Friday, 11 January 2013

Time distortion in weird experiences

Distorted clockMy acquaintance who experiences microsleeps with REM (MWR) has a theory - dream time is slower than real time. Very few people experience MWR, where you go straight into a dream state on falling asleep. It is a phenomenon generally associated with certain sleep disorders. One interesting point is that it allows people to do dream experiments, albeit usually unintentionally. It also gives rise to some vivid weird experiences which could easily be taken to be paranormal.

Recently my acquaintance fell asleep briefly on public transport and instantly had a dream. Though the details were soon forgotten, as often happens with dreams, it was clearly a complex and fairly lengthy dream sequence. But the thing is, it cannot have lasted for more than a minute or so, even though it felt much longer. This kind of 'experiment' would be much more difficult to do if dreams did not correspond almost exactly with a sleep period, as happens in MWR.

Stephen LaBerge did a study on lucid dreamers (see here) showing that estimated time intervals during dreams are essentially the same as in real life. This did not, however, rule out all time distortion effects. Many people still claim to have experienced long period dreams during short real-time REM sequences. So how can that be? One possibility is that dreams are more like movies than real life. In other words, they show just the plot highlights, missing out all the 'boring' bits in between when nothing much is happening. Thus, you could 'live' an entire day's events in just a few minutes of 'episodic' dream time. Also, dreams often contain information that we 'just know', even though we don't experience it. For instance, we might know who the other people in our dream are, and the location, without actually taking the time to recognize the place or individuals. This 'back story' information means we can pack more 'action' into a short dream. Bits of a dream can be 'skipped' because we know what happened without needing to experience them.

This would mean time still goes at 'normal' speed in dreams but its episodic nature gives the appearance of things happening faster. And this episodic character could introduce apparent time distortions. An event that should take 10 minutes in real life may be skipped over in a second in a dream. The rules of ordinary waking reality are routinely bent in dreams.

So what's the point of all this speculation? Well, in hypnagogia, and other near sleep experiences, real life perceptions are mixed with dream material. So someone lying in bed in a hypnagogic state may see the real room they are in but also a human figure that comes entirely from their dream state. So my question is, what happens to time in these situations? I strongly suspect it could appear to be distorted sometimes. I suspect such experiences will often appear longer to the percipient than someone observing them at the time.

I remember one vivid hypnagogic experience I had when I was young. I could hear real people speaking in the distance but the room I was in 'looked different' to normal somehow. Oh, and I was paralysed! As far as I can remember the voice sounds were normal, not speeded up or slowed down. However, it was a long time ago and I could easily be wrong on that detail!

The point of all this is that if time appears distorted during a near sleep experience, it could contribute to the feeling of the event being paranormal. It could transform mundane real perceived events into something weird! Suppose, for instance, there is no actual dream content in a particular near sleep experience. Instead, ordinary real events may appear paranormal due to perceived time distortion. For instance, a falling object may seem to fall unnaturally slowly! This is sometimes reported in poltergeist cases. Maybe time distortion explains why the room 'looked different' (though in no way I could describe) in my own experience.

And what happens if time is distorted episodically? Things might appear to change in an instant! So a person may appear to vanish when, in reality, they just walked slowly away. This has obvious potential to appear paranormal. It is clear from such theoretical examples that time distortion effects in near sleep experiences could transform ordinary situations into apparently paranormal ones.

At present this is all just speculation. It would be interesting to look at accounts of known near sleep experiences, rather than apparently paranormal ones, to see if any time distortions are apparent. Unfortunately, most of the experiences I come across are of the latter type. Maybe my MWR acquaintance can help with this!

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