Friday, 21 November 2008
One Billion Heartbeats
What becomes of time as we grow older? I remember playing as a child in those long summers away from school and I think of how the time stretched over a day and became almost infinite. It seemed like a lifetime before we were back at school in the autumn. Now in my late thirties I am reflecting on the experience of how time behaves in my everyday life, and I compare it to the way I felt about time as a child. Time has most certainly become more fleeting. There is no more staring at the clock in the classroom, and wishing those minutes away, and if anything now, I am pleading for that second-hand to stop. Hours fly past into a day, days blend into months, and before you know it, it's that bloody time of year again.
With new scientic models de-bunking the Theory of Relativity, and proofs that space-time does not exist, we are beginning to learn new lessons about the experience of time. So why does the experience of time feel so different as we grow older? It could be an illusion drawn from a nostalgia of days past, where life was perhaps more free and weightless, and the days only dragged because we were wishing them to go faster. Or can it be because as we grow older our experience of time accelerates due to biological, and neurological reasons?
In general all amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles have roughly a billion heart beats per lifetime. A tiny mouse has a maximum life of about 3 years while an elephant could live to 70, but they shall both experience a billion heart beats. Now that we have thrown all ideas of time out of the window, it would start to appear that the mouse and the elephant have both the exact same experience of a lifetime. Time is not relevant to the speed of light - time is relevant to each living creatures' own personal experience. Time no longer hangs on the wall of the Universe, it is intertwined with the metabolic rate and every beat of the heart. I found this article of particular interest: http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2007/09/invariant_ratio.php
So how is the metabolic rate applicable to a child's experience of time, and how does that compare to the experience of a fully grown adult? The average heart rate for a healthy adult at rest is 60-100 beats per minute (bpm), while a child's is around 100-130 bpm. In some cases, this could mean the child's heart rate being twice that of an adult's. This increased metabolic rate leads to a faster rate of perception. Increasing the rate of perception would be a bit like changing your dial-up internet connection to broadband - you would be recieving information at a much greater speed. If this was taking place in the mind, you would have a much greater scope, and far more depth, of what action takes place in one given moment of time, and creates the illusion that reality is being played in slow-motion (but only when reflected upon, and compared to a relatively 'normal' rate of perception).
Infants and growing children have higher metabolic rates than adults because of growth hormones, and also, perhaps more importantly, the growing brain is devouring lots of energy during its development. The brain consumes 20% of the body's energy. At the age of 3, a young child's brain is super-dense with over 1,000 trillion synapses, all competing for nourishment. It's not until children near adolescence, that the 'shedding' of excess brain cells (neurons) moves into high gear, and eventually there is a loss of about 50% of the synapses. Before the shedding takes place though, the neurons all have to be fed. This greater demand for energy has to be supplied by a faster metabolic rate.
As we become adults, the brain becomes increasingly efficient, in a process known as competitive plasticity, and our metabolic rate slows down. With a reduction in the metabolic rate, there is a knock-on effect on how fast we percieve the world. The broadband service has been pulled, and we're back using dial-up, less information is being recieved, a moment contains less depth, and reality takes on the appearance it is moving faster. But there are times in our adult lives where we can re-experience a taste of what a faster rate of perception meant in our childhoods.
One trick of nature is to engage a startle response if an animal suddenly thinks it's in danger. Adrenal hormones get the heart pumping faster, and the brain thinking faster. The startle response is bending the rules of perception, so that a window appears where the animal gets more time to think about its next course of action - fight, take flight or freeze. It's like pressing slow-motion on your video recorder. Time distortion under stress is often reported by war veterans, where everything happens in slow motion. This example is taken from law enforcement:
‘Kim remembers that steamy September night in 1979 as if it were yesterday. She had a split second to react before the gunman blasted her from an open window over her head. ‘When you think you’re going to die’, she says ‘your brain works so fast that everything else seems to be in slow motion.’ (Wozencraft 1990)
There are plenty of stories where people have experienced this stretching of time, at a moment there was imminent danger. If time is an intrapersonal experience that can be manipulated by nature, is it then possible that mankind can harness this ability to enhance our lives? It could be a basis for showing us how to slow down the experience of time by increasing the rate of perception. If this was made possible without the need of increasing the metabolic rate (so that our lifespan does not become as short as the mouse) - are we looking at a real contender for the elixir of life?
I would also thank, and mention the following sites for their insights:
Shore, R. (1997) ‘What have we learned?’ in ‘Rethinking the brain ...