on 7 May 2012
If there is one impression you'll take away from this book, it may well be the remarkable tenacity of those prepared to carry out scientific research in the field of time perception. You'll read about the young French man who chose to maroon himself in total darkness in an ice cave for two months, of volunteers prepared to step blindfold to the very edge of a deadly drop down a stairwell (to find out if extreme anxiety makes time apparently pass more slowly), and the dedication of Marigold Linton, who made copious notes on her daily life for five years and tested herself every month on how accurately she recalled them (not a trivial as it might sound - by the end of the experiment she was having to choose from over two hundred possible memories, and the process of testing took an entire day).
The way that our brains percieve the passage of time is something we're all familiar with. Who hasn't wondered where the years have gone when children we remember being toddlers turn out to be doing their A levels? Or wondered why time drags in a queue, but races by when we're having fun? Cleverly, Claudia Hammond has chosen a topic thet just about everyone can relate to, but many people take completely for granted until they think about it. Hammond will tell you gripping stories of people who have either chosen, or been forced to, do precisely that. One of the most dramatic ones is that of the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston who was held hostage in Gaza, confined to one room with no idea how long he'd be held in captivity and, quite literally, nothing to do. Accounts like this bring what could have been a dry and academic subject to life.
Hammond is an excellent communicator, as those familiar with her work on BBC Radio 4 will know. In fact, you might well find yourself hearing her chirpy voice in your mind as the pages race by. If I had one criticism of this book, it would be that it reads so easily that you may not give sufficient attention to the complex concepts being described. I was particularly intrigued by the chapter where she talks about how people, quite literally, picture time. Do you see it running away from you, or yourself running towards it? Why do some people imagine the months going anti-clockwise around a wheel, and does anybody have the right to tell them that's the wrong way round? Does your concept of "before" and "after" vary according to whether you write your language right to left? And, finally, can you really be sure you remember the year Princess Diana died, and did you realise that if you remember the moment you heard the news, that might well be because is happened on a Saturday night? (That means you heard on Sunday morning, a day different enough from the usual routine for the majority of people to make it more memorable than a Wednesday or Thursday).
This is the ideal read for a long train journey - informative, stimulating and yet accessible. It's also nicely produced, if a little overpriced (RRP, that is). A worthy addition to Canongate's growing non-fiction list.
Having just read a fairly learned tome on the subject of cognitive behaviour I started reading this book with the expectation of light relief and the first chapter or two in Claudia Hammond's book presaged an excursion into the nature of time. Unfortunately it gradually transmogrified into something else and concluded with an essay on how I could change my relationship with time.
I gradually gained a sense that a publisher may have approached Claudia because she is a presence on radio and television and suggested 'Go on! Write us a book about something'. Claudia claims that she has 'scoured the literature for what I believe to be the most informative studies on time...and the question now is how to put the knowledge into practice'. Erm, no; I don't want to. I wanted to read a book about the intangible essence of time, not how to consider problems such as failing to plan ahead. If I wanted that I would have bought an organiser.
There are a few interesting excursions in this book but my interest quickly waned and I also wondered if on completing Chapter 5 Claudia had asked the publisher 'is that enough yet?'. Some of the content would have made for an interesting article or two but for me it did not make a book. It felt as if material was stretched out and disparate sections added to make a 'book's worth'.
The pity is that if Claudia had stuck with the theme of the first two chapters and developed this in to a more coherent exploration of the subject, I would have found it a fascinating read. Perhaps next time; she is clearly capable of more than this book delivered for me.
I go with Einstein, who, I'm told, said there's no such thing as time - despite the fact that I appear to be suffering heavily from its ravages... This book, although perhaps not expressly agreeing with AE's view, seems to underline that notion, because a considerable part of it is about how and why the perception of time differs within us and under different circumstances - and how we may control our own perception of it, ie, make it go faster or slower, according to needs. It's thus more about human psychology than about the abstract notion of time as dealt with in popular science fiction. This is hardly surprising, because the author is a well-known, media-prominent psychologist.
To underline its many points, the book contains a host of anecdotes relating to time-linked experiences of many different individuals, from the prominent to the obscure, and a nice sprinkling of pithy quotes - I liked the one from, Kierkegarde, "Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards." The final 50-odd pages deal with how we can change our relationship with time and contains a plethora of advice to that end, based on scientifically-based research, including modern brain scanning techniques; so if you've ever wanted to know how to deal with the boredom of those long, tedious waits in the doctor's or hospital waiting rooms, this is for you. Some of the researched findings may seem like common sense, but it's nice to have them confirmed.
I rate popular science according to how easily it reads, and how well the writer can maintain my interest; this book scores well on both counts, and is unlikely to disappoint anyone - other than, perhaps, a competing psychologist.
Claudia Hammond's Time Warped is an interesting and compelling discussion of the concept of time in psychology. Hammond will be known to Radio 4 listeners as the presenter of All in the Mind, and her journalistic skills are evident in the way she keeps the reader hanging on -- quite literally in mid-air at the beginning -- while she digs into the background.
