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How The Brain Stops time

 
 
Reply Fri 23 Jul, 2010 05:26 pm
How the Brain Stops Time How the Brain Stops Time
Published on March 13, 2010

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/extreme-fear/201003/how-the-brain-stops-time

One of the strangest side-effects of intense fear is time dilation, the apparent slowing-down of time. It's a common trope in movies and TV shows, like the memorable scene from The Matrix in which time slows down so dramatically that bullets fired at the hero seem to move at a walking pace. In real life, our perceptions aren't keyed up quite that dramatically, but survivors of life-and-death situations often report that things seem to take longer to happen, objects fall more slowly, and they're capable of complex thoughts in what would normally be the blink of an eye.

Now a research team from Israel reports that not only does time slow down, but that it slows down more for some than for others. Anxious people, they found, experience greater time dilation in response to the same threat stimuli. An intriguing result, and one that raises a more fundamental question: how, exactly, does the brain carry out this remarkable feat?

Researcher David Eagleman has tackled his very issue in a very clever way. He reasoned that when time seems to slow down in real life, our senses and cognition must somehow speed up-either that, or time dilation is merely an illusion. This is the riddle he set out to solve. "Does the experience of slow motion really happen," Eagleman says, "or does it only seem to have happened in retrospect?"

To find out, he first needed a way to generate fear of sufficient intensity in his experimental subjects. Instead of skydiving, he found a thrill ride near the university campus called Suspended Catch Air Device, an open-air tower from which participants are dropped, upside down, into a net 150 feet below. There are no harnesses, no safety lines. Subject plummet in free fall for three seconds, then hit the net at 70 miles per hour.

Was it scary enough to generate a sense of time dilation? To see, Eagleman asked subjects who'd already taken the plunge to estimate how long it took them to fall, using a stopwatch to tick off what they felt to be an equivalent amount of time. Then he asked them to watch someone else fall and then estimate the elapsed time for their plunge in the same way. On average, participants felt that their own experience had taken 36 percent longer. Time dilation was in effect.

Next, Eagleman outfitted his test subjects with a special device that he and his students had constructed. They called it the perceptual chronometer. It's a simple numeric display that straps to a user's wrist, with a knob on the side let the researchers adjust the rate at which the numbers flash. The idea was to dial up the speed of the flashing until it was just a bit too quick for the subject to read while looking at it in a non-stressed mental state. Eagleman reasoned that, if fear really does speed up our rate of perception, then once his subjects were in the terror of freefall, they should be able to make out the numbers on the display.

As it turned out, they couldn't. That means that fear does not actually speed up our rate of perception or mental processing. Instead, it allows us to remember what we do experience in greater detail. Since our perception of time is based on the number of things we remember, fearful experiences thus seem to unfold more slowly.

Eagleman's findings are important not just for understanding the experience of fear, but for the very nature of consciousness. After all, the test subjects who fell from the SCAD tower certainly believed, as they accelerated through freefall, that they knew what the experience was like at that very moment. They thought that it seemed to be moving slowly. Yet Eaglemen's findings suggest that that sensation could only have been superimposed after the fact. The implication is that we don't really have a direct experience of what we're feeling ‘right now,' but only a memory - an unreliable memory - of what we thought it felt like some seconds or milliseconds ago. The vivid present tense we all think we inhabit might itself be a retroactive illusion.

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roger
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Jul, 2010 05:28 pm
@GoshisDead,
Fascinating. In fact, I have always wondered about that.
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Jul, 2010 05:42 pm
@roger,
It's not a new idea, however I find it entertaining that he had to throw people off a building to test it "scientifically".
Arjuna
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Jul, 2010 05:44 pm
@GoshisDead,
It also makes me think about people who have a sense of time. I knew a guy who could come close to telling the time for about three hours after seeing a clock.

He said it was from watching I Love Lucy episodes. Otherwise I've read about practicing driving a car at a certain speed without looking at the speedometer. Then look at it and see how close you came and adjust until you can do it without looking. That would be distance/time I guess.
0 Replies
 
ughaibu
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Jul, 2010 06:07 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead wrote:
I find it entertaining that he had to throw people off a building to test it "scientifically".
He didn't have to, coffee changes the perception of time and this seems to be linked to anti-diuretic hormone, which is also associated with fear. Milton Erickson hypnotically altered the perception of time for people sitting exams, though I haven't seen any data about how this was reflected in their results.
0 Replies
 
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Jul, 2010 09:58 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead wrote:

How the Brain Stops Time How the Brain Stops Time
Published on March 13, 2010


Now a research team from Israel reports that not only does time slow down, but that it slows down more for some than for others. Anxious people, they found, experience greater time dilation in response to the same threat stimuli. An intriguing result, and one that raises a more fundamental question: how, exactly, does the brain carry out this remarkable feat?




