A team of Israeli scientists has worked out that the human brains magical ability to slow time indicates that our present is an unreliable memory played nanoseconds too late .
Researcher David Eagleman worked out that when time seems to slow down in real life, our senses and cognition must somehow speed up. Either that, or time is an illusion and lunchtime doubly so.
Faced with lots of reports from people who claim that “time slowed down” Eagleman wondered if the experience of slow motion really happens or does it only seem to have happened in retrospect?
He found a thrill ride near the university called Suspended Catch Air Device, an open-air tower from which participants are dropped, upside down, into a net 150 feet below. The person just falls for three seconds, then hit the net at 70 miles per hour.
Eagleman asked subjects who’d already taken the plunge to estimate how long it took them to fall. 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.
Then he built something he called a perceptual chronometer which is a numeric wrist display. Researchers could adjust the rate at which the numbers flash and 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’s theory was that if fear speeds up our perception, then once his subjects were in the terror of freefall, they should be able to make out the numbers on the display.
They couldn’t. So it means that fear does not actually speed up our rate of perception or mental processing.
What it means that is that we experience things in greater detail and since our perception of time is based on the number of things we remember, fearful experiences thus seem to unfold more slowly.
So, in other words, if you are bored time drags because you are spending more time looking around, thinking of things to do.
But there is something else a little more scary to be learnt from the experiment. Eagleman’s findings suggest that the sensation of time slowing could only have been superimposed after the fact.
In other words we do not have an experience of what we’re feeling ‘right now,’ but only an unreliable memory of what we thought it felt like some seconds or milliseconds ago. Our “present” is a retroactive illusion.