The brain experiences ‘time’ very differently compared to how it experiences information from other senses. It is actually possible to savor a moment deliberately and slow down time so you can enjoy it as much as you’d like. Time is a variable- not in a physical sense; not in a metaphysical sense – in a conceptual, tangible sense. Ah, the sense of time.
Let us take an example based on 3 things that you can do.
Event A = jumping once
Event B = clapping the hands twice
Event C = shouting ‘Hello’
It is easy to think of time as a comparison between multiples events. Let us say Event A and B occur one after the other. Event C occurs after other insignificant and inconsequential events D, E, & F.
Say, A happened at 2:00 pm, B happened at 2:01 pm and C happened at 2:30 pm. Simple mental computations will tell you the following:
- A and B were back to back
- C happened a lot later
- The time between 2 to 2:30 was spent on events A, B, and C
- It took 30 times the time between A and B for C to occur
Sound’s fair right? Not really. That only takes care of the sequence and simultaneity of events. That’s not the most important influence on how humans experience time.
Here is a full-length article on how the brain senses time. Or, you could read the following paragraphs for a short recap.
Chemicals (natural or synthetic), neural circuits, emotional states, etc. will affect your brain processing in certain ways. The answer to how the brain processes time lies in WHAT and HOW information is processed.
David Eagleman, a brilliant neuroscientist, found out that the length of time perceived by the brain depends mainly on how much energy the brain requires to ‘store’ or neurally represent incoming information. This means, in simple words, creating new memories. The more information you get, the more neural representation required and thus, more energy needed.
Mood and emotions also add psychological ‘weight’ to your memories. This, in turn, would affect how much energy it takes to store information.
Collectively, laying down memories is associated with the perception of time. The details and the resources needed to represent those details affect the duration of your experience of time.
If you are in an accident or near one, you will be put into a revved-up physiological state, you are alert, you are observant and you are reactive. You will absorb more data from the environment during such an event and thus it may feel that you saw the accident in slow motion.
We are assuming that some sort of a defense mechanism or fear response does not make you ignore information coming through your senses. For example, passing out by the thought of breaking a bone. In that case, the time experienced would be so short that you’d feel that it was suddenly blank and you can’t remember. No remembering because the memory wasn’t properly formed.
What matters the most is how information is processed during the moments you experience.
One important discovery is that events which you cause are perceived to be sooner than events you are genuinely only observing. Keep this in mind. Because deliberately savoring the moment and extending your experience of good times will require you to take some action.
Another interesting finding is that neurons signal each other based on how fast electricity moves from one neuron to the other. The speed depends on the fatty chunks on the neuron, called the myelin sheath. More chunks of fat across the axons, the faster the electrical transmission. As we grow older, the myelin sheath will get thinner and slow down this transmission. Thus, the brain will take more time for its neurons to successfully communicate with each other. This will affect your global speed of processing. But, that is just an FYI and not really relevant to slowing down time deliberately.
How to slowdown time to enjoy and savor moments?
The answer is mindfulness. Mindfulness will help you savor the moment. Mindfulness is the art of being aware, conscious, and sensitive to the details of your current experience. When mindful, your attention should be deliberate. A new study provides evidence for a subjective slowing down of time via mindfulness meditation.
To perceive time at a desired pace, make a deliberate effort to take-in appropriate amounts of information by looking around, noticing sensations, reflecting on thoughts, etc.
The more detail you look at, the richer your memory would be – the longer you’ll think it lasted. Mindfulness brings in more data. It even creates more data for your brain to process.
More data = more time experienced and less data = less time experienced.
Be mindful of the following aspects of any experience:
- Notice and pay attention to the people involved
- All the sensory aspects
- The memories you relate to it
- The thoughts that go through your mind
- The surroundings
- The subtle changes of emotions and moods your experience
(Data can be in the form of any sensory input, thoughts or even memories. Moods and emotions are intertwined with all of the above.)
When being mindful to slowdown time, you need to deliberately direct your attention to details. The amount of attention you deliberately direct helps in laying down more detailed memories. Detailed memories warrant more processing. More processing dilates time for the brain. The details create the pseudo-illusion of longer-lasting moments.
What if you don’t want a moment to last longer? Or what if you want your moment to quickly die out?
Close your eyes, zone out, blind yourself to details. Distract yourself with a song or blankly stare at the sky.
P.S. You can read more about David Eagleman’s work here.