going by much more quickly than they did when we were younger. Dr. Friedman suggests that when we were learning and acquiring new skills as children or young adults the learning curve was steep; as adults, we are not exploring and learning about the world as we did when we were younger. “Adult life lacks the constant discovery and endless novelty of childhood. Studies have shown that the greater cognitive demands of a task, the longer its duration is perceived to be. Dr. David Eagleman at Baylor College of Medicine found that repeated stimuli appear briefer in duration than novel stimuli of equal duration. Is it possible that learning new things might slow down our internal sense of time? So what, you might say, if we have an illusion about time speeding up? But it matters, I think, because the distortion signals that we might squeeze more out of life.”
We know museums offer endless opportunities for learning new things and exploring new ideas; let’s take full advantage of it. The joy of being a student, diving deep into one subject area, renews our minds, piques our curiosity, and challenges us to discover the unfamiliar and unknown. Art connects us to many subjects, opening the door for us to explore the world’s cultures, history, geography, literature, and even current events. As we practice at our Slow Art Sundays, it is so important to slow down and truly see the world around you. Take the first step to learn something new at the BMA. It’s here. Make the time.
I look forward to seeing you often this fall and thank you so much for your support of the Museum,
The R. Hugh Daniel Director