Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Can you slow down time?

Is it possible to slow down time? Apparently some sportsmen and women can. When about to initiate a physical action, like hitting a tennis ball, they perceive things to go slower than usual, so giving them longer to choose the right shot. Dr Nobuhiro Hagura of UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience has done some initial research (see here) into this apparent ability and has confirmed that it exists. Some people really can make time appear to go more slowly.

It is thought that the phenomenon may be due to the brain processing visual information more quickly. Some neuroscientists believe that there are internal 'clocks' within our brains, like the clock speed of a computer, which determine how fast we process information. In certain individuals, like sports people who train by doing the same thing repetitively, their brains may change (through neuroplasticity) to 'speed up' in certain situations.

For 'ordinary people' time can appear to run slowly too, sometimes, such as in highly stressful situations, though it may be a different mechanism from the sport effect. Some reported paranormal experiences appear to be stressful, according to the witnesses. It is possible that, as a result, they may report the event as lasting longer than it really did. With 'quick glance' misperception, for instance, the whole thing may be over in seconds. But it might be reported as lasting longer than that, causing the investigator to mistakenly discount such a 'glance' misperception as a likely cause. It is worth looking for any apparent time discrepencies in incidents that the witness reported to be stressful.

Just as our brains offer us only the edited highlights of reality through our senses, it seems they also tell us how fast time is moving! It is important to take such effects into account when we consider witness reports of the paranormal.

PS: There is now a meta-analysis of attempts to replicate Daryl Bem's precognition experiments - see here.

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