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Psychology: Nonhuman perception of time, Forgetting one's own name
creativityspren wrote in little_details
For purposes of following the established format, my work is a historical fiction, set in 13th-16th century Japan with fantastic elements such as yokai integrated into the world.

I have two psychology related questions:

1) How might a drastically different rate of aging effect someone's perception of time, both independently and compared to standard human aging? Most of my main characters in the novel I'm working on aren't human. They're demons that age at a much different rate from humans, and different species of demons age differently from one another. Here's how my main character ages compared to a human:

Human: 1 year of age = 1 year of growth; MC: 8 and a half years of age = 1 year of growth

Basically, it takes the MC 8 and a half years to attain the full equivalent of one year's development/growth. I imagine that this different rate of aging would fundamentally alter how she (and other nonhumans) perceive the passage of time and years. The typical 4-seasons-a-year is in effect environmentally.

I just don't know how such a long rate of aging would effect one's perception of time. I've looked at the classical fantasy examples (namely elves and dwarves in Tolkien, Paolini, etc.) that age differently from humans, but they don't really talk much about how those species think of the passage of time.

Note: for the MC's species, each "year" is viewed as one part in a cycle that completes itself after they've reached the 8.5 year mark from some yet-unknown start date, at which point, to them, it starts over. It is a buildup to their growth equivalent of one year, like how humans often have New Year's celebrations to mark the symbolic beginning of a new year/cycle of growth/what have you.

2) Is it possible for someone to genuinely forget their given name if addressed and referred to exclusively by a pseudonym for a long enough period of time?

The main character, a prostitute, lives and works under a pseudonym for 85 years, from age 8 to 18, and during that time is not once called by her real name. My thinking was that, under those circumstances, it would be more likely that she would forget her name and identify with her pseudonym alone. Would it be possible for her to eventually remember her real name - with a good deal of effort, a triggering question that causes her to realize she doesn't actually remember it, and mental sifting through the names that stick out in her mind (one of which is her given name)?

Search terms used for both questions include: altered perception of time, time perception theory, theories on animal time perception, time perception, pseudonym, is it possible to forget own name, pseudonym replacing real name, self-identity+name, etc.

All of what I found was related to memory-affective medical conditions (Alzheimer's, dementia, fugue state) or conditions with psychosis as a symptom (some forms of schizophrenia).

Thank you for your help with these somewhat odd questions.


One thing you might research is perception of time as humans age. I recall reading that time seems to pass more quickly for adults than children, because we have a longer span of memories. I don't know how one measures that; it could be a old wives' tale, but it does seem to make common sense. For someone who has lived 150 years, a year seems like a lot less time to wait than someone who is 17 or 18 years old. When you know you can expect a lifespan of centuries, you also can devote more time to things that don't have deadlines: I imagine a farmer still thinks in terms of 'I need to get the crops planted before the rains come', but an artist knows if she spends 10 years on a piece, she can still do so many other of her ideas later, while a human artist might think of all the missed opportunities she'll have if she devotes that much of her career to a single work, if it's possible to do quicker work*.)

* There are still humans who can devote decades to projects, but usually those are the sorts of projects that take decades and have implications for much longer, or that have continuous rewards, or that can coexist with shorter-term projects.

This. It's a trope Elizabeth Moon works with extensively in both the Paksenarrion trilogy and the Serrano Legacy, and the latter books of the second series are essentially dedicated to the ramifications of finding out that medical tech exists that makes humans effectively immortal. (David Weber also has extended lifespans in the Honor Harrington series, but he doesn't seem to do much with it.)

More time to dedicate to projects is definitely one thing; another is that a full-throttle career change is less daunting because so what if you go back to school when you're fifty? I think it might also have ramifications for things like architecture and public works projects, in the sense that if something like Notre Dame was erected by an architect at the start of their career, it would be their building through the entire construction, where the actual Notre Dame took almost 200 years to fully build (and yes, some of that would be materials and tech).

I think you would think SLOWER. I mean, not physically, but in terms of having time to consider consequences and ramifications of actions, you might be less hasty to decide things. Conservation of wealth might be important - right now, I'm 37 and have no children. If I strike it really ludicrously rich, I could do the right thing and set up trusts for my nieces and nephews and any children I might have. But if I were to live to 800, I might set up trusts for myself, to ensure that regardless of what happens with financial investments, I have money to fall back on. And I think that would be societal. I don't think the fast pace of the fashion/stock market time frame would work well for a society that was looking at approximately half a century as a short lifespan. I think that society would overall be very risk-averse. Not, you know, hunkering in holes and refusing to come out because of the scary world outside, just less likely to move quickly and without adequate information about risks and benefits of a course of action.

