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Old 02-13-2019, 06:58 PM
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The speed of thought


There have been accounts of people who attempted suicide by jumping to their deaths, but survived, and told later of having thought an incredible amount of thought or thinking during those short few seconds before impact.

There's also a Sherlock Holmes story (fiction though it may be) of Holmes thinking up a whole long complicated escape and ruse and fake-own-death plan during the few seconds while Moriarty falls to his death from the top of a waterfall.

Wonder if there is any science on how quickly a human mind is capable of thinking something, and how much thought can be crammed into a very short time (i.e., 2 seconds?)
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Old 02-13-2019, 07:02 PM
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You can't think as quickly as you can think.

Those "incredible number of thoughts" the jumper experienced weren't all during the jump. Some of them were before, some of them were after, and some weren't until a long time after. But the brain mushes them all together so they look like they all happened very quickly.

It'd be like if something went wrong with this board, and it mistakenly showed all of the timestamps in a very long thread as being within two minutes of each other.
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Old 02-13-2019, 08:14 PM
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Nerve impulses are passed through the daisy-chain of human nerves at different speeds, depending on the type of nerves.
- pain messages move slowly, about 0.6 meters/second.
- sensory messages (touch, pressure) move faster, about 75 m/s.
- command messages (to move muscles) travel fastest, about 120 m/s.

Thoughts take place entirely within the brain itself, which is only about 1/6th of a meter long. And the frontal cortex portion of it is an even smaller part where the problem-solving & logical activity is done. So it shouldn't take long for the messages to travel.

However, we don't know how 'long' the messages are -- how many 'bits' are in a 'thought' (not even clear if they are a digital code) or even if they have to be in a complete circuit to be sent & received.

But it's pretty clear that human minds can have delusions or hallucinations, including inaccuracies in time sense.

Last edited by Tim@T-Bonham.net; 02-13-2019 at 08:17 PM.
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Old 02-13-2019, 08:55 PM
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Studies have shown that sensory neurons can encode information in the one to 5 millisecond precision range and that animals can differentiate/react to stimulus in this range.

Not sure what that tells you about thoughts, but it's a lower bound at least.
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Old 02-14-2019, 04:32 AM
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You really can't trust your brain to be honest. Think about optical illusions; consider how three witnesses to an incident will give four different accounts. When we try to recall a half-remembered event, our brains will try to fill in any gaps and we quickly believe that what we are saying is accurate.

Any computer that behaved like a human brain would be pretty rubbish.

Last edited by bob++; 02-14-2019 at 04:32 AM.
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Old 02-14-2019, 05:20 PM
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Here is a relevant NPR story.

Long story short, your perception speed doesn't actually increase when you fall, its just that you remember a lot more of what happened over that period than you normally would so it seems longer.
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Old 02-15-2019, 09:44 AM
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Yes, I think Buck Godot has it right. Default operating mode for your brain is "eh, most of this stuff isn't really important so I'll just let the memories fade really fast". That's why it's so easy to forget where you put your car keys, or maybe you go to take care of a mundane task only to find that it's already been done by you but you have no memory of having done it. In a life-and-death situation, your brain shifts from the default mode into "OMG this is very important so save a permanent copy of every little detail because this information could save your life some day". You end up with tons of saved information about what happened between 9:16:30 and 9:16:32 but very little saved information about what happened between 9:00 and 10:00 on the previous day. Therefore that two seconds when you thought you were about to die seems like an hour when you look back on it.

On a side note, you can hack this feature of the human brain by tricking it into switching into emergency mode to make the memories more permanent. For example, when you make your wedding into a huge event that makes you feel nervous and scared, it makes the memories more permanent and more vivid. Unfortunately, it can also have the unpleasant effect of making you remember bad things in vivid detail, like how horrible you felt that time you had to make a big speech in front of the whole school and you embarrassed yourself, making it absolutely impossible for you to ever forget the incident.

This also explains why spanking is powerful. It tricks the child's brain into shifting to emergency mode and they remember the experience vividly. That can be good if you're trying to teach the child a lesson like "Never run out into the street without looking both ways first", but you can accidentally end up teaching a lesson like "Your parents are assholes who won't hesitate to hurt you when it suits their agenda".

This is a survival trait. Just think how bad we'd be at survival if parents accidentally failed to feed their children because they forgot which family was theirs, or if people kept repeating stupid dangerous mistakes because they forgot about the times that it almost killed them in the past, or if widows and widowers wasted huge amounts of time trying to find their mate because they forgot that their mate was already dead and they didn't remember the funeral at all.

Brains of other animals have this feature too, not just humans.
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