A few moments ago, I was strapped into a harness and winched 150 feet into the air. Four massive steel girders support my weight, and I can see that I'm the highest object around for miles. I am about to become the fastest-moving man in science, and I can barely keep my breakfast down.
This contraption is called the Suspended Catch Air Device, but the folks at the Zero Gravity Thrill Amusement Park in Dallas prefer the more colloquial "Nothin' But Net." That's because when the operator releases my rope, I will fall, untethered, until I plop into a modified circus net. The terrifying free fall will last less than three seconds, but to me it will feel much longer. And in this experiment, that is exactly the point.
The study of how the brain perceives the passage of time is no longer just the work of philosophers. In the past few decades, medical scanners and computers have improved such that scientists can monitor the brain's activity millisecond by millisecond. Sorting out how the brain handles time-related information could reveal the cause of several mental illnesses. But some basic information still eludes researchers, in particular an explanation for "time dilation," the notion that time seems to slow during life-threatening situations. My impending fall is the latest in a series of experiments designed by David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, to crack this nut.
Attached to my wrist is a perceptual chronometer, basically two LED screens, each blinking random digits between 1 and 9. Before I was hoisted up here, the chronometer was set so that the numbers alternate just fast enough that I cannot read them. If Eagleman is correct, and the brain's perception of time slows down during disaster, then I should see the numbers on the chronometer flicker in a readable slow-mo, sort of like how characters in The Matrix films see bullets. That is, if I can keep my eyes open.
Your Brain on Time Travel
In recent years, scientists have learned that the circadian rhythms that control our 24-hour sleep/wake cycle are governed by a cluster of 10,000 brain cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Sorting out what happens moment to moment is the focus of Eagleman's work, and his Baylor-based Laboratory for Perception and Action is one of the only facilities dedicated to running experiments that produce hard data on how we perceive time.
Eagleman began his career researching vision, and in 2000 he became interested in the flash-lag effect, an optical illusion that scientists had never satisfactorily explained. On a computer screen, a blue doughnut-like ring circles a fixed point. Every so often, the ring's hole turns white for a split second. Sometimes, the white center and the blue ring, which has continued on its path, appear to overlap. After running dozens of students through this test, Eagleman posited that it might be a temporal illusion, and that it tricks the brain, not the eyes. In addition to interpreting the white flash, the brain is also predicting where the blue ring should be a few milliseconds in the future, and that is being lumped in with the experience that reaches your consciousness. This was the first evidence that our perception of time is not an exact representation of what is occurring in the moment we consider to be the present.
A day before my jump, I visited Eagleman's lab to try out some of his temporal illusions. Eagleman is 38 years old but looks younger by a decade. He has short brown hair, an athletic build and an affable manner. In 2009 his book Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives became a quick best seller. His lab looks like a traditional office, with cubicles and coffeepots and such, except the walls have been painted with a light blue dry-erase paint and are covered floor-to-ceiling with the markings of his research. But I'm staring instead at a computer screen, trying to click on a flitting green square.
In "9 Square," nine blue squares are arranged like a tic-tac-toe board, and every now and again one of them turns green. My job is to click on the green square. At first, it jumps at a steady rate, moving to the next spot 200 milliseconds after I click the mouse. But after a while, the rate begins to vary and, when the green square moves faster, it seems to jump before I click on it.
"This is because your brain is constantly calibrating duration," Eagleman explains. "If every time you flip on the lights there is a 200-millisecond delay, your brain recognizes the pattern and edits out the delay. Flip the switch, and the lights seem to turn on instantaneously. But if you moved to a funky house where the lights really did come on instantaneously, it would appear that they came on before you flipped the switch. Your brain is temporarily stuck on the old pattern."
Eagleman had dozens of people play 9 Square while he scanned their brains with a functional-MRI machine. He found that when people experience the time delays, there is a boost of activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which activates only when different parts of the brain process conflicting information. This suggested that the brain maintains at least two separate versions of time, a master clock that feeds you a perception of the now, and another that is constantly at work tidying up that perception.
Similar tests backed up his results, indicating that—unlike speech, which is processed in Broca's area, or vision, which the occipital lobe handles—our sense of time is not centralized. Because of this, most scientists in the field have moved on to solving how parts of the brain work together to produce a single representation of time. But they first need to know if the system is truly capable of varying the rate at which it interprets the data. Eagleman remembered falling off a roof as a kid and how time seemed to stretch out forever in what was really only an instant. That's when he decided that dropping people off a tower could be the way to figure all this out.