I think you make some really good points here!

But I wonder if you'd also find that some people would be very keen on risk-taking or at lest extreme pursuits of some sort, because once you've been alive for 500 hundred years and seen pretty much everything, and you knew you had another 300 to go (or whatever), wouldn't you just feel a bit bored of everything? You'd need to go further and further for novelty and excitement, at least if you were an extroverted type. It might not mean taking physical risks; it might mean looking for ever-more-grotesque spectator sports (think Hunger Games, I guess!), or ever more bizarre fashions (because normal clothes made of fabric are so passé!) or attempts to eat an example of every single species which isn't actually poisonous, something like that.

For me, personally, I think my first thought is that you're correct that there will be a degree of that in the society, as there is in any society. But I feel like the human equivalent would be saying "now that I've reached 50, everything else is gravy" and just, you know, not wearing my seatbelt, taking my retirement fund to Vegas and cashing it out for quarters, trying to build up an immunity to iocaine powder, etc. That presupposes that the extra 30 years I can comfortably assume at this point is an extended lifespan, not the lifespan I expect from relatively early on in life.

Another part of it, too, is that it depends overall on how engaged you are in society. I've definitely known people who've become withdrawn from society - don't really go out, don't try new things, don't keep up with new developments, don't try new food or authors or music - and they ... atrophy. I can see people who don't engage with the world outside of their comfortable circles becoming bored and overcompensating by becoming risk-taking thrill-seekers, but that's also a personal experience. I've known an 80-year-old motorcycle mama and a 16-year-old who was an emotional and social shut-in, listening only to music from 20 years before he was even born and spending time only with his parents. I think if you don't engage with the world outside your own door, you get shocked by the changes and they seem hard to accommodate and then it seems all not worth it, and then ennui hits.

So I'm not quite sure that a society that lives to approximately a thousand would really get bored after 500 years, but I do feel like ameliorating that possibility and keeping it relatively contained would be a primary focus for such a society, because realistically, if you know the Monty Python sketch "Hell's Grannies", I think it is, I think all societies have to devote some portion of their resources to averting risk-taking by people with "nothing to lose", at least perceptually. That would have ramifications across the society and they would likely be negative.

I apologise if this no longer makes sense; i've been staring at technical analyses for the last hour and I think words don't like me any more.

NO, that makes sense; I guess I was thinking not so much of society as a whole getting bored and taking risks, but rather of there being a subgroup of people (the extroverted ones) who have really elaborate "Bucket lists", as it were. I mean, my bucket list is pretty tame; live in a foreign country (check!), see the Northern Lights (check!), finish that novel I started writing a while ago (Hm, well, one day). But if I knew I probably had another 500 years of decent health, I'd probably add go to the Moon, get five or six more degrees, visit every continent, and so on. And someone more thrill-seeking than I am might well have more extreme ambitions, because they've got plenty of time in which to fulfill all the normal "forty things to do before you're dead" stuff!

Part of it is brain chemistry. Sometimes in a crisis it feels like time slows down -- that's because the brain is being flooded with a chemical that you had a lot more of when you were small.

Neat! Brains are awesome.

[I remember feeling like that when I was hit by a car; didn't help, but the feeling that I could see the car coming and couldn't move out of the way was strong.]

I think it's definitely plausible that someone might forget their own name under those circumstances... I very seldom use my birth name and when I am addressed by it, it feels weird/wrong/unfamiliar. I haven't forgotten my name, but sometimes it feels like I have to 'remember' that it's actually mine! >.<

Agreed that it's totally plausible. I do a lot of roleplaying, and after hours a day, days a week of being called something else, being called by my real name is odd and feels wrong.

I was raised until I was 7 or so with a different last name. While I haven't exactly "forgotten" it, I wouldn't answer to it if someone addressed me by it and I have to think very hard about how to spell it. Given another 30 years, I can envision struggling to remember it.

As for the name thing, it might also depend on how that person thinks of herself. I mean, sometimes when I'm thinking about a future conversation, or doing a devil's advocate type of argument in my head, I use my name when I think of myself. My characters do this, too, to a certain extent. Like, "Wow, Lee. You didn't see that one coming, did you?"