What they seem to mean by "time slowing down" is that the subjective impression of time slows down. What Bergson called "duration". It is the sort of thing the music critic meant when he wrote that he had attended a performance of Wagner's opera, "Parsifal", and he looked at his watch when the performance began and his watch said, 7:30 p.m., and when he looked at his watch two hours later, his watch said, 8 p.m. We have all experienced that kind of slowing down.
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Sat 24 Jul, 2010 12:55 am
@kennethamy,
I was thinking Bergson as well when I read this
0 Replies
 
wayne
 
  1  
Reply Sat 24 Jul, 2010 06:43 am
Along this same line, I have often observed a bird with this in mind.
It's pretty easy to see that birds have a heightened perception compared to humans.
They miss very little, relatively speaking, of what happens around them.
They not only see things at a faster rate, they see much smaller things too.

When we are bored, we miss a lot and time appears to slow down.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Sat 24 Jul, 2010 07:24 am
@wayne,
wayne wrote:

Along this same line, I have often observed a bird with this in mind.
It's pretty easy to see that birds have a heightened perception compared to humans.
They miss very little, relatively speaking, of what happens around them.
They not only see things at a faster rate, they see much smaller things too.

When we are bored, we miss a lot and time appears to slow down.


Th problem is that the post talks about time slowing down when, in fact, what it is talking about is the subjective impression of time slowing down. The fact that I am bored or that I am afraid, has to do with me, not time.
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Sat 24 Jul, 2010 01:51 pm
@wayne,
What i think the end product of this is, is that time is irrelevant and and impossible to accurately track. Much as Bergson suggested, we keep track of arbitrary hashmarks on a measuring device. We keep track of cycles of seasons etc... Time is tracked in duration because its the way we experience it. It is not really keeping track of time itself. We seemingly impose an arbitrary system onto this duration for a sense of continuity. So duration/experience is slowing/quickening as compared to the arbitrary measurement system.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Sat 24 Jul, 2010 02:48 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead wrote:

What i think the end product of this is, is that time is irrelevant and and impossible to accurately track. Much as Bergson suggested, we keep track of arbitrary hashmarks on a measuring device. We keep track of cycles of seasons etc... Time is tracked in duration because its the way we experience it. It is not really keeping track of time itself. We seemingly impose an arbitrary system onto this duration for a sense of continuity. So duration/experience is slowing/quickening as compared to the arbitrary measurement system.


But duration (how it seems to you) and objective time (how long something actually takes, are completely different. What takes objectively 20 minutes while sitting on a dentist's chair, may seem to take two hours. Isn't there a difference?
wayne
 
  1  
Reply Sat 24 Jul, 2010 06:17 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:

wayne wrote:

Along this same line, I have often observed a bird with this in mind.
It's pretty easy to see that birds have a heightened perception compared to humans.
They miss very little, relatively speaking, of what happens around them.
They not only see things at a faster rate, they see much smaller things too.

When we are bored, we miss a lot and time appears to slow down.


Th problem is that the post talks about time slowing down when, in fact, what it is talking about is the subjective impression of time slowing down. The fact that I am bored or that I am afraid, has to do with me, not time.


Yes, exactly so. I found the demonstration to conclusively demonstrate just that.
0 Replies
 
wayne
 
  1  
Reply Sat 24 Jul, 2010 06:33 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:

GoshisDead wrote:

What i think the end product of this is, is that time is irrelevant and and impossible to accurately track. Much as Bergson suggested, we keep track of arbitrary hashmarks on a measuring device. We keep track of cycles of seasons etc... Time is tracked in duration because its the way we experience it. It is not really keeping track of time itself. We seemingly impose an arbitrary system onto this duration for a sense of continuity. So duration/experience is slowing/quickening as compared to the arbitrary measurement system.


But duration (how it seems to you) and objective time (how long something actually takes, are completely different. What takes objectively 20 minutes while sitting on a dentist's chair, may seem to take two hours. Isn't there a difference?


I think we confuse the measurement of a quantity with the perception of a quantity. We measure the quantity, time, then we mistakenly call this measurement, time. In fact, it is the measurement of time. The measurement of time is arbitrary, time is not.
It seems you and I discussed something similar, about quantities , some time back. I think it was like calling a bushel of rice, rice. And a grain of rice isn't called rice in all contxts. Do you remember?

Oh yeah,, it was flour,
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Sun 25 Jul, 2010 04:38 am
@wayne,
wayne wrote:

kennethamy wrote:

GoshisDead wrote:

What i think the end product of this is, is that time is irrelevant and and impossible to accurately track. Much as Bergson suggested, we keep track of arbitrary hashmarks on a measuring device. We keep track of cycles of seasons etc... Time is tracked in duration because its the way we experience it. It is not really keeping track of time itself. We seemingly impose an arbitrary system onto this duration for a sense of continuity. So duration/experience is slowing/quickening as compared to the arbitrary measurement system.


