February 20, 2002    Psychology

Frames Per Second of Life

I must be getting old. Watching “Naked Chef” makes me dizzy. The continuous extreme close-up and the jerky motion of it make my eyes tired. I remember the days when all the adults around me would complain about the same thing when I watched MTV. Not so long ago, as a motion graphics designer, I would design a piece where each clip was no longer than a few frames (on NTSC TV, there are 30 frames in a second). I thought that was cool. Now I don’t. In fact I can hardly take it.

This is not exactly my theory, but I believe that our perceptions also have frames-per-second which get slower as we get older. On a computer monitor, a refresh rate above 75Hz is considered “flicker-free”. Anything below that, we notice the flicker, and it is bad for our eyes. Perhaps someone who is more scientifically versed can tell me this: Doesn’t the point at which we notice the flicker differ depending on age? Instinctively I would guess that a 10-year old boy would notice the flicker even if the refresh rate were 75Hz, whereas 60-year old man would not notice it even if it were 50Hz. I believe our perceptions work very much like a motion picture camera where it records light and sound at a certain frames-per-second (FPS). Suppose our FPS when we are 1 year-old is 100 FPS, which means that you record what you see and hear 100 times within a second. And, let’s further suppose that our FPS at age 60 is 10 FPS. This seems to make sense in terms of explaining the “Naked Chef” phenomena. In motion picture world, when you shoot something at 100 FPS, you are shooting a slow motion since it will be played back at 24 FPS in the end. When you are young and have a fast FPS, the fast, jerky style of “Naked Chef” isn’t so jarring, but if you are old and have a slow FPS, everything appears much quicker to you, and is very jarring to see. If you flashed a single frame of Coca-cola logo on TV, an older viewer would probably not notice it consciously, but a 10-year old might. For someone with a 10 FPS-perception, 1 frame in 30 FPS footage would happen in between his frames. So he literally would not see it.

Now, this has a larger implication in life. When we are thinking of where we are in life in terms of age, if we are 40-years old, we tend to think that we are half way in. This is true if we measure our lives in terms of GMT, but it isn’t true if we saw our lives in terms of the absolute number of frames that we record in our entire lives. In a rough calculation, if we are born with 100 FPS and die at age 80 with 10 FPS, our lives are half way over at age 27. This is also assuming that the FPS decreases linearly, but most things in nature happen non-linearly. Depending on the rate of decrease, the half-way point can be anywhere between 1 and 27. It is very possible that, say, age 8 may be our half-way point, in which case, at age 40, our lives are 95% over. Doesn’t this also explain why a summer vacation, when we were in elementary school, seemed like a very long time? At age 34, a few months can pass in a few blinks.

If this were true, one’s strategy in life would dramatically change. If our lives were 95% over at age 40, why are we struggling to save money for our retirement? It would be silly to work our ass off to save money so that we can spend the last 2% of our lives (age 60 to 80) comfortably. Wouldn’t it be much better to have fun until age 60 without worrying about our retirement, and just die?

This has been a big puzzle for me for a while. If any of you readers have any insight into this matter, please respond to the feedback section.