So if she is never addressed by her own name, and never thinks her own name in internal conversations, it'd be much easier to forget her "true" name.

When I was little, my mom's nickname for me was Susie or Susie Q, from the song. It's as far away from my real name as possible, nobody else ever called me by it, and I never reacted to that name when other people used it - my real name is rare enough that I always notice it, even from total strangers talking to someone else.

When I was 15 my uncle named his daughter Susie, and Mom pretty much stopped using it as a nickname for me. So about 10 years later cousin Susie and I are in the kitchen together, Mom calls her by name, and we both turn around and say "yes?" Even though it had been 10 years since I'd reacted to that name, the right person saying it still resonated.

Lord of the Rings has mostly mortal POV characters and spends very little time in immortal headspace, but Tolkien does dip into it occasionally. "Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes" is a famous proverb referring to immortal bet-hedging. What makes sense in the short term is not always good in the (very) long term, and vice versa. And Rivendell and Lothlorien are such amazing places partly because spending three centuries on a sculpture or a song is a perfectly reasonable use of spare time.

The thing that should become really urgent as soon as people gain a basic understanding of it is the importance of protecting the environment. What we do now will help or hurt us a few generations from now, and that makes it hard for some people to keep their eyes on the prize. Immortals, on the other hand, can expect to see the consequences of their actions personally.

There's an original episode of Star Trek called Requiem for Methusalah. The character Flint reveals that he is Brahms, daVinci, Rembrandt and a host of other names long forgotten. I think he mentions he's forgotten his own name. The way it was told, it was believable.

1) I've read about this in some vampire literature. And the Mass Effect game handles this in terms of the Asari lifespan. Of course, it's all speculation, but you have normal aging to use as a basis. When I was 5 and told I was going to Disney World in a year, that year seemed to take forever. As an adult, years seem to take very little time at all, flying by season after season. I would assume a character with a long lifespan would have a similar experience, and that maturity would change the outlook, as well as a perception that cycles speed up.

2) Based on your mathematics, it's only been the equivalent of 10 years for her. I can name you every pet my family has owned in the last 100 years, and this includes animals I only know from photographs. And I do not have a photographic memory by any means, though I do have a good memory. So I'd find it unbelievable that someone would forget their own name in 10 years unless they were a very young child when their name switched. Or at least, I can't believe they'd forget unless they were actively trying to. If someone fears mindreading and uses meditative techniques and builds a very different identity for themselves, including some distinct personality shifts, then I'd be able to buy that they eventually succeeded in forgetting their past.

Thanks, world_dancer. That's exactly what I need to know in terms of perception details.

As for the name thing, I agree with you that if it were only 10 years, it would be ridiculous for her to forget her name. What I meant is that it's 10 years of physical, mental, and emotional growth, but 85 years of overall experience. And you pointing that out has made me realize I forgot a very important fact about the whole brothel situation: The brothel is run by humans, for humans, in the human capital city of Japan at the time. She's surrounded by humans, with human views of the world being the primary ideas she's exposed to. So if she *were* with other members of her species, 85 years *would* feel like 10 and be more analogous to "only 10 years have gone by" relative to who she spends time with. However, she has been brought up on the human perception of time, and thinks of herself as very strange in a lot of ways. As a result of being held to human benchmarks and growing up and servicing humans, that 85 years *feels* like 85 years, each one of them long and torturous. Another thing I forgot is that she develops a serious drinking problem (which could and does contribute to memory loss, among other issues it causes her).

She's not deliberately trying to forget, but with all that she's put through and does during that period, some things are going to fall by the wayside. There is a definite major personality shift, from relatively-happy-little-kid to seriously-depressed-desperate-young-woman, and it's a personality shift that never really ends. It colors her views for the rest of the work, although she does try to conquer it as she goes through her 20s and 30s (with some success). I'm not really sure how else to explain it. I do see your point about it not being readily believable.

Thanks, though, for bringing all of this to my attention. I'll work on refining these ideas, and working out the holes.

Edited at 2014-07-25 10:31 pm (UTC)

There is a definite major personality shift, from relatively-happy-little-kid to seriously-depressed-desperate-young-woman

This is all you need. Under severe depression, the mind can block or erase any memory of any kind; and the suppressed memory can be retrievable or irretrievable, depending on what you need it to be in the story. A depressed mind can also manufacture completely fictional memories, and root them as solidly as real events.

The key element is that forgetting her name needs to be necessary, in some way, to some level of her survival.

