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Can Time Slow Down? 444

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the there-is-no-spoon dept.
Ponca City, We Love You 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 as they fell [video]. 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'."
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Can Time Slow Down?

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  • Newsflash. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Cowclops (630818) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:07PM (#21673617)
    First on today's news: Time doesn't slow down for non-relativistic cases.

    And in other news: Water is wet.

    Film reel at 11.
  • Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekmansworld (950281) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:09PM (#21673665) Homepage
    Sounds a bit weak to me. Though such an event can be frightening or exhilarating, you KNOW that it's coming, and you KNOW that it's perfectly safe. To me, the experience of going over a roller coaster hill is different than the experience of being involved in an auto accident. I say more research is required.
  • It makes me wonder (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nickj6282 (896871) * <nickj6282 AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:10PM (#21673691)
    About the true meaning of "retrospect". Since all the signals our body produce take time to register in the brain, wouldn't all events by some strange definition always be "in retrospect"?

    I have been in a few car accidents in my time, and I can say that time really does seem to slow down in that moment. I don't know if it's just the way I'm remembering those moments in time or if, at that exact moment, I really did feel like time slowed.

    I wonder if the experiment mentioned was skewed by the fact that the subjects were never in any actual danger. They knew that they were in an experiment and there was little chance of harm. In a real-world situation, the potential for danger is real.
  • Re:Newsflash. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ResidntGeek (772730) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:10PM (#21673699) Journal
    Oh, shut the fuck up. You'd have said the same thing if they'd reported that the brain went into overdrive and could read the faster-than-normal numbers.
  • by jbarr (2233) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:15PM (#21673793) Homepage
    Heck, at 42, time is moving forward faster than it ever has. Days, weeks, and months are going by quicker than I ever remember, and I see NO sign of it slowing.

    Seriously, though, I see it as a matter of perspective. When I was younger, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" seemed to be the mantra because it seemed to take forever for things to happen. Maybe it's because I have adopted more patience over the years, so the waiting isn't as noticeable.
  • Re:Newsflash. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by commisaro (1007549) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:25PM (#21674017) Homepage
    It may seem obvious, but it is important in science to test even the most "obvious" assumptions. Otherwise it is easy to come to false conclusions, and pseudoscience abounds.
  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nine-times (778537) <> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:29PM (#21674097) Homepage

    I also am unclear as to what they think they're testing. They're faced with the question, "Does time really seem to slow down?" and in response they test, "Are people able to see and process things faster?"

    It's not clear to me what that the test answers the question. Does time *actually* slow down, and in a Neo-like state we can stop to look around while bullets are flying at us? Of course not. But do things *seem* to move more slowly? It seems so.

  • Re:Newsflash. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tzhuge (1031302) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:35PM (#21674215)
    Even though you've been modded Troll, I pretty much agree with the sentiment expressed by your post. This meme of 'that study's conclusion is so obvious; what morons funded it' is getting really tiresome. It wasn't that long ago when it was obvious that the Earth is flat and sailing far enough takes you off the edge.
  • by FroBugg (24957) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:38PM (#21674279) Homepage
    I'm glad you've taken a break out of your busy schedule of ending world hunger, finding a replacement for oil, and curing every disease to comment on Slashdot. It's good to have you here.
  • by yourlord (473099) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:47PM (#21674453) Homepage
    I have a pet theory on that effect, as I've noticed the exact same thing. When you are 5 years old an hour is a LONG time. A week is almost eternity. At 20 an hour doesn't seem as long as it used to. I'm now 36 and time is flying by. Years are clicking off the way weeks seemed to when I was 5-10..

    It doesn't bode well as if you extrapolate this phenomenon out to the age of 70 then the last decade of your life will go by in what seems like a month.

    I attribute this effect to the amount of time your brain has experienced. When you are 5 years old, an hour or a day is a much larger portion of the total time frame your brain has to relate to than when you're 20, 30, or 70.

    At 5, a month is 1/60 of your brain's entire time reference. At 40 it's 1/480 of it. In relation to your brain's total time reference, an hour is much more significant at age 5.

    It's just a personal theory.
  • by khasim (1285) <> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:50PM (#21674493)
    Greeks knew the world was round.