In my expirence, the perception of time does slow way down. The retina may processes images at 100 times per second, but maybe the brain can not translate these images as fast. An example would be the old crt TV, if we all can process the images at 100 times per second, then we all would have been able to see the scan lines at 60 frames per second.
In my expirence, I remember seeing the color blue, for what seemed like 15 or more seconds, then I saw a gray color at the edge of the blue. More time was spent analizing just what I was seeing as the color green appeared below the gray. When I finally figured out just what I was seeing, time seemed to speed up, colors became sharper and I knew the asphalt was comming up fast. (motorcycle came to a halt and I did a flip in the air and landed on the pavement 30 feet beyond the collision). The color blue was the blue sky, the gray was the tops of the downtown buildings, green was the tops of trees.
I just did that drop like a week ago. Even though I knew I was going to be falling into a net, I still thought I was going to die. It was possibly the longest 3 seconds of my life.
"Everyone has a near-constant internal monologue in their head".
I don't have one. Only sometimes I speak to myself, typically when bored and considering what to do next.
"An example would be the old crt TV, if we all can process the images at 100 times per second, then we all would have been able to see the scan lines at 60 frames per second."
But in my experience that is just what happens. I can always see the flash of each rendered frame of my old CRT computer monitor. Only at 85hz does it become hard to detect and by then it is only due to phosphors still emitting some light from the previous pass.
Wow thats Amazing!
I used to jump out of perfectly good airplanes for a living.
I thought the rush didn't last long enough.
It depends on what you are looking for, I guess.
I believe that in fact for some people they could see every flash at 60 Ghz
seeing every flash at 60 GHz is seeing something in the order of 60,000,000,000 cycles per second. i dunno if you're being silly or if you actually meant 60 hertz or if you really think it's possible for anyone to perceive something happening 60 million times per second individually...
Even Neo can't do that.
I was given a schizophrenia diagnosis 6 years to the day; all I know about the people featured here is that they are more actively pursuing a treatment then my doctor. All my doctor did was copy off the previous 6 doctors and look at his little drug combination book; the peewee man should be finding more responsible questions to ask me. All I wish is that my doctor was a researcher, which unlike the altogether boring diagnosis, hearing things that aren't there can sometimes be pleasant. My peeve is that the sentence about the core of a auditory hallucination differs from experience. Though my audi-whati are so redundantly a womans voice, I become protective of the women around me yet I live in a convent with 15 women and 4 men. I just hate when a new male skizo moves into to my residence hall because i know there will be some odd hallucinations about which is the alpha male.
Wow, that is incredible dude. Good stuff indeed.
I've frequently noticed that the first time I view an interesting or funny ad on TV it seems to last much longer than subsequent viewings - now I know why.
Fascinating. I have this constant dialog, also the boredom factor. I guess I'm OK OK OK...
It's been scientifically proven that higher levels of Adrenaline, boosts memory making in the brain and heightens alertness and awareness.
Time seems to slow down because you are that much more alert and your brain is not just in some passive/subconscious mode like when you're walking down the street.
It's really that simple.
From my own experience, I do believe that time "slows down", or rather the brain speeds up the sample rates, if you will, and the net result is it appears that time passes slower.
But that aside, I think the experiment is flawed. It would seem to me, that if you're falling 15 stories, your brain isn't going to devote that extra processing power to a blinking wristwatch while you're plummeting. I would think it would actually distract from it.
It seems to me, a much better test would be to place the lights on the ground.
I think that Eagleman is on the right track, but is not taking into account all of the instances where time can slow down for the individual. From his experience, falling through air is one example, however I think there are other situations where the brain can interpret time in different ways, without sensory overload.
NFL quarterbacks, professional musicians, anyone who has mastered a certain technique all profess moments where time slows down, but there is a crucial difference between these learned behaviors and falling through space. The difference is that these behaviors are what A.R. Luria (famouse russian psychologist) would call "functioning systems". These are systems where repetition has committed actions into muscle memory, and through this repeition, the brain is allowed to loose track of time. An every day example is when you are driving and you spacing out, and suddenly you regain consciousness and 15 minutes have gone by...I feel there is a lot more to this experiment, but Eagleman is on the right path.
so what about work? b/c when I have new experiences, sicker patients, etc., time goes by wayyy too quickly.
when i have the usual stuff to do, nothing out of the ordinary, my brain (and everyone else that i work with would agree) slows things down to a painful crawl.
just curious to get your thoughts.
