Time Dilation

If you had a choice, would you speed through life or would you rather have time stand still?

Of course, any change in the perception of time would deal with three things:

1. Traveling at speeds close to speed of light. Relativistic effects.

2. Changing how your neurons perceive light, sound and other stimuli that model time. Zeitgebers.

3. Changing external stimuli in ways that trick your brain into perceiving time differently.

Now, I’ll rule out 1, though my inner physicist might love to get back to it at some point in the future. Points 2 and 3 are equally interesting.

Point 2 has much to do with the rate with which your brain perceives new information, and what weight it gives to that new piece of information. I watched a video on Stoner sloth today that sparked this thought process. Smoking cannabis has an effect of slowing down the perception of time. Smokers tend to react slowly to external stimuli, and hence like a sloth. Now, I haven’t ever smoked weed, nor do I wish to, but I do wonder about the cognitive process that goes into this phenomenon. I suppose the neural pathways linked to visual and auditory stimuli are activated a lot more than other senses, which possibly leads to an information overload on them. There’s a also a sense of hyperfocusing. The intensity with which you sense your surroundings, is high, much like during meditation. There’s also an associated thought jumping. The mind makes associative thoughts quite quickly and abruptly, which leads the user to believe that a huge stream of thoughts have passed the mind in a less time, giving the perception of an elongated time frame.

Point 3 is something I read about two days back, on virtual reality using oculus rift, source: IEEE Xplore. They’ve set up a cool experiment in which they divide people into three sets, formulating three different visual stimuli, using three different test conditions. For all three sets, the basic scene was the same; a beach side with a setting sun. In the second and third sets, they introduced verbal and spatial tasks, by flashing letters and mobile objects, respectively. The three different test conditions were: a stationary sun, a realistically setting sun, a sun setting twice as fast.

Due to lack of any other stimulus, the people in set 1 overestimated time, and were hugely affected by the setting time of the sun, in estimating the length of time spent.

Meanwhile people in sets 2 and 3 under estimated the passage of time, due to their brains being involved in several cognitive tasks. They were also relatively less affected by the setting time of the sun.

While this experiment serves as a good lesson in virtual reality, it does make me wonder, if we will be able to simulate conditions that would, say make us more productive by giving the illusion of time flying. Or slowing time down if we feel overwhelmed by the cascade of things happening in our lives. I guess only time will tell?

Image source: comvita.com