6 September 2011

Distortions in time perception.

The above drawing is derived from the one below. Whereas I devised the one above, the one below came to me as a clear vision. The line of ‘consciousness of here and now’ is my way of seeing the Time line or at least our perception of Time. In other words when we are inside that line we are conscious of the passing of time. Then as we start thinking of something we move down into the realm of thoughts, though some of our consciousness remains in the ‘here and now’, so our body doesn’t lose track of where we are. When we are immersed in the 'thoughs' area we can perceive time differently. We can also become "lost in thought", whereby we are so absorbed in our thought that when we come back we feel we’ve lost track of time (I’ve labelled this ‘gap’).

I was wondering whether our thoughts could have multiple branches (multitask), which would have conflicted with my drawing below but science seems to point in the direction of one thought at a time.
Neuroscientist Earl Miller of MIT states “When people say they can multitask, they're deluding themselves What we do is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.”
Neuroscientist Daniel Weissman at the university of Michigan came to the same conclusion. By using MRI to scan brains of subjects that were assigned 2 different tasks. The subject would be shown two numbers of a certain colour. If the digits are one colour, say red, he would decide which digit was numerically larger. If the digits are a different colour, say green, the subject decides which digit is printed in a larger font. The brain was seen to pause each time the colour was changed. In my picture this would be the equivalent of coming back to the conscious time line to round up all the information it had about the other task and then branch off to give the answer. The part of the brain that acts as a conductor and decides how much flow goes out (as thought) and how much stays in the ‘conscious here and now’ is called the ‘executive system’ and lives in the brain's frontal lobes, basically above our eyes. The executive system also helps us achieve a goal by ignoring distractions.

Many years ago while, travelling in Amsterdam, I stopped in a coffee shop and had a smoke. Whilst under the influence, my thoughts would start normally but be extremely intense and focused. I would start to focus all my conscience on it. I felt I was accelerating down a spiral and as I approached the centre everything regarding that thought was becoming clear to me. So much so, that the feeling of being overwhelmed by this total understanding would make me jump back to the ‘here and now’ but with quite a large ‘gap’ of time. A few seconds later I would think of something else and spiral down the next thought before again jumping back to the ‘here and now’ line. While all this was happening I had a very clear visual image of what was happening. The picture below is how I saw it:

my vision in 2001

Many years after drawing my spirals I found a text by Charles Baudelaire written in 1860 describing the effects of hachich on time perception. He writes of a stream of thought hurling you down a living vortex for what seems like eternity followerd by an instant of lucidity in you realise only one minute has passed. Then the next thought current drags you into your next vortex;

"Un autre courant d'idées vous emporte ; il vous emportera pendant une minute dans son tourbillon vivant, et cette minute sera encore une éternité. Les proportions du temps et de l'être sont dérangées par la multitude innombrable et par l'intensité des sensations et des idées. On vit plusieurs vies d'homme en l'espace d'une heure". - Charles Baudelaire - Le poème du haschisch