This is an informative and well-judged book. As a psychologist and broadcaster, Hammond is happy to point out where the experiments are inconclusive and where there are still a number of plausible theories, rather than trying to sell us a particular point of view. Equally, she is very happy to give us fascinating nuggets on the way, such as that a 'moment' lasts 2-3 seconds for almost everyone, and that our body clocks operate to a strict 24 hour 31 minute time scale, which is then corrected by daylight -- as good an explanation as any as to why we would always prefer to sleep longer and stay up later.
In the best tradition of psychology related books, there are numerous exercises which you can do yourself which are used to prove the more implausible points, and are fun in themselves.
As well as analysing the theories which are current, the author neatly disposes of things which we all thought we knew. For example, the theory that time seems to speed up as you get older because -- proportionately to the rest of the life they've already experienced -- a year for a sixty year old is 1/10th as long as a year for a six year old turns out not to be true at all.
Wilkie Collins once wrote to Charles Dickens 'Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, but above all, make 'em wait'. Claudia Hammond has taken this to heart more than any author I've ever read. In the first pages she introduces us to Chuck Berry (not that Chuck Berry), a skydiver who was left plummeting towards the earth when both his parachutes failed. She doesn't tell us what the actual outcome was until a lot later.
All in all, this is an enjoyable and discursive book. It does not give all the answers to what time is, and it doesn't try to. But the walk round the subject is very informative, and most non-specialist readers will leave it with things they didn't know and ideas that had not previously occurred.
Well worth a read.
on 29 September 2012
Time Perception could be something quite dull. The very talk of things dragging, the thought of clocks, mention of ageing and associated concepts could well put people off the topic. Whatever preconceptions somebody may have, Hammond wipes the cobwebs off the old grandfather clock that may appear in your head at first, replacing it with involving activity and experiments, fluent prose, engaging facts and phenomena and explanations thereof.
A sense of humour, wit and aliveness in her style and expertise, passionate attention to detail and dedication to scientific validity and references make this book dynamically accessible to the lay person, who simply wondered why 10 days on holiday flies by in what seems like a weekend, yet concurrently seems to account for your whole summer's worth of time to look back on - and also incredibly useful to the psychologist, who will find a comprehensive text, rich in cutting edge research, referenced as well as a journal published article, with solid, up to date studies reinforcing each claim as it comes.
Hammond herself is clearly experienced from her radio career in engaging the public, and speaking articulately on her subjects, and this is not lost whatsoever in her written work. This book follows her earlier release, 'Emotional Rollercoaster' - which was born out of her incredibly successful and involving BBC Radio 4 series. She is an author to be very much respected as the academic she is, and her understanding of the psychology of time perception, particularly the very scientific areas of cognitive and biological psychology which are prominent, is unquestionably advanced. Yet she gives no sense of knowing it all, of lecturing the naive reader with her wonderful intellect, but instead allows you to go along with her, through the chapters, as she passionately explores and discusses a topic clearly of great interest to herself, while her own enjoyment and excitement along the way cannot help but filter through, in full, to the lucky reader.
'Time Warped' was recommended to me by the person in charge of the British Psychological Society's Facebook wall comments some day in early 2012. I was unable to attend what struck me as a brilliantly interesting lecture by somebody I was totally unfamiliar with me, a certain Claudia Hammond, about Time Perception. It was in London, I was in the North-East. I snapped up the book as it was released, shortly after being told of it, and had never before been so pleased with a recommendation, nor indeed had I ever enjoyed reading a book as much as Time Warped.
This is my first Amazon review, and the one I felt was most important, as I have so much gratitude and respect for Claudia Hammond and those involved with this book, for not only the text itself, but for getting me back into reading, and encouraging further interest for me, in a wonderful area of psychological research.
Not to mention it has a wonderful cover. Despite the embossed, stylish, monochromatic cogs with the book's credentials winding round them being perhaps one of the coolest covers of all the books on my shelves, the content, in fact, exceeds any positive judgement to make about the cover. Buy this book, read this book, and you'll be armed with the tools to understand why reading it seemed to pass in no time!
I don't generally read a lot of non-fiction but the description for this book caught my attention, as I certainly feel I am ruled by time (rather than the other way round). Even on holiday, I am always checking my watch and I allow my feelings about what the time is to dictate what I do next. (I hadn't really given this any thought before, but it seems a bit pathetic now that I have noticed!)
So, I thought, this is definitely the book for me! And yes, I found it fascinating! I loved the insights into our own psyche, and the understanding it gave me of why we behave the way we do around time. And I particularly enjoyed the stories about the experiences of various people who did extraordinary, and fascinating things as part of their researches into their perceptions of time.
This book gave me plenty to think about. Whether it affects my behaviours in the long term remains to be seen, but it has certainly given me a lot to think about in relation to how I can manage my time better.
