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Does Time Slow Down, or Speed Up in a Crisis?


Scientists are asking if we can turbocharge our time perception. In The Matrix, hero Neo wins his battles when time slows in the simulated world. In our real world, accident victims often report a similar slowing of time as they slip unavoidably towards disaster. We've all heard stories of people seeing things happening in bullet time or reviewing their entire about-to-end lives, but if we could toggle this tachypsychian switch by choice it'd be a real-life superpower.

The first question is “Can our consciousness affect our awareness of time?”, which is a tautological yes – of course our ability to be aware of things affects our awareness of things. The fantastically named Professor Eagleman is going further: he wants to find out if time really does slow down for subjects, no matter how many people he has to strap into experimental hardware and hurl off buildings.

The hardware is a “perceptual chronometer”, an LED screen whose patter flickers slightly too fast to make out – it hops between patterns like “3” and “E” but looks like “8” to anyone operating at regular human speed. The “hurling off buildings” bit is SCAD, Suspended Air Catch Device, an activity which berates bungee jumping as wimpy because the latter allows people to slow down. In SCAD jumps you fall off a shaky ledge thirty meters up and fall full speed into a net.

Unfortunately the results are against creating the Flash anytime soon: while test subjects did recall the fall taking longer than it actually did, none could perceive the changing pattern on the watch. This would indicate that the effect is an artifact of memory – the brain writing more data more powerfully than normal, so the recollection seems to last longer than non-traumatic events. The problem is that this temporal effect is the ultimate in subjective data – literally so, as the brain often thinks it's the last thing it'll experience. So when you remember things happening in slow motion, it's the remembering that provided that – not the original event.

Of course there are a thousand and one other factors which could influence this experiment – maybe the brain can deal with data faster, but the frame-rate from the eye doesn't increase. Perhaps the subjects were simply too scared. Or it could be that SCAD just isn't the right way to trigger the temporal boost (in which case God help Eagleman's next victims). There have been cases of people perceiving time differently under cranial magnetic stimulation, or the effect of tumors, but so far they've all resulted in slowing down or simply breaking previously observed effects – it seems that overclocking ourselves isn't an option yet.

Luke McKinney


I have had this discussion with a few people that have had car accidents, when recalling the event each person recalls the event as if it happened in slow motion. My father and I came to the conclusion, that the result of the impact meant that the atoms (not sure if that is the right word) that create our consciousness where temporally moved quicker through time, therefore perceived time in slow motion.

The fact that it is the remembering that occurs is slow motion, does not fit because, when I generally remember, the fine details are lost. But when recalling a point in an accident, the things people remark on are the details they can remember.

If magnets distort perception of time this would add to the hypothesis that consciousness was physical object in the brain and subject to the physical laws.

If tumors alter our perception of time, I would suggest that it was because the tumor was accelerating the decaying process, there for accelerating time, therefore changing our perception.

I don't think that falling, or jumping is enough to over clock, and if it were finite, would it be worth it just to learn kung fu quicker?

Great article.
This subject really needs more attention.

Research the effects of cannabis on time perception.
I'm better at facing a cricket ball at well over 100kmh
after a joint, than without it.
Since they stopped the West Indies from puffing the good stuff
they've become an average team.

Yes, consciousness has a role to play here that science has not yet been able to quantify. The personal experiences that the commentator himself had during two near death experiences are similar to what the other commentator has also mentioned. It seems the brain is able to overcome the time sense in a different way to the normal linearity of time. Similarly one may expect space to get condensed or expanded in times of need. Science should wholeheartedly explore such effects as it is bound to help its own growth if we keep such options open and apply ourselves to work out beyond our empirical thinking.

Our "frame rate" can change and it makes us feel that the time is different. Second still lasts a second but the amount of information we absorb is relative to our attention and focus.

I live in Sweden,11-12 years old. I climbed up the ski jump, and jumped.Everything went well. my skis vere not made for jumping.
I went up again this time allmost to the top(to impress the girls)I jumped and in mid air both my skiis fell of, and bam everything went in to slooooow motion. I felt irritaded häving to wait for inputs. I saw people running towards what was to be my chrash site also them in slo´-mo.aftr aboute a miute my brain was in fase agin.

i have also experienced this in a car crasch

Best regards
Mikael M

I believe that you actually can trigger whatever it is in the brain to slow down time, but I don't know how. This would be an interesting thing to pursue. From what I've noticed, this only happens at times of extremes, (extreme danger, extreme fear, extreme exaustion, etc.) so I think that it's actually one of our brains self-defense techniques that occur naturally and we just haven't figured out how to access it.

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