Saturday, September 23, 2023

Subjective Time and the Brain Clock


    Isn’t it intriguing how we can partition-off our thoughts, memories and even innate abilities? Have you ever awakened from a deep sleep, and for a moment, found yourself unable to tell if it was morning or the middle of the night? Or been so absorbed or distracted, you had to ask someone what time it was? Yet, there also seems to be an internal clock of sorts, an ability to keep accurate track of time, off in another part of the brain. Once, when I was a child, I came up with an experiment – I gave myself suggestions to awaken at an arbitrarily chosen time – I remember in particular, 3:17 A.M., as one I picked. I’d go to bed at 9 or 10, and sure enough – I’d find myself opening my eyes, and when the bedside clock came into focus, it would read 3:17. I repeated this experiment numerous times, in case it was just a fluke. Loathing the abrupt intrusion of the alarm clock, in a similar fashion, I trained myself to wake gently, 5 minutes before the alarm went off-though it was always set, just in case.

    Years later, while working for the H. Lieber Company downtown, I’d take my lunch in the ancient warehouse part of the building, and do a recharge self-hypnosis session, always returning to fully awake in plenty of time to clock back in. Co-workers and bosses would slog back to work after a heavy lunch, and rather hated me for returning full of energy and enthusiasm, as if it was 8 A.M. again.

    This temporal experiment from those days was inspired from an account by a hypnotherapist, who needed a bathroom break, and suggested his patient watch Gone with the Wind in his mind. When he returned minutes later, the patient reported he’d watched the entire movie. Our perception of time is certainly relative to criteria and reference points, internal or external. Can a certain cluster of brain cells sense and measure internal processes in such a fashion, that it could serve as a clock? Or, do we sense and measure external beats, pulses or rhythms? Would we lose that sense if the outside source were blocked, say, by a Faraday cage or an isolation tank?

    Albert Einstein explained relativity: “When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”

    With a few carefully worded suggestions, my workday zipped past like a 5-minute shower, and those evenings with my wonderful wife stretched on beyond the metered clock. Subjectively, at least, it is possible to flip relativity in your favor.

    There is still so much we still have to learn about ourselves.

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