Yesterday an old friend posted a picture on Facebook, Sarah was posting a picture of herself with her ‘little’ Girl. I emphasis the word little since the daughter is a fair bit taller than her mother though the resemblance to a, cough, somewhat younger mother, cough, is remarkable.
Other friends over the last few years have been full of pride for offspring going to college or university or having their own children. Reminds me of one person I knew as a spotty youngster at the castle (long story for another day) who I met years later and while chatting he called out to a group of passing mid teens girls then introduced me to his daughter.
Where does time go?
Now all of this brings me, in a roundabout way to my musing today, no politics, no events, just thinking and speculating out loud.
(Note the following may be the ravings of a madman)
Us upright walking apes are a funny lot. By the standards of the rest of the animals we are half blind, half deaf, have almost no sense of smell and our touch and taste are probably a bit substandard as well.
We perceive our surrounds through our five senses but our brains cover up all sorts of problems with our senses and so allow us to actually grasp a sort of version of reality. One of those little problems is time.
Or rather the lack of it.
The thing is we are aware of a single instant in time, the present, the now if you like. We cannot perceive anything in front of the now though our minds can and do guess about future events and we cannot perceive anything behind the now though our minds remember past events.
All that we see is a microsecond of time, a snapshot of all of our senses taking in everything that happens in that single millisecond. Then the next millisecond and the next.
Our brains, those remarkable organic data processors between our ears remember those snapshots, string them together to form coherent events and call them memories.
Now our brains, clever things that they are, play join the dots with these millisecond long snapshots, and also compensate for a few other anomalies like sensory delays caused by the laws of physics (sound being a lot slower than light so at a distance the image of someone shouting is out of sync with the sound due to tiny delays). We learn to do this as we are learning to talk and recognise our surroundings.
Now join the dots works for the past but our brains also do it for the future, they look at a line of snapshots, instances in time, and if they see patterns forming they run the line of dots into the future that hasn't yet happened. It’s when you hear someone speaking and you know what word they are saying before you have heard the entire word or those weird mental moments when you knew exactly what someone was going to say before they said it.
We know that time is passing because our minds are cataloging long long strings of snapshots, the more memories we have of the present the more we know time has passed. When time seems to flash past its because our brains have been dumping entire chains of memories that were uninteresting. Or when at other times when time seems to pass so slowly our minds are listing and cataloging and recording every dammed millisecond of that kettle slowly heating up.
What got me onto this subject was an article on the delay between event and perception.
80 milliseconds of delay to be precise, that is the length of delay between our senses reporting something and us becoming aware of it, which also suggests that our minds need a string of at least 80, millisecond long snapshots, in order to form something coherent.
Our brains use this lag to make sense out of sensory information that we receive, a sort of built in data processing delay.
But we don’t notice it that much because our brains are busy anticipating what is going to happen by joining the dots from what already has happened.
The best cricket players aren't reacting to where the ball is (or was 80 milliseconds ago), they are aiming for where it will be in a few hundred milliseconds. It’s the same for any hand eye coordination type activity.
One side effect of this is familiarity and surprise. The more familiar you are with something, be it an action, an event, a location, the better your mind can produce those predictive lines and the better and faster you can respond. But when you are not familiar with something or somewhere then your brain is less able to create a predictive line of events.
Which is why you jump or freeze in shock for a fraction of a second. Your brains predictive systems cannot join the dots to alert you to events that are totally unknown and you are then stuck in neutral while you brain changes gear and creates enough snapshots of the new event to both give you a memory of what is happening and to start predicting what will happen next.
It’s why you never ever go into a dark unknown area in horror movies, that delay gets you eaten by the Zombies.
Anyway this is a bit of a ramble on something I find interesting but it does also mean that we spend our entire lives living in the past.
80 milliseconds in the past to be exact.