Dissociation could do that - "I'm just doing this to survive, this isn't really me. They can do whatever they want to my body, I can't stop them, but I am not my body, and they can't touch my soul." / "It's just [fake name] that this is happening to, they can't touch [real name]." Under the conditions described, for the duration described, I can see someone burying that "real self" so deep that they would have trouble finding it again, and if they used their real name as the key to the dissociation, they'd be actively burying it as best they could.

How strongly are they effected by the environment? What tech level are they?(Magic can replace tech, if relevant.) If they can't see at night or fear predators, that would make "days" important to them like they are to humans. If they have to store food for winter or starve that would definitely make them keep track of years like humans. Humans live a lot longer than almost every other type of mammal, but everything that lives longer than a year has a cycle that is regulated by the seasons, including humans. A longer life gives you more time to mature and learn, but survival is important.

The yokai are as dependent upon the environment as humans are. It provides food, shelter, water, resources, etc. Possibly even *more* dependent because of their increased lifespans. It's very important to most yokai to maintain ecological balance and make sure that prey species don't die out, because they're screwed if they do. That said, most animals (including humans) are considered prey species (other supernaturals, too). Their tech level is your typical medieval - no indoor plumbing, guns haven't been introduced, indoor lights consist of candles, lanterns, sconces, etc. - daily activities are regulated by the light available. The supernaturals' aren't as restricted by light, due to having better visual acuity in low light/dark conditions. Magic is existent, but it isn't applied very widely, and the only magic humanity possesses is "holy" - effective only against supernatural entities, not good for anything else. The supernaturals have magic as well, but most only have limited capacity for it as well as limited reasons to apply it to things other than fighting each other/catching a meal. Basically, it exists, but it in no way is able to replace technological advances. They can see at night to some degree (species' differ from each other wildly), but they fear the only predators they have: each other. Different species hunt each other in a sort of very diverse food chain that parallels the natural one we're familiar with. For the more "humanlike" species of yokai/demons, especially those that belong to a social species, storing food for the winter is a constant concern. Starving to death is a very real possibility to, say, a pack of wolf yokai, and keeping track of years in the various permutations/levels of 'civilization' is important to them. Other, possibly less intelligent or social species, live hand-to-mouth. Exactly. Survival is a constant struggle for every being, human, other animal, or nonhuman in this setting. Demons are just as likely to die as humans, although they tend to have a better chance at avoiding it. Not all of them, though.

Okay, then my take would be that they count time in years or seasons. They might not have smaller units like "weeks" but they probably track days. They might have larger blocks of time (like decades or biblical "score") that they track as well, and they would see patterns that humans of that era just wouldn't notice unless they had access to very good meteorological records (would technically be possible but only for scholars, who tended not to believe in using their knowledge in that time period). They would also be more likely to track patterns of plenty and famine better than we do. Those patterns do exist, a few good years followed by a number of bad.

That doesn't mean that they wouldn't devote what we would see as a ridiculous amount of time to learn something, as long as it doesn't interfere with their survival. They might consider an apprenticeship of most of a humans lifespan to be perfectly reasonable - and for them it would be.

That makes perfect sense, and fits with what I want to do with yokai as a whole. I think you may have just solved my problem - thanks! I don't know why I didn't see it before. :)

Yes, you're absolutely right that they would devote long periods of time to pursuits, although it would be considered a much lower priority than constantly maintaining the food supply and surviving. It would be considered a luxury, something allowed more often to children than to adults I think.

On the name question, several women in my family had the same name, Elizabeth, but they all used different versions of it (Betty, Liz, Lissie etc.) except for one Elizabeth. Even though they were all technically Elizabeth, only the one who used it all the time ever answered to it immediately (in places like doctor's surgeries etc.) So while I don't think the person would necessarily forget totally, she certainly wouldn't have it at the front of her might.

My mum uses her middle name for everyday (because my gran had the awesome idea that middle names don't get used, so why not switch them? :)), and her first name is on all official documents. So in general conversation she's Ann, but if she goes to the doctor or rings the insurance company, she's Beth.

She was in hospital a few months ago, and as she was coming out of the anaesthetic, the nurse was talking to her - 'Beth, can you hear me? Can you answer me, Beth?'. Mum reports that she remembers clearly thinking 'I wish that woman would answer the nurse' before realising that the woman was, in fact her. So I would think it's entirely plausible that childhood trauma could make you forget your name - wooziness can do it too!


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