    The Church declared that it was flat. Despite the obvious fact that it was round.
  • Re:Newsflash. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ResidntGeek (772730) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:55PM (#21674577) Journal
    The study was measuring the PERCEPTION of the passage of time. If you could have definitively predicted the results of this study beforehand, then congratulations! You know more about neurology than anyone on earth!
  • by dex22 (239643) <plasticuser@gma i l . com> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @03:14PM (#21674879) Homepage
    Perception is a perceived experience. Time goes forward at an undetermined rate. These are fundamental. What isn't is the eye's ability to see fast-changing light patterns. Nothing presumes that even if perception of time changes, the eye has the ability to speed up and see something which is otherwise a blur.

    This isn't a measurement of perception, but of the characteristics of eye refresh rates under stress.

    I would have loved to have been on the IRB Board that oversaw this study, and read the protocol...
  • by tygt (792974) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @03:20PM (#21674997)
    If time perception slows down - in other words, if your brain goes into overdrive and processes events more rapidly - during extremely stressful situations, you're not going to be able to measure it in an experiment where the subject doesn't experience extreme stress, and a safe simulation of free-fall is unlikely to be stressful enough, especially when the subject has been assured that they're in no danger.

    Danger is what it's all about, or perception of danger. The adrenaline rush of the free-fall experience is only there because subconsciously you're still somewhat afraid, but the whole mind isn't involved in the fear.

    This would be like saying "Can people exhibit super-human strength under extreme stress?" (eg the "mom lifts car off of baby" stories) and testing it by saying "ok so pretend that your baby is under the car and lift the car up ok". Sure buddy.

    Next waste of time and money....

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nine-times (778537) <> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @03:32PM (#21675159) Homepage

    The question is whether that apparent slowing is something you experience at the time and can take advantage of (i.e. if time slows to one-third speed, can you read numbers or dodge bullets three times as quickly?) or if it's an illusion your memory retroactively imposes.

    Still, I think those are multiple different questions:

    • Is the apparent slowing something actually allowing you to do *something* better in that short period of time?
    • Does the apparent slowing allow you read numbers more quickly?
    • Does the apparent slowing allow you to dodge bullets?
    • Is the apparent slowing only an illusion?

    It seems that the people performing the study want to claim they've answered all of these questions, but from my brief reading, it seems to me that they've only even tried to answer the second question. (I'm pretty sure we can answer "no" to the third question, though, even without this study.)

  • by verbatim_verbose (411803) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @03:40PM (#21675275)
    I don't think it requires actual belief that there is danger involved -- just that there is enough stimulus to fool your instincts into reacting as if there were. Falling backwards 150 feet sounds like a good way to do this.

    If time perception only changed when you actually thought there would be danger involved, roller coasters would be far less interesting.
  • by vpdath (1202339) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @03:58PM (#21675463)
    Please read the paper before jumping to conclusions: "A critical point for the logic of this study is that flicker fusion frequencies are not limited by the retina, since retinal ganglion cells have extremely high temporal resolution. For example, in cat retinal ganglion cells, temporal resolution is ~95 Hz for X cells and ~120 Hz for Y cells under photopic illumination [14]. In primates, neurons in temporal cortex are able to temporally follow complex stimuli presented at 72 Hz [15]. Additionally, given the effect of many medications on the psychophysical flicker fusion frequency [16], it is clear that the limits of temporal resolution are central, not peripheral"
  • Re:Newsflash. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by masterzora (871343) <> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @03:58PM (#21675469) Homepage
    You're not being pedantic enough. If one travels faster than c, one goes backwards in time. If one travels at c, time is constant in that reference frame while time passes in other frames. If one travels less than c, time dilation occurs.

    My point? While you are correct in pointing out that any travel will cause effects, but significant effects are observed only for a significant fraction of the speed of light, you didn't mention that the original poster was even more wrong than you said since faster than light speeds cause time to reverse, not to go slower (though, obviously, your velocity at that point also changes how quickly time reverses).

  • by SL Baur (19540) <> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @04:16PM (#21675695) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, that's true. I first encountered it after spending several years in Japan where if you're 30 seconds late to a scheduled bus/train stop, you've missed it. It was quite a shock.

