Tag Archives: Perception

Making Time: Why Time Seems to Pass at Different Speeds and How to Control It by Steve Taylor

15 Feb

Who has time? Who has time? But then if we never take time, how can we have time?

– The Merovingian

You may read the title and say “control time perception? Yeah, right“.

But consider: when you were 8, how long did the summer holidays last? And how long does it seem to take for 6 weeks to fly past these days?

Taylor says that our perception of time speeds up as we get older because we repeatedly do the same things, and take less notice of them. Kids see things with eyes wide open because everything is new to them. They take in everything around them like sponges. The implication is that doing things you haven’t done before will slow down your perception of time. Similarly taking your time to enjoy what you are doing, taking in all the information available, even when doing something mundane like the washing up, will add to the experience, and slow down time.

If something is new, then you remember more things about it, so in hindsight it also seems to have taken longer given the extra details.

Think about your daily commute to work. You do it so regularly, sometimes you don’t recall a single part of the journey and it seems to go past quickly. Contrast this to going somewhere  you haven’t been before and it will appear to take longer.

I read elsewhere that when an event has an emotional impact on you, you will remember more, so becoming emotionally engaged with your experience will mean it seems to take longer.

I remember an incident when my car went out of control at high-speed and my perception of time passing slowed down to a surprising degree. I was acutely aware of the car and its handling, the environment, and my actions and physical state. I had a meta-awareness, which enabled me to watch how I was reacting so that I could consider each possible action before I chose to carry it out. Both in the moment and in hindsight, that hyper-awareness meant an event that happened in seconds, seemed to take an age.

As a result of these observations, Taylor advises that we avoid just sitting in front of mindless tv programs, or playing simple computer games, as that simply absorbs you so that time goes by without you being aware.

Clearly, the assumption implicit in his advice is that people want time to go slower. They want to appreciate the life they have and if one perceives it to have taken longer, then all the better.

He moves on to discuss the ‘zone’ that sports people get into; e.g. Jimmy Connors used to say how big the ball seemed, how slow his opponent was, and how he had so much time to make his decision. I’ve experienced the same when I’ve been on top form in various areas, such as when playing my guitar, the implication being, that when you become experienced and intuitive with your chosen practise, you have more ‘brain-space’ to think about other things, thus experiencing the feeling of having more time.

He also talks about thought-chatter: the annoying thoughts that flit across the front of your brain when you stop doing stuff. These are generally about the past or the future. When you are able to quiet these (through meditation for example) you can then enjoy the present and not be limited by the past or the future.

His writing style is annoying; he repeats himself and sometimes talks nonsense. He could have written a book with more impact in a quarter of the space. For example, when he said “scientists are often suspicious of anecdotes, preferring to stick to hard facts which they can verify through experiments, But surely there are some cases where anecdotal evidence is so widespread…” he sounded rather foolish. Of course when “anecdotal” evidence is widespread, then it is no longer anecdotal. It didn’t help that he was spouting some nonsense about transcending time altogether so you can predict the future.

But his main message is a fantastic one: to enjoy the time you have, to keep your experiences rich, varied and new, and enjoy the small mundane things too.

I think Athlete say all he’s said very simply in their beautiful song Vehicles & Animals. To paraphrase: young children enjoy the present with contentment; open your eyes with a child-like attitude and take in the world around you in the same way.

Why We Believe What We Believe – Andrew Newberg

2 Nov

I’ve read a lot of good books describing how the mind works and this one is near the top of the list.

Andrew Newberg describes – with fascinating examples and studies – how we create our view of reality. Or to put it another way: our beliefs. This isn’t just about religion, though that is discussed in detail, but about how we create, adapt and persist our belief system and how that then shapes our perception of the world.

There’s some fascinating developmental stuff in there, such as how babies up to a certain age don’t believe an object exists when it’s outside of their perception.

He shows how a baby has twice as many neurons than an adult but way fewer connections. And in fact puts a positive light on the fact we lose brain cells as we age: we make too many connections as we grow, and pare away the ones that are not useful, resulting in a brain that can function better.

He discusses stages of belief such as how a child doesn’t have a moral dimension at first, understanding the difference between good and bad, i.e. as their actions affect them, but not between right and wrong, i.e. how their actions affect others – this is learnt roughly between the ages of 6 and 10, significantly influenced by the stories they are told, through which they learn to empathise.

Amusingly telling parents some of these things can result in an irrational response – “my baby recognises me”, “my baby is good and thoughtful”. But then we don’t like having our beliefs challenged, which is something he comes onto later in the book, discussing cognitive biases and how to become aware of the influences our beliefs have on our perceptions and corollary beliefs. This is also a good example of how we project our beliefs and way of thinking onto others, with an anthropomorphic bent,  a bias to which we are particularly prone.

So our view of the world is not a passive observation. We filter and process information according to our beliefs, which are acquired through nature, nurture and so on, and we actively create our view of reality.

His discussion of transcendent states is just brilliant. He covers nuns in prayer, Buddhists in meditation, Pentecostals speaking in tongues and an atheist meditating on God. These all bring excellent insights into how we can change our view of reality, suspend some of our belief systems, and become more open to, and aware of, other possibilities.

In Buddhist meditations, for example, we see an increase of activity in the pre-frontal cortex, the part that “monitor[s] our ability to stay attentive and alert, helping us to focus on a task… and in planning and executing a task”. Most interestingly there is a diminution of activity in the parietal lobes, those areas responsible for self image, and perception of space and time. That means that people do – in their perception – transcend their bodies, space and time and are able to be “in the moment”. Great insights can come from this mind state, as well as increased peace and well-being. Also these practices can reinforce a person’s view of the world as any things experienced in that state are usually used to confirm ones belief system, and if you think on a belief for long enough it becomes real.

Speaking in tongues (glossolalia) has a rather different effect: there is decreased activity in the frontal lobes and a “surrender of conscious will” (practitioners talk of a surrender of control to God). It therefore allows the person to think in new and creative ways, to see things from a different perspective, and is a useful mind-state in changing beliefs, in transforming oneself. Interestingly, glossolaliacs have an increased activity in the parietal lobes implying they have a greater sense of personal self, although as they tended not to practise for as long as the meditators, this may change if they practise more.

Newberg talks of these transcendent experiences as giving a feeling of oneness with the universe, or a connectedness with everything. With this will come a sense of peacefulness, and clarity of purpose. This was described by the atheist who meditated.

One of his closing comments is a challenge to which I continue to aspire:

Becoming a better believer is a difficult task to undertake, for re-wiring the brain requires patience and time. But if we succeed, to some small degree, then we will be better able to recognize our limitations, as well as our strengths. For this reason, I hold the deepest respect for those people who have had the courage to question and challenge their beliefs, for these are the individuals who have enriched our world through their creativity and willingness to grow.

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