So about time ... for real.

A problem with the threads posted by a certain cross-poster, like this one is that there is sometimes, buried in its babble, a kernel of a discussion starter. And I know better now than to try to uncover those kernels in those threads. So let me try here.

How do we perceive time, and how does its perception differ from other qualia?

No I am not talking about the neuroscience, the importance of the cerebellum and the basal ganglia, the parietal lobe or the pineal body (interesting though that work is.). Nor am I talking about the physics weirdness that the speed of time itself varies with both velocity and acceleration (including gravity) and all that funk (fascinating as that is). I mean that the speed with which we perceive our travel through time and the nature of that perception.

My own theory of time relativity includes the rule that out perception of the passage of time is an inverse to the amount of time we have experienced: Time percieved= some constant/past time we have experieinced. Thus 1 year when I was four and half felt like a decade feels to me now.

I also recall some work, by Oliver Sacks I believe (?), that certain athletes really do slow down their time perception during particular sporting moments, and certain patients that experience time in a very different qualitative manner than the rest of us.

So does time perception actually vary significantly? Does time perception differ from other qualia in a meaningful way?

Relativity - adrenaline and focus (from your example of the athlete) will alter our perception of how much time has passed.

There is a change in perception of time as we age - to a four year old, a whole quarter of their lifetime will have passed between birthdays. To a forty year old? Not so much. So for the child time lags, while to the adult it goes quickly.

But, by the same token, a four year old can send hours focused on a game that will leave a grown-up bored to tears in five minutes (Why yes, I do speak from experience). Peek A Boo cannot hold our interest and we perceive an hour of game time as lagging when the whole year flashed by.

I’ve always like Albert Einstein’s quote:

Before my daughter’s bike connected with that car? Those four seconds were the worst year of my life.

What do you mean by “qualia”?

I came up with the same theory several years ago, when discussing memories with my oldest aunt, who was in her late 90s at the time. She mentioned that time passed about 10x as fast as it did when she was in grade school. And in my own life (I’m now 63) it seems to be an amazingly accurate equation.

“Qualia” (which is the plural, singular is “quale”) are the properties of a sensory experience. The manner in which we experience vibrating air molecules as the sensation of sound, or light waves of particular wavelength ranges as any particular color such as “red”, for example. To large extents the exact nature of each experience is arbitrary - “red” could be just as well experienced the same as we experience another color or as a sound (and in fact there are individuals who do experience one perceptual input as a different one, experience color for sound for example - synesthesia.

Is the nature of time as a quale different from other qualia?

Well, how do you justify the experience of time as a sensory experience in the first place? The others you mention each have organs more or less dedicated to their detection.

Say I’m walking along a path, and I feel the heat of the sun on my skin; I turn a corner and my eyes spy a bunch of flowers growing nearby. As I walk closer, my nose is assaulted by their overpowering fragrance, and my ears detect the buzzing of bees among the blossoms. As I walk away, I take a sip of Gatorade out of my thermos, and my tongue tells me that it’s sweet.

So in this scenario, with what organ did I experience the sense of “walking”? Or was walking merely the framework in which I experienced a sequence of events?

The sensation of physical movement through and within space and time is generally referred to as propioception. The organs of propioception are somewhat distributed. I’d be happy to provide a lecture about it but it would be quite a digression.

More pertinent is that there is no similar organ in which you experience any sensation. Sight involves information collected in the eye and processing within the eye and at various levels above, and modification of that information top down as well. The actual experience is something that occurs primarily at the highest levels. Taste involves an integration of input from the tongue and the nose after a variety of relays and subprocessing also. Touch is distributed of course along the organ of the skin … and so on.

We put it all together to form n-dimensional models and experiences of the world around us with sensations of the what, the where, and the when. Using those models we determine what we want to reach for, where to reach, and when … or when to supress various responses.

Of course there seem to be some differences between our experience of time and these other qualia … how we judge time as a distance between two events, either that have occurred or that are in the process of occurring, versus our perception instantaneously of the travel, for example, seem to be different processes.

Let me take a moment to bring you to a slight tangent… I read somewhere that, scientifically speaking, there’s no reason that time should go one way or the other. It could go backwards just as easily as forward. But the only reason we perceive time as going the way it does is due to entropy. Its just easier to knock the glass off the table and have it break into thirty pieces than take the energy to put a glass together and push it up to the top of the table. Yes, falling from the table implies it was there beforehand, and the energy used to break it comes from its stored energy, but it could happen in reverse… In some way that I’m not competent in the issue enough to explain.

Anyone want to take a second and explain it a bit further if they know anything on the topic?

when I was a child, the idea of a year seemed like forever, but mom was calling me in from play in far to short a time.

I think for large spans of time experience is definitely relative.

For shorter spans, I think it’s about how mentally engaged we are in each situation and further, whether we are enjoying the input.

I think many atheletes do slow down time in a very real way through visulization. Preping the tool to minimize load at the moment of import.

I would be willing to bet this is more in hindsight thinking about a split second decision than how it is moment by moment.

If you’re good at baseball you know through habit how to catch the ball and what angle to throw it at to get a double play. Thinking about a great play afterwords in the shower might make you believe that you could’ve done the whole thing while checking your stocks on your blackberry.
I know I once had a OH SHIT I’M GONNA DIE IN THE NEXT THREE SECONDS moment but didn’t. Didn’t take that long and when it happened… Nah… No flash of my life before my eyes… More of a “HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT… done.” Faster than you could read that. I relived the moment so many times that now I could retell it in ten minutes, though.