    Time does seem to move differently there. I want one of those test boxes to try out on myself.

    Since that article was written, they've started working on the next generation. One of the songs they teach children in elementary school now goes in part "Be on time, be on time, that's the true Filipino Time ...". Of course, some things will never change. The AL in PAL still means Always Late.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @04:24PM (#21675839)
    Being an adrenaline junkie, I've been in many high risk, very tense situations. Many with perceived and calculated risks and enough that took me by surprise. And in my experience its not so much that time slows down, its more that a person's senses sharpen; memories within a period of time become more important... suddenly. Whether its long term or short term memory seems to depend on the person or the nature of the stimulation. I think its the fact that you go from a lower importance of retaining / analyzing memories to maxing out in a very short period of time which brings you to feel like time has slowed down. It has not. Nor have you sped up. Largely beyond whatever reaction time your muscles have gained in the adrenal spike, your rate of perception has not changed, you just retain more vivid memories of that instant.

    Similar, when people say time takes forever at a meeting (particularly ones they dislike), the importance of retaining memories of the event focus on either; 1) your inner monologue complaining about the issue, each repetition of those thoughts, and the perception of significant time passing between something seemingly-important happening to you, or 2) sweating each and every detail if you're in a pinch and have to contribute which makes you nervous, hence why each and every detail is important, and seems to drag on.

    If I could relate it to anything, it would be like variable bitrate in mp3 compression; the parts determined as unique get the most importance and therefor most 'memory', while everything else gets loosely tied together, even if they all have the same baseline.
  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hazem (472289) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @04:36PM (#21676015) Journal
    And it also is flawed because it only addresses one part of what could be going on.

    Using as a metaphor the eyes as a video camera with some "shutter speed" and your memory being an analog tape that records events, all they tested was if the shutter speed of the eyes increases under stress. What they didn't address is if the memory tape gets sped up while recording - making things seem, at least in hindsight, to have taken a long time.

    If the shutter speed is the same but the tape goes faster, you would still see just as many numbers as the non-stressed environment but you would remember seeing each number for a longer time. Many of the posts here (and my own experience) indicate that the perceived slow down seems to happen but that the subject does not feel they can act any faster compared to outside events. This would actually support the 2nd idea - that maybe memory-recording neurons are firing faster during the stressful event - but that the senses themselves are not particularly enhanced (at least in a time-wise fashion).

    That said, I agree with what you're saying. Simulated life-threatening is different than real life-threatening. It's like the guys saying waterboarding is not torture because they underwent it in training. Well, undergoing it in a controlled situation by guys from "your side" is very different than being in a secret prison, cut off from the world, done by guys who don't mind if they kill you. I also imagine the time perception is different there too.
  • by ravenshrike (808508) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @05:38PM (#21676905)
    We still don't know how the mind works, because these people were in a perfectly safe situation and KNEW IT. Now, if they had pretended to have been doing another experiment and then shoved them off the ledge suddenly, the experiment would have been valid. As they did not, a crucial difference(that of possible threat to life) between the experiment and most car accidents is present.
  • Re:Newsflash. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by I_Love_Pocky! (751171) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @07:54PM (#21678255)
    "true velocity"

    Lol. Relative to what? Using the word "true" implies some kind of universal reference frame.
  • Re:Seconded... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @10:34PM (#21679423)
    Y'know, while time doesn't exist, your comment about time being only a perception is utter bullshit.

    Time doesn't exist means there's no dimension of time - there's no scientific consensus about this, seeing (surprise surprise) that we cannot accurately experiment on this yet. As in, there's no way to travel to the future or the past, because neither exist.

    Time being only a perception is a corrupted view of this. The rate at which events happen is the same (and simultaneously irrelevant outside a subjective view). Your perception may change but it means nothing.

    Or - you don't move or react any faster than you physically could, adrenaline just gives you a massive temporary boost in both reaction time and strength. Doing this all the time would burn you out quickly and would eventually kill you by cardiac arrest, and that's why you don't normally have such strength and/or reaction time.
  • by revxul (463513) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @11:40AM (#21683877)
    Are these people stupid? Talk about a frakking waste of money.

There's a whole WORLD in a mud puddle! -- Doug Clifford