Something that stood out to me as I was reading this article were the implications of this study on learning and mind development, not just on perception and mental illness. Understanding that the mind uses more energy for processing information when it finds something to be "novel" may be related to how more intelligent people are able to learn more quickly, they perceive new information and thought processes to be novel, and therefor their brains commit more energy to process the information than would those of average students. This may be related to why some people are more intelligent than others, their brains spend longer looking at certain information. Who knows, could this even be a link to autism? The phenomena of the "novel experience" causing children to focus on processing more specific bits of information, leaving less of the brain available for social development or other mental processes?
If anyone else has any thoughts on the matter please engage me! I find this topic to be very interesting.
this is an incredible news!
I had an experience once during a situation of realizing that another vehicle and my car were on a probable collision course, and in a few seconds my mind raced through a learning sequence from drivers education course,
better to hit a glancing blow than hit head on, -aim to the right of the oncoming car.
better to hit a stationary object than one coming towards you, -so I aimed the car towards the shoulder of the road to miss the oncoming vehicle.
Then I looked to see a telephone pole on the side of the road and decided that I would rather hit the vehicle causing the accident than hit the telephone pole, so I aimed a little to the left of the pole and to the right of the advancing car, which was crossing the road in front of me.
I threaded that needle, missing the car and the pole by inches, all in the space of a few seconds and a couple of hundred feet of snow covered road. If I had even just tapped the brakes, I would have slid straight into the oncoming car.
That experience made me realized that what happens is that your mind races through your life experiences, does a data dump, so to speak of your memories, searching for a solution to survive the life-threatening situation.
It is your brain's last ditch effort to save your life. So it isn't necessarily slowing down it's perception of time, it is massively speeding up it's ability to process memories and make split-milli-second decisions in order to find a solution in order to save your life. It is a survival mechanism.
Cool story, very relevant to me as well.
I had a pretty nasty fall, not quite 15 storeys but 15 feet through an unreinforced skylight at ground level that led to a boiler room.
I fell through the dark and I was wondering how visual perception effects the slowing of time or the flash before your eyes thought.
In my short experience I had 3 thoughts that I distinctly remember:
1. WTF - I didn't know what was happening
2. Oh S&^t I'm falling - Literally those words
3. I hope this isn't the end and that this doesn't lead to some sort of far down subway tunnel or catacomb.
It all happened quite fast and luckily I landed on solid cement 15 feet down without spikes, alligators, lava or any other video game obstacles (or a wet dry vac). I fully shattered my right foot breaking all the metatarsal bones in multiple places, needless to say the rest of my summer, fall, winter sucked, and now in spring I'm getting back to doing most of the things I used to enjoy (still with pain and swelling though).
I wonder how seeing yourself falling or how knowing that you are falling in a situation where you are on a roof and slip or in a place you consciously know you might fall from effects your perception. I fell through a slip and fall lawyer's dream booby trap as a result of a shitty landlord, unreinforced glass and no signage, it'd be different if I were moutain biking on a cliff or standing on a roof.
i like cookies O_O
Here is my theory on this:
1. When something unexpected happens the brain enters a fast processing state. During this state more information is processed in the same amount of time.
2. During this state the first focus is to recognize the "threat"(what's going on), using the sensory system. The brain is not looking for specific details(which would require more processing) but is looking for rough indicators like color changes, balance change, body impact detection, etc. In short, the brain is looking for the fastest way to know what's going on. This creates the illusion of time lasting longer as more information is processed in the same amount of time. This also explains why everything seems to look blurry and why we don't seem to hear sounds clearly.
3. If the "threat" is determined, then the brain enters the "fight or flight response mode"
I believe they might be going about the experiment wrong. Falling in a controlled situation as they have there and a situation that is unexpected is likely a completely different state for your brain. The fact the that faller knows there is a net below likley changes their perception of the event so that the brain says "ok, i'm not going to die so lets enjoy the ride" instead of "oh crap i'm going to die, what now."
