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Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  871 ratings  ·  135 reviews
“Time” is the most commonly used noun in the English language; it’s always on our minds and it advances through every living moment. But what is time, exactly? Do children experience it the same way adults do? Why does it seem to slow down when we’re bored and speed by as we get older? How and why does time fly?

In this witty and meditative exploration, award-wi
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 24th 2017 by Simon & Schuster
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Average rating 3.41  · 
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 ·  871 ratings  ·  135 reviews

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Sep 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
“I can guarantee that these pages do not answer your every last question about time", Burdick says at the end of this book. The least you can say, is that he’s honest. Burdick apparently worked on this book for a long time, and in his epilogue he compares what he's written to building a sand castle that will inexorably be swept away by the tidal wave. For an in-depth review of what Burdick's investigation offers for an historian's approach to time, see my Sense-of-history-account on Goodreads:

This i
Oct 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
This book definitely stretched my brain! You don't realize how detached you have become from science in the many decades since you last sat in a science classroom until you try to internalize basic concepts of cell biology and come away with a headache and a vague Flowers for Algernon feeling.

Accordingly, I found the first few chapters (about the measurement of time and cellular circadian clocks, among other things) challenging but fascinating. (And I should note that this stuff probably isn't
May 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A very personal, somewhat scattered investigation into biological time. There was much I learned from this volume, and the author examined the question of "why does time fly" from several angles. His conclusion, in a simple answer - it really doesn't.

Alan Burdick is the father of twins, and this book was his labor for many of their early years. He weaves anecdotes about them, his father's watch, and sleepless early mornings into the scientific examinations. These latter are not too t
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: cosmology
I suppose this book will be of interest to those with a scientific bent, particularly in biology, physiology, neuron-science, and also philosophy. It might also be of some interest to those who, like me, are amateur cosmologists with an abiding interest in time. For everybody else, this book is likely to be a snoozer.

Most studies of time today presuppose that time is merely an artifact of human consciousness. Burdick attributes this idea to St. Augustine and maybe even earlier philos
Text Publishing
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
‘Alan Burdick takes a new, interesting and mindful approach to the topic in an effort to understand what we know about that often intangible concept we call time.’
Australian Geographic

‘[Burdick] is a lucid and well-informed commentator on scientific matters. Here, he takes us by the wrist and leads us through the maze of time. We could not ask for a better guide.’
Stuff NZ

‘Time for Burdick is ultimately an adventure of discovery. His wealth of deeply researched and detailed but humorous stories serves to raise our curiosity/>‘Time/>Stuff/>‘[Burdick]/>
Jonathan Maas
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Popular Non-Fiction takes on a Timeless Topic

Great book, reminds me of Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves by James Nestor.

Basically a supremely talented writer, in this case Alan Burdick, takes on a big topic - and it leads him to lessons about life.

Deep had a bit more of an active topic - the concept of going underwater, which led him to free-diving, dolphins and more - but Burdick's talent takes this one over the top.

He thinks a
Dec 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Wide ranging and maybe too scattered in scope. If you hope to understand how your brain produces the subjective feeling of a flowing time, this book can only show you what an intractable mystery that is.
Nov 18, 2017 rated it liked it
this book includes several 5-star sections but some of the other digressions really slow it down. i appreciate what the author was trying to do, and some of the studies and conclusions will stick with me for ages. i just wish some of the more tangential bits had been trimmed.
Sense of  History
This was not a bad book, but it did not fully meet the purpose I had when I read it (namely to get a better view on what the phenomenon of time is). In fact, it only confirmed what we had known for a long time: that time is elusive and that it runs through us, without us - even science - being able to really grasp it.

The author initially introduces us to the well-known theories about time, such as those of Saint-Augustine, that time actually just sits between our ears, is constructed by our con
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Burdick divides Why Time Flies into four sections: "The Hours" considers in part how scientists compare/coordinate clocks around the world to determine the exact time; "The Days" looks at matters diurnal, including some fascinating insights into the differing "clocks" within our bodies; "The Present" investigates what we mean by "now" and how now mostly means looking retrospectively at what now was; and "Why Time Flies" considers what are the time perceptions of young and old and how those perception ...more
Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I didn’t want to finish Alan Burdick’s Why Time Flies because each time I got the chance to step outside my irritatingly busy work-a-day grind I found myself fascinated by something Burdick shared. I won’t sit here and recount each tidbit because Mr. Burdick spent years getting it just right, and you’d be best served listening to him explain things rather than suffering through any inadequate summary I could devise in the minutes before I return to that irritatingly busy work-a-day grind of mine. A c ...more
Matthew Huff
Feb 06, 2017 rated it liked it
A lot of great stuff here, but it wandered into the weeds a bit with too much technical, scientific information.
Al Bità
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
We all know what time is — until we think about it…

In a sense, the above is basically what this book is all about. Burdick starts off with the conventional idea of what we call time (related to Greenwich Mean Time) and how it is related essentially to the idea of a day — i.e. the length of time that passes as the earth makes one circuit about its axis. Its all about clocks.

He then examines in great detail all the issues associated with this day-long “segment” of time: how
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is not a quick, easy read. It's dense with scientific studies and philosophical musings, along with the personal stories and viewpoints. It's worth the time if the subject fascinates you but it's slow going from time to time. (No pun intended.)
Matt Heavner
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
This began with the physics of time but was primarily the psychology/perception of time.
Mike Putnam
Mar 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Overall, an excellent book that reflects on both philosophical and scientific approaches to 'time.'
Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
An exploration of the slippery topic of time, Why Time Flies introduces the reader to mind-bending concepts, scientists who study how we perceive time’s passage, and the author’s young children, who demonstrate and demand a different approach to the topic. It deserves a better reader than me (some of the explanations went over my head) but I still found it to be an elegant and interesting book.
Rita Arens
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have a tattoo that says: now. People are always asking me what it means. It's interesting to me because it seems so obvious: a way of reminding myself to stay in the present, to stop ruminating on the past or worrying about the future (which quite frankly is the best nondrug treatment for my anxiety disorder I have discovered). It appears not everyone thinks about her orientation in time as much as I do.

