Time out of mind

In today's very science oriented society we learn that time is something very exact. To illustrate time we draw a straight line and place the time units on equal distance between each others. Each second arrive at a constant rate and disappears just as quickly.

Yet our subjective notion of time is quite different. When we sleep we have little notion of time, for instance. Just as when we're having a lot of fun. Then time seems to go very fast. On the other hand when we are in a car accident time seems to slow down. We seem to be able to perceive things and react much more quickly.

One interesting question is how the physical and our mental notion of time relates. The other day I read about a truly clever experiment which tries to test whether our brain actually works faster when we are in a stressful situation. The setup goes like this: a man is set to do a backwards free-fall of 33 meters. With him he will have a small wristwatch-like device which will switch blindingly fast between two different images. One of the pictures will be a number. Under normal circumstances a person cannot make out the number since the device flickers so fast. But if time actually slowed down for him he might be able to see the number on the screen. It's a pretty clever setup.

How did it go? When the test person landed he said he had seen the number "98". The actual number shown was "96". Close enough for me. Further experiments yielded similar results. So it seems that our brains actually works faster in some situations! Very intriguing.

You can read about the experiment in the bbc article Time out of mind. It has some further goodies on time as well.

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