Time Warped: Unlocking the mysteries of time perception, by Claudia Hammond, Canongate, Edinburgh, 2012, 344 pp.
This is an entertaining book about how we perceive time in various situations depending on our age, current activity, state of mind, social popularity, the presence of medical conditions like ADHD or depression, and many other factors – some, quite extreme, like being alone in an ice-cave for two months or being taken captive by Islamic extremists. The author is a psychologist and broadcaster who has already written a best-selling book, Emotional Rollercoaster.
The first chapter serves as a general introduction to the subject. Chapter 2 looks at how different parts of the brain contribute to different aspects of our conception of time – for long or short periods, or under various types of stress or distraction.
The next chapter deals with those people who see the passage of time laid out in space – as many as 20% of the population according to the author. It’s interesting that Einstein saw the world laid out in a four-dimensional space-time continuum. Most English-speakers use spatial adjectives to describe time intervals as short or long but Hammond suggests that in other languages they use descriptions of amount, like much or little, to describe time. She suggests that associating time with space might be a specific kind of synaesthesia – a condition in which the individual blends various kinds of sensory experience in the mind. Most often this is met with when people assign colours to particular sounds in music, but spiritual healers often associate the chakras (vortical concentrations of spiritual energy in the body) with colours. The connections or synapses between neurones are not firmly established in new-born babies and the theory is that when these develop at around four months, some of the pathways for colour or sound get crossed over and synaesthesia results. If people are asked to draw circles to represent past, present and future, English-speaking people put them in this order, in a line, from left to right.
Chapter 4 focuses on ‘Why Time Speeds Up As You Get Older’. The chapter opens with a list of 20 momentous world events that we are challenged to date – I must confess that I didn’t do very well! The chapter then explores many incidents that support the author’s heading.
As someone who believes in the validity of psychic events, the title of the penultimate chapter – ‘Remembering the Future’ – intrigued me. But this has nothing to do with clairvoyance. It is about ‘future thinking’ – mental time-travel into the future which matters, as the author tells us, because creating images of the future is essential for planning in our lives but problems in this area are often linked with amnesia or the ability to remember the past. She points up the difference between semantic memory (of factual knowledge) and episodic memory (of personal events). A similar differentiation exists with future thinking. There is more detail here on how different parts of the brain function. There are also a few more ‘reader-participation’ tests.
The sixth and final chapter is what might be called the self-help bit of the book: ‘Changing Your Relationship With Time’, with recommendations that are all evidence-based. There are suggestions for making your personal time seem to speed up or to slow down, depending on your immediate personal situation.
This book is full of short and accessible psychology experiments that illustrate the points Hammond makes in the text and which I found fascinating. There are 15 pages of references and a good Index.
Howard Jones is the author of Evolution of Consciousness
`Time Warped' is a fascinating and informative book exploring the concept of time and how the mind perceives it.
It looks at such things as how time seems to go slow when we are bored and how it speeds up as we age and other things in a similar vein. This is easy to read and has plenty of anecdotes to clarify the points being made and to further explain them. It also has some mini experiments you can try yourself to see how your own mind perceives time.
The last chapter pulls together all the things explained in the rest of the book and shows you how you can adjust your thinking to help you speed up or slow down time depending on your preference, which can help when you are in a queue or if you feel your life is slipping you by without you realising it.
Most of the book is very strong and readable and kept me interested as I flew through the pages. The exception has to be the chapter on time and synaesthesia. I have read a great deal about synaesthesia in the past and find it a fascinating topic, but here the author seemed to labour the point and go on in too great a depth, with some rather tenuous links at times. Apart from this one chapter, I found this a enjoyable read and would recommend it to most people who enjoy popular science books and basic psychology
Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
Call me impossible, but I was looking for a guide to warping time. I want to know how to get 169 hours out of a week, 21 hours of enthusiasm and a full night's sleep out of a day, a life fuller than life itself.
This book isn't that. Claudia Hammond's writing style is excellent - easy to follow, humorous, yet authoritative. She has found the quirky and the interesting and interspersed this solid description with sparkles and tit-bits that make it delightful. She describes how we know, how we know what we know. Deep inside, there are glimpses of how to (consciously) warp time, as opposed simply to observe that you did warp time. Deep inside, how to use the information that time appears to warp for others.
It's probably the best current book on the subject. I'd still like more - but perhaps I'm greedy?
on 2 June 2012
This book will tell you what makes time seem to stand still or decelerate -things like fear or high temperatures. It tells you we can mostly judge the passage of time quite well but we don't quite know how. Many of us represent time visually in our minds. We are not particularly good at dating past events. Indeed our default is to imagine the future, not to recollect the past with accuracy (not that we imagine the future well either). And maybe time goes faster when you are older because you are no longer establishing your identity through your memories.
The style of the book is highly conversational. I felt at the end of the day that the book could have been quite a bit shorter. And while the content is interesting, I sadly did not learn anything that will change my life or thinking in any deep way.
Recommended with some cautions, then.