But if you do, this book is a fascinating combination of science/the research and existent
Brian Colombini
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019
I expected to enjoy this book because I am very interested in learning more about the concept of time perception. The bits on the calculation of UTC, the experiments of Michel Siffre, and circadian rhythm were interesting and informative. However, I found the sections on the present moment and perception of time passage - the sections that I was most looking forward to - to be lackluster. Burdick makes no mention of Eastern religions or philosophies, while relying heavily on references to the work of S ...more
Jerry Pogan
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating! Burdick discusses the mystery of time, probably the most difficult concept we think about. He describes various scientific studies and experiments that have been conducted on the subject in order to gain a better understanding. It was absoluting riveting.
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Einstein taught us that time, as a physical phenomenon, is relative. Turns out that time is relative in just about every other context as well. Meatier and more detailed than the average "pop science" book, Why Time Flies considers the physical measurement, the biological construction and the psychological experience thereof. Author Alan Burdick sprinkles in his own experiences of time as the owner of a broken watch, a mildly procrastinating author, a son of an elderly parent, a free-falling and ...more
Delia Turner
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
There are many passages of lovely writing in this book, and I kept getting tempted to quote from it. It's an extended meditation on time in history, time in the world, and time in the brain; about time as duration, time as simultaneity, and time as a collection of events. It ranges from the agreed-upon after-the-fact definition of time by which human civilization now operates to the definition of time as a consensus of rhythms in the brain. It's also about being a parent.

The book at its end des
Rohit Garg
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: general-science
I'm not sure what other reviewers see in this book - the author is not a scientist, and accordingly the book reads more like journalism than science. You might think - wait, the other reviews are saying this book is too science-y - that it is also, because the author hasn't taken the time to distill the experiments into insight.

If you take out the journalism from this book (the quotes and the minutiae of the lives of the people involved), and you take out the experiments, you would n
Richard Archambault
Jun 07, 2018 rated it liked it
I found some parts interesting (like the 1st chapter on UTC, or the experiments on time perception with animals) but I got annoyed with the constant references to St. Augustine, and had hoped for a bit more science and a bit less philosophy. Still, an interesting read overall, but nothing earth-shatteringly-so.
This was a good book to read hand in hand with Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams (both were produced by Simon and Schuster and had the same 'change' disc' lady) but this one was far less interesting. In fact it was pretty disappointing. Especially when you read the back summary and you get excited for what's to come. Yeah that never comes. Like the movie Pan was a good trailer but a terrible movie and you just get deceived and let down big time. That's what this book does to you. T ...more
William Schram
As the Steve Miller Band states, Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future. One of the songs I hate the most is Chicago’s Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is? Given the nature of our existence, it seems as though it should be really easy to define time. As it turns out, this is not the case at all. It seems that Time is a subjective experience different to everyone depending on where you are and when you are asked. The author goes on to discuss Time Standards and how they a ...more
Stephen Griffith
Sep 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Summary: The author (Alan Burdick) stretched everybody’s mind in this “scientific investigation”, as it has been called. It took different people and different thoughts from times long ago, to more recent times and thoughts that have recently been looked at thoroughly. As the book progresses, Burdick continues to bring different beliefs into the theme of time and scientifically dissects what time is and how we, as humans, have been looking at it for the past hundreds of years. However, he someho ...more
Day Donald
Aug 05, 2017 rated it liked it
This is an episodic, interwoven series of experimental psychology and popular philosophy vignettes. It is written from years of the author traveling from one perceptions lab to another, sometimes witnessing cognitive experiments meant to illuminate how people perceive time -- especially, "now". Burdick peppers his well-written exposition with ample references to past and current scientific literature, but keeps the pace interesting by drawing on common beliefs and experiences of common folk, as ...more
Chris Esposo
Interesting multidisciplinary overview of human perception of time mostly taken from studies in philosophy, biology, and psychology. The central question in the text is: "does one experience time differently by differing circumstance? Age? Environment? And what are the physical drivers (if any) for these differential perceptions of time?

Some interesting takeaways are that the consistency of modern humans day-night cycle, where we measure time by the daily rotation of the Earth is not
Mike Christie
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a thorough, well-written, and highly readable account of the science of time. Burdick covers a aspects of the field I had never heard of --for example, psychologists studying time perception now frequently invoke the "pacemaker-accumulator model", which asserts that there's something in our heads that ticks, and something else that can count those ticks. We experience time's flow in terms of these ticks, not in the ticks of the external clock on the wall. When time slows down for us, as ...more
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Alan Burdick is an editor on the science desk of The New York Times, a former staff writer and senior editor at The New Yorker, and the author of Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation. His first book, Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion (FSG, 2005), was a National Book Award finalist and won the Overseas Press Club award for environmental reporting. He has written for numerous publications including The ...more
“So it is with time. Whenever we talk about it, we do so in terms of something lesser. We find or lose time, like a set of keys; we save and spend it, like money. Time creeps, crawls, flies, flees, flows, and stands still; it is abundant or scarce; it weighs on us with palpable heft.” 1 likes
“You can't ever know the difference between a temporal dilation and a temporal contraction. All you can ask is a relative question: which felt longer? We don't ever know which is the 'normal' one. ~David Eagleman” 1 likes
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