What is "the perception of a quantity"? I can perceive a pound of rice just by looking at it. And that is not the same as measuring (weighing) it. So, it is true (I suppose) that we can perceive time simply by experiencing a passage of time, long or short, but that is different from actually measuring time by looking at my watch and then looking at my watch again, and then seeing how long the interval is between the two looks. Is that what you mean? I don't see that the measurement is arbitrary, though. It is not as if there are no good reasons for measuring time as we do. Perhaps you mean that it is conventional, since we might have agreed on a different way of measurement. But that is different. Comparison: A speed limit on the highway is conventional. We could have a different speed limit. But it need not be arbitrary, since some speed limits are better than others, depending on circumstances.

But duration (how it seems to you) and objective time (how long something actually takes, are completely different. What takes objectively 20 minutes while sitting on a dentist's chair, may seem to take two hours. Isn't there a difference?


I think we confuse the measurement of a quantity with the perception of a quantity. We measure the quantity, time, then we mistakenly call this measurement, time. In fact, it is the measurement of time. The measurement of time is arbitrary, time is not.
It seems you and I discussed something similar, about quantities , some time back. I think it was like calling a bushel of rice, rice. And a grain of rice isn't called rice in all contxts. Do you remember?

Oh yeah,, it was flour,
0 Replies
 
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Sun 25 Jul, 2010 07:22 pm
@wayne,
Unlike with rice we do not have a tangible which we can measure. Time cannot be weighed seen, touched, tasted, heard, smelled, it can only be experienced as one moment after the next. To compare the measurement of time with the measurement of rice would not be a good analogy because it is not material in any way. we see days and nights we see seasons passing, but is this time? or are they days and nights and seasons passing? We experience duration time itself assuming it exists is what it is and the measurement system we use may or may not accurately represent it.
Arjuna
 
  1  
Reply Sun 25 Jul, 2010 07:53 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead wrote:

Unlike with rice we do not have a tangible which we can measure. Time cannot be weighed seen, touched, tasted, heard, smelled, it can only be experienced as one moment after the next. To compare the measurement of time with the measurement of rice would not be a good analogy because it is not material in any way. we see days and nights we see seasons passing, but is this time? or are they days and nights and seasons passing? We experience duration time itself assuming it exists is what it is and the measurement system we use may or may not accurately represent it.
It's always fascinated me that we think of a quantity of time in terms of spatial dimensions: it was a long time... a short time. And space... we often use time to describe it: it's a five hour drive...
0 Replies
 
wayne
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 12:13 am
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead wrote:

Unlike with rice we do not have a tangible which we can measure. Time cannot be weighed seen, touched, tasted, heard, smelled, it can only be experienced as one moment after the next. To compare the measurement of time with the measurement of rice would not be a good analogy because it is not material in any way. we see days and nights we see seasons passing, but is this time? or are they days and nights and seasons passing? We experience duration time itself assuming it exists is what it is and the measurement system we use may or may not accurately represent it.


Actually, you misread my post. I refered to a much earlier discussion with k/a, which was actually about flour.
We don't say there goes a flour. The term flour refers to a quantity. Much the same as the term time refers to a quantity. However, we can and do say that there was a time. So the similarity ends there. The similarity may, however, bear consideration in relation to the confusion which often occurs when discussing time.
When we say there was a time, we actually mean, or ought to mean, there occured a period of time.
When we refer to a point in time, the term point, is actually a generic measurement of a quantity of time.
The measurement of time is, in fact, infinite.
Therefore, time exists as a quantity, similar to flour.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 06:32 am
@wayne,
wayne wrote:

GoshisDead wrote:

Unlike with rice we do not have a tangible which we can measure. Time cannot be weighed seen, touched, tasted, heard, smelled, it can only be experienced as one moment after the next. To compare the measurement of time with the measurement of rice would not be a good analogy because it is not material in any way. we see days and nights we see seasons passing, but is this time? or are they days and nights and seasons passing? We experience duration time itself assuming it exists is what it is and the measurement system we use may or may not accurately represent it.


Actually, you misread my post. I refered to a much earlier discussion with k/a, which was actually about flour.
We don't say there goes a flour. The term flour refers to a quantity. Much the same as the term time refers to a quantity. However, we can and do say that there was a time. So the similarity ends there. The similarity may, however, bear consideration in relation to the confusion which often occurs when discussing time.
When we say there was a time, we actually mean, or ought to mean, there occured a period of time.
When we refer to a point in time, the term point, is actually a generic measurement of a quantity of time.
The measurement of time is, in fact, infinite.
Therefore, time exists as a quantity, similar to flour.


Yes. Grammatically speaking, "time" is a mass noun, unlike "bean" which is a count noun.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_noun
0 Replies
 
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 10:21 am
@wayne,
flour is infinite?
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 Jul, 2010 05:54 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead wrote:

flour is infinite?


You think that because he said that both "flour" and "time" refer to quantities, and because time is infinite, that it follows that flour is infinite? Yes, you badly need an elementary logic course. That argument commits the fallacy of the undistributed middle term. Would you also argue that because "Abe Lincoln" and "John Adams" both refer to presidents, that since Abe Lincoln was tall, so must have been John Adams?
0 Replies
 
 

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