Can Time Slow Down?
Can Time Slow Down?
Hugh Pickens writes
- "Does time slow down when you are in a traffic accident or other life threatening crisis like Neo dodging bullets in slow-motion in The Matrix? To find out, researchers developed a perceptual chronometer where numbers flickered on the screen of a watch-like unit. The scientists adjusted the speed at which the numbers flickered until it was too fast for the subjects to see. Then subjects were put in a Suspended Catch Air Device, a controlled free-fall system in which 'divers' are dropped backwards off a platform 150 feet up and land safely in a net. Subjects were asked to read the numbers on the perceptual chronometer (video) as they fell. The bottom line: While subjects could read numbers presented at normal speeds during the free-fall, they could not read them at faster-than-normal speeds. 'We discovered that people are not like Neo in The Matrix,' Eagleman said. 'The answer to the paradox is that time estimation and memory are intertwined: the volunteers merely thought the fall took a longer time in retrospect'."
- When roller coasters and other scary amusement park rides did not cause enough fear to make 'time slow down,' Eagleman and his graduate students Chess Stetson and Matthew Fiesta sought out something even more frightening. They hit upon Suspended Catch Air Device diving, a controlled free-fall system in which 'divers' are dropped backwards off a platform 150 feet up and land safely in a net. Divers are not attached to ropes and reach 70 miles per hour during the three-second fall. "It's the scariest thing I have ever done," said Eagleman. "I knew it was perfectly safe, and I also knew that it would be the perfect way to make people feel as though an event took much longer than it actually did."
- Observers commonly report that time seems to have moved in slow motion during a life-threatening event. It is unknown whether this is a function of increased time resolution during the event, or instead an illusion of remembering an emotionally salient event. Using a hand-held device to measure speed of visual perception, participants experienced free fall for 31 m before landing safely in a net. We found no evidence of increased temporal resolution, in apparent conflict with the fact that participants retrospectively estimated their own fall to last 36% longer than others' falls. The duration dilation during a frightening event, and the lack of concomitant increase in temporal resolution, indicate that subjective time is not a single entity that speeds or slows, but instead is composed of separable subcomponents. Our findings suggest that time-slowing is a function of recollection, not perception: a richer encoding of memory may cause a salient event to appear, retrospectively, as though it lasted longer.
- During brief, dangerous events, such as car accidents and robberies, many people report that events seem to pass in slow motion, as if time had slowed down. We have measured a similar, although less dramatic, effect in response to unexpected, nonthreatening events. We attribute the subjective expansion of time to the engagement of attention and its influence on the amount of perceptual information processed. We term the effect time's subjective expansion (TSE) and examine here the objective temporal dynamics of these distortions. When a series of stimuli are shown in succession, the low-probability oddball stimulus in the series tends to last subjectively longer than the high-probability stimulus even when they last the same objective duration.
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