The Causality of Lost

Seeing cities by running them has become a bit of an obsession for me over the past ten years. Provided the area is safe for a single female runner, I like to try and get out for early morning runs – I see the city from a different perspective and it fights jet lag.

A study was released late last year by Cardiff University which looked at how we experience time. As lead researcher Dr. Marc Buehner said, “Here we can show that perceptions are subject to systematic distortions depending on people’s causal beliefs – if people believe that they, or someone or something else, are in charge, time appears to pass faster. In contrast, just knowing when something will happen, in the absence of causality, did not change time perception.”

From anecdotal evidence on this topic, gathered during my weekend in New York City, I would tend to concur.

I went on a run early Sunday morning, just after dawn. Central Park was too far from my hotel, so I decided to try out a run I found online. It was supposed to look like this:

From: Melissa at

From: Melissa at

But then I got lost and ended up far afield of my planned trajectory, nearer to Wall Street. My only thought, as I shared the sidewalks with the people who live there or clean them, was that at some point I would hit the end of the island and then find my way back. The one fellow I asked for directions was very helpful, but I think he was a bit hard of hearing because instead of sending me to Fourth Street, he sent in the opposite direction to Worth Street, which is how I ended up in the Financial District instead of looping around Washington Square Park.
I knew I would make it back to my hotel at some point. But I did not know when, or whether my own inner compass was of any use. Thus, because I did not feel in charge, time seemed really slow, no matter how fast I ran. Once I finally found Washington Square Park, however, and the causality of orientation + running speed was factored into my perception, time sped up, and the trip back home seemed to just fly by.

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