Skip to comments.Why A Brush With Death Triggers The Slow-Mo Effect
Posted on 08/18/2010 2:28:10 AM PDT by Daffynition
When David Eagleman was 8 years old, he went exploring. He found a house under construction prime territory for an adventurous kid and he climbed on the roof to check out the view. But what looked like the edge of the roof was just tar paper, and you can feel it coming when David stepped on it, he fell.
David was fine. But between whoosh and the thud, something odd happened. As David remembers it, he noticed every detail of his surroundings: the edge of the roof moving past him, the red bricks below moving toward him. He even did a little literary analysis: "I was thinking about Alice in Wonderland, how this must be what it was like for her, when she fell down the rabbit hole."
All of that happened in just 0.86 seconds. David knows that now because he has calculated how long it takes to fall 12 feet. David Eagleman is now Dr. Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, and one of his specialties is exploring how our brains perceive and understand time.
Several years ago, motivated in part by his childhood plunge, David started studying the way our sense of time distorts in crisis situations. He has gathered a huge number of stories from people who have survived falls, car crashes, bike accidents, etc. Everyone, he says, seems to say the same thing: "It felt like the world was moving in slow motion."
But what is really going on? David started to think that maybe, in a crisis, the brain goes into a sort of turbo mode, processing everything at higher-than-normal-speed. If the brain were to speed up, he thought, the world would appear to slow down. This would work just like a slow-motion movie; in a slow-mo shot of a hummingbird, for example, you can see each individual wing movement in what would otherwise be just a blur.
Taking The Plunge
So David decided to craft an experiment to study this "slow-motion effect" in action. But to do that, he had to make people fear for their lives without actually putting them in danger. His first attempt involved a field trip to Six Flags AstroWorld, an amusement park in Houston, Texas. He used his students as his subjects. "We went on all of the scariest roller coasters, and we brought all of our equipment and our stopwatches, and had a great time," David says. "But it turns out nothing there was scary enough to induce this fear for your life that appears to be required for the slow-motion effect."
But, after a little searching, David discovered something called SCAD diving. (SCAD stands for Suspended Catch Air Device.) It's like bungee jumping without the bungee. Imagine being dangled by a cable about 150 feet off the ground, facing up to the sky. Then, with a little metallic click, the cable is released and you plummet backward through the air, landing in a net (hopefully) about 3 seconds later.
SCAD diving was just what David needed it was definitely terrifying. But he also needed a way to judge whether his subjects' brains really did go into turbo mode. So, he outfitted everybody with a small electronic device, called a perceptual chronometer, which is basically a clunky wristwatch. It flashes numbers just a little too fast to see. Under normal conditions standing around on the ground, say the numbers are just a blur. But David figured, if his subjects' brains were in turbo mode, they would be able to read the numbers.
The Time Blur
The falling experience was, just as David had hoped, enough to freak out all of his subjects. "We asked everyone how scary it was, on a scale from 1 to 10," he reports, "and everyone said 10." And all of the subjects reported a slow-motion effect while falling: they consistently over-estimated the time it took to fall. The numbers on the perceptual chronometer? They remained an unreadable blur.
"Turns out, when you're falling you don't actually see in slow motion. It's not equivalent to the way a slow-motion camera would work," David says. "It's something more interesting than that."
According to David, it's all about memory, not turbo perception. "Normally, our memories are like sieves," he says. "We're not writing down most of what's passing through our system." Think about walking down a crowded street: You see a lot of faces, street signs, all kinds of stimuli. Most of this, though, never becomes a part of your memory. But if a car suddenly swerves and heads straight for you, your memory shifts gears. Now it's writing down everything every cloud, every piece of dirt, every little fleeting thought, anything that might be useful.
Because of this, David believes, you accumulate a tremendous amount of memory in an unusually short amount of time. The slow-motion effect may be your brain's way of making sense of all this extra information. "When you read that back out," David says, "the experience feels like it must have taken a very long time." But really, in a crisis situation, you're getting a peek into all the pictures and smells and thoughts that usually just pass through your brain and float away, forgotten forever.
“You don't think time is relative? Have an attractive woman and an ugly woman take turns sitting on your lap and then estimate how much time has passed with each.”
Over 30 years ago I was teaching some warehouse workers how to use - or in this case how not - to use a high lift. I warned them to never to ride the pallet on the forks. At the time I was on a top self near the roof of the warehouse. With just one foot I was showing touching hte pallet and showing how unstable it was. I lost my balance nad fell. On the way down I remember seeing the shelves go by and thinking what a heck of a way to end hte day and then the line from The Magnificent Seven when Steve McQueen was telling a joke about a guy who fell from a building - "So far, so good."
Luckily I hit a shelf on the way down and it helped break the fall. The only injury was to my pride and a threaded rod that went a couple of inches into my right leg.
The secongd tiem was just a couple of years ago when I was geocaching with my youngest son. I was on top of a stone wall and lost my footing. Everything was slow on the way down. I tried to use my feet to "run" down the wall but I still hit hard on my right shoulder. I remember trying to twist and keep my head up until after the impact.
Head was OK...well, it's just my head... but my shoulder is still pretty messed up.
So there IS a slo mo effect as far as I'm concerned.
I made up my own theory of relativity (although I’m sure others have figured it out too): Time goes slower when your relatives are over!
I fell off a roof, but not sure it was in slow motion. Was about 3 stories up and slipped on the wet shakes. Recall going down the roof and hoping to catch the scaffolding with my toes and avoiding the edge of the roof on my chin. Then “oh-oh” as my shins, legs and belly went scrapping along the edge of the scaffold after my toes had missed!
I was waiting for my chin to bounce off (and not really thinking ahead to the inevitable fall - just how much it was going to hurt my chin!). Then - WHUMP! My older brother had reached down and grabbed me by the back of my jacket just as my chin was about to hit. I don’t recall how I got back up on the scaffolding - I think he just hoisted me back up with one arm! (With his hand down by his feet!!)
He looked at me, looked at the ground 25 feet below, looked at me again and said “How did I do that?”
Oh Yeah! Been there. Remember it like it was yesterday!
Vampires (incoming missiles) always took forever.
I saw a car pull out in front of me and I slammed my foot into the brake pedal. I was using all my strength and should have locked up the wheels. It felt like it took a full ten seconds to hit the car. I thought, “why isn’t this brake pedal doing anything?.” Then it got all grey and blank in front of me and then the air bag deflated. When I got out of the car I saw that the distance was no more than twenty five feet and in the real time I probably did not even move the brake pedal all the way to the floor.I had been traveling at probably 40 mph.
Seconds literally feel like minutes.
Good post. Reminds me of the kinds of stories that used to fill this forum.
Sadly, all these limitations on media sources have made the site less interesting.
I don’t think its the people.
There simply isn’t as much content to comment on.
I think the overabundance of bloggers has also contributed.
For every significant news story, there are a dozen blog posts rehashing the same story ad nauseum. Most of them are simply long rants with poor English and bad spelling.
The actual quote is: Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity.
...Plus most people don’t know how to effectively exerpt.
We click on a story because of the interesting title. But many posters simply exerpt the story’s introduction, which rarely rarely gets to the facts of the story.
So if we want to find out what the story is about we have to go to the original source which is off site.
Slow motion Sneezing - with orchestral accompaniment.
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