Why Do Clocks Stop When People Die?

Timepieces are amazing things. But why do they cease to function at the exact moment when their owners expire?

Yesteryear’s thrillers depended on a stopped watch (or clock) to determine the time of a victim’s death. It became a standard part of police stories. There’s one problem: Clocks don’t quit because someone dies. They’ll stop if the mechanism is broken but not because of this. How on earth did writers get away with this for so long?

The answer is simple: We want clocks and watches to stop when someone connected to them dies, especially if their death is an untimely or brutal one. We’re superstitious like that. A writer uses this expectation as a tool to advance stories. The reader accepts this unrealistic narrative and the tale progresses without question.

Wishful thinking starts our intrigue-motor but neuroplasticity is what keeps the engine running.

Neuroplasticity means that our minds are bendable. It’s possible to know the facts about one thing but believe in something else entirely. The best way to explain neuroplasticity can be seen in the short video below.

Experiments like these prove our mind’s ability to lose one reality to follow another. Trainee pilots, for example, have to deal with this kind of thing regularly, especially when flying through clouds. With no reference point outside their windows, their spatial awareness falters. Their brains lie to them about what’s really happening to their aircraft. They’ll imagine their plane climbing or descending when it’s actually flying straight and level. No matter how much theoretical training they receive about the syndrome before taking to the air, they’ll ignore logic to follow their gut instinct. Their gut fails them. The number of times skilled pilots have had to take over a craft’s controls to avoid disaster is too many.

And it all comes down to our ever-bending human mind and its wish to abandon sensibility to go with what’s not knowable. Sometimes, it gets it wrong.


We’ll believe in many other things for no particular reason but to believe in something. I’m not just talking about Faith or God (although these are part of it too), I’m specifically talking about the ones authors write into their stories; like a wristwatch that stops when its owner dies. Although this circumstance can happen in real life, it’s far more likely to occur in fiction because the premise appeals to us. We’re not bending our minds that much to accept it as fact. Besides, it’s a type of happy-ever-after narrative for those who want to believe in something.

Times Change. So Do Our Beliefs.

Authors writing contemporary pieces today have a new challenge. Wristwatches and clocks are being replaced with electronic devices. They don’t have mechanical bits to break down — and the audience isn’t naive anymore. Few people would accept a digital device stopping its inbuilt clock at the time of someone’s death. A writer would have to look elsewhere to set up a time-of-death scenario for their victim… and their reader.

Well, it’s time for me to go. My wisdom is required elsewhere (Haha!). After that, I’m gonna write some mind-bending writing for my next novel. In the meantime, here’s my last novel (below) for you to enjoy.


Five women’s bodies are discovered after the nights of thunderstorms. Their spouses are suspected of the crimes, but it becomes clear that someone else is responsible. There’s no blood and few clues. A storm photographer specialising in taking lightning pictures may be the only witness.


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