They may also want to look into different ways of testing as well besides just dropping someone. Mkass84 mentioned spacing out while driving. Over the last few years i've had a few incidents where i did indeed space out. It was as though my body went into autopilot and my mind decided to go on vacation. It has happened anywhere from 5 mins to up to 30 mins. In one incident, i was driving through a parking lot and my wife was talking to me for about 15 mins. I didn't register anything during that time and when i came out of it, my wife was asking for my opinion on what she was just talking about. She had thought i was still with it but i didn't remember a thing, not driving, not the kids, not the pedestrians, not the conversation, nothing. Its as though it didn't happen. Looking into what happens for people during these incidents might be a good start and then go for the time perception angle.
It could be a change in perception of time or, an effect on memory. The term "time flies when you're having fun" seems to come to mind.
I like the analyis of relating the process to 'survival instincts'.What is very interesting here is brain can process information at faster speeds until it finds the solution and then slows down frees up memory.It is not the time that is slowing down, it is the brain's memory processing speed that's constantly varies. No limit to its speed until it finds solution and slows down or time completely halts!. So it is good idea to refresh or add more memories when it is down time for brain,like free falls in amusement parks!.
I had the slow motion experience once in my life, when I got into a fight at age 15. I was unable to take advantage of it, because my reactions and movement seemed equally slowed.
Meanwhile, nowadays years pass faster. The past 20 years seem like about 5. I can practically hold my breath until my next birthday.
The trick is to learn to control our perception of the rate at which time is passing, so that time moves slowly when we are having fun and fast when we are waiting for something.
I’ve had two slow motion automobile experiences. In the first, 50 years ago, at night, I swerved to the right shoulder and hit the brakes to miss a deer. The car rotated clockwise about 270 degrees ending in a shallow ditch. While rotating, separate, individual pictures were resolved in my mind. This was very discontinuous motion. Each picture was offset by several degrees of the car.
Therefore I suggest the experiment be changed to provide a long mural that can be observed during the fall.
The second experience, 15 years ago, was similar to that reported by BSTUR1. I was traveling up the right hand lane of a two lane ramp to another freeway. The left lane was packed solid with cars traveling about 15 mph. I was going about 35. The speed limit for the ramp is 65. When traffic is light cars go about 75. As I was traveling up the ramp, a pickup pulled from the left lane into my lane. I hit the brakes and skidded closer and closer. While sliding forward, the car started pointing to the left, aiming right at the other cars. I spun the steering wheel to the right and eventually the car was pointing to the guard rail on the right. Forward skidding then stopped, the wheels grabbed the road and the car started toward the guard rail, 100 feet above the freeway below.
I thought, “This ain’t good. I have to take my foot off the brake and turn the steering wheel moderately to the left.” So, hurtling toward certain death, I took my foot off the brake and corrected the steering. It worked. But now I was heading toward the darn pickup again. I inched closer and closer. Fortunately the other driver had realized how stupid he was and had been accelerating for all he was worth since pulling in front of me. I got so close to the truck, I could not see its bumper, but he escaped.
In a very short time, with the help of adrenaline, I was able to go through all these rational thought processes and not hit anything.
I'm sure that life threatening fear (which this situation would invoke in most participants) causes for a stronger more detailed "imprint" on the brain.
I went skydiving once (only once) specifically because I am afraid of heights. It was amazing, but I can absolutely confirm that time seemed to be going a lot slower than normal until my chute opened and I felt (relatively) safe.
I think that when a person is in this state, the brain may not go faster, but that it is focusing more on what is happening and thus, compared to an "at rest" or "normal" activity it seems that it takes longer.
Also the "uniqueness" of the experience also would make it seem longer as we know from other studies that even infants will focus on something new longer than something familiar.
I have a theory that the reason time seems to go by FASTER as we age is for two reasons:
One is that, as we age, less things in life are "unique" to us (because we have experienced more and more)
The second is that as we age the brain slows down. (The whole nervous system does...reaction times slower etc.)
This translates into less "samples" per time period and thus, time seems to be passing faster as we age. Every person I have ever spoken to says that time goes by faster and faster for them as they get older. (I'm 43 and so far that has been my experience as well.)
u sure this isnt the same thing as time distortion an travel like it feals like forever to get there then only minits on the return trip?
Maybe when our brains understand how our brains work, we will make that theoretical jump into the next part of our evolution ... that is, if we can stand the knowing.