Science fiction is full of megastructures, towering over the rest of the futuristic or alien cities. But we are definitely not rushing towards a world where we move a large swathe of the population into dystopian super skyscrapers. Today, the tallest structures in the world continue to be reserved for the ultra-rich. Socio-economic differences between reality and fiction aside, living a long way from the ground has peculiar effects on the mind and can mess with our sense of time: Time seems to pass differently if you are higher up.
This is not a relativity effect, although you could certainly calculate the modest time dilation. The Burj Khalifa is the highest building in the world, with a height of 828 meters (2,717 feet). Its highest penthouse is located half a kilometer (0.3 miles) off the ground. Gravity warps space-time, so the closer you are to a heavy object, the slower time passes. Living in the penthouse for 70 years (without going down) would make you older by about 0.08 seconds. Not really a major change.
Rather than measured time, it’s the psychological time that makes the difference. And it all boils down to the Sun. Being so far up gives you a much larger view of the Earth, stretching the horizon from a few kilometers to 80 kilometers (50 miles) if you were to live in that highest penthouse. That means several more minutes of sunlight every day. The Sun rises earlier and it sets later.
As reported in Business Insider, in the book Supertall, architect Stefan Al discusses how the modest difference in sunlight, in the grand scheme of things, has a big impact. For example, people living on the higher floors need to wait longer before they can break their fast during the month of Ramadan.
The impact of the Sun and sunlight on our processing of time in our day-to-day life has long been fascinating to researchers. There are plenty of studies that have looked at the effects of reduced daylight in places with the highest latitude on our planet, and how this affects humans psychologically.
Similarly, during the summer months at higher latitudes, habits shift as the lighter later hours make us feel that it's earlier than it is. Our body clocks are far from infallible. Experiments that have put humans without suns and without clocks have shown this.
Last year, 15 people spent 40 days in a cave and when they came out at the end of the experiment they believed they had been there for 30 days.
Time is indeed relative in more ways than one.
[